Best Development Practices

Doing the Right Thing and Making Money at the Same Time

By Reid Ewing

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Reid Ewing draws upon case examples of some of today's most acclaimed developments in Best Development Practices, and recommends best practice guidelines to help developers create vibrant, livable communities-and still make money.

For years, Florida's planners and developers have had to deal with some of the most difficult growth management problems. Now planners and developers acros...

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Date Published
Sept. 1, 1996
APA Planners Press

About the Authors

Reid Ewing
Reid Ewing, Ph.D., is a Professor of City and Metropolitan Planning at the University of Utah, chair of the Department of City and Metropolitan Planning, associate editor of the Journal of the American Planning Association, and columnist for Planning magazine, writing the bi-monthly column Research You Can Use. Earlier in his career, he was director of the Voorhees Transportation Center at Rutgers University, research professor at the National Center for Smart Growth, state representative from northwest Tucson, and analyst at the Congressional Budget Office. He holds master’s degrees in Engineering and City Planning from Harvard University, and a Ph.D. in Urban Planning and Transportation Systems from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Ewing’s work is aimed at planning practitioners. His eight books include Pedestrian and Transit Oriented Design, just co-published by the Urban Land Institute and American Planning Association; Growing Cooler – Evidence on Urban Development and Climate Change, published by the Urban Land Institute; and Best Development Practices, listed by the American Planning Association (APA) as one of the 100 “essential” books in planning over the past 100 years. His 90 peer reviewed articles include “Travel and the Built Environment: A Meta-Analysis,” given the 2010 Best Article of the Year award by APA; "Relationship Between Urban Sprawl and Physical Activity, Obesity, and Morbidity," the most widely cited academic paper in the Social Sciences as of late 2005, according to Essential Science Indicators; and “Is Los Angeles-Style Sprawl Desirable?” listed by APA as a Classic Article in urban planning. A recent citation analysis by Virginia Tech found that Ewing’s work is the 7th most highly cited of nearly 1,000 planning academics in North America.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Quest for the best

3. Best land use practices

4. Best transportation practices

5. Best environmental practices

6. Best housing practices

Appendix A: Annotated bibliography of development guidelines

Appendix B: Survey of state growth management programs

Appendix C: Questionnaire for exemplary developments

Appendix D: Questionnaire for traditional towns

Appendix E: Analysis of land use-travel relationships


Originally prepared for the Florida Department of Community Affairs, Best Development Practices is meant to take state growth management goals and objectives into the trenches, demonstrating "the enlightened edge of current development practices" (1). Reid Ewing aims for relevance by identifying exemplary practices used by some of Florida's largest developers. Seven sites survived a detailed screening; they varied in size from 1,073 to 5,119 acres and from 7,300 to 23,100 buildout populations. Ewing added five traditional towns to the mix because "traditional towns seem to do some things better than even the best contemporary developments, such as handle traffic and encourage street life" (11).

Best Development Practices describes forty-three practices in 100 pages. Chapters covering land use, transportation, environmental protection and affordable housing are supported by thirty pages of detailed and valuable notes. The guidelines are clearly and concisely expressed, girded by survey and research, and illustrated by scores of current standards, site plans, pictures, proofs, and indices.

The chosen development practices are not a compilation from other manuals, even if certain practices may resemble others. They possess a practical, field work quality, setting them apart from guideline attempts that may be more idealistic and theoretically perfect. Rather than recommending a practice to "mix land uses," the book says to mix them "at the finest grain the market will bear." Why this deference to the market? Because "mixed use development is rare in Florida" (21), and Ewing knows that in the marketplace an evolutionary practice has more chance for success than one that overreaches.

The book promotes clusters as the natural form of separation between incompatible land uses (25), while still attempting to promote walkability and relatively low residential densities of six to seven units per acre. Ewing wants to "make subdivisions into neighborhoods with well-defined centers and edges" (32). However, examples of tree screening, street separations, alleys, and pocket parks provide a limited range of centering and edge creation possibilities. The center and edge practices are necessarily curtailed by the book's new community selection methodology. As a result, many practices become a kind of halfway house between traditional best practices rediscovered by new urbanism and newer practices that serve the market with a relatively high standard.

Transportation concepts are particularly well presented. Ewing suggests that street networks should have "multiple connections and relatively direct routes" (54). This hybrid concept, between cul-de-sac and new urbanist models, is based on a useful concept of indexing connectivity. In sum, the twelve transportation practices reclaim authority from pavement-oriented transportation engineers, with many practical measures to "overcome a transportation system that only an auto could love" (54).

The book embraces elements of new urbanist philosophy, but it stakes out narrower territory. Ewing expects it to be most relevant to new, large-scale developments. Issues of urban disinvestment and the insidious developmental process that eats away at the landscape in bites of three to thirty lots remain outside the boundaries of Best Development Practices. The book aims to arrest sprawl, but can provide only a partial answer, because sprawl is being tolerated and even promoted by state and local governments.

Growth management policies provide the seedbed for best development practices to flourish. Florida is a leader among states in taking steps to manage growth. But even in areas where the bed has not been adequately prepared, students, planners and developers will find Best Development Practices to be valuable. Reid Ewing expresses considerable idealism, but keeps his feet on the ground.

— Roger P. Akeley, AICP