Rural by Design

Maintaining Small Town Character

By Randall Arendt

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Conventional planning techniques just aren't working in many rural and suburbanizing areas. Developments where people merely exist have replaced neighborhoods where people once thrived. Strip malls and checkerboard subdivisions prevail. Randall Arendt argues convincingly that this scenario is not inevitable. In Rural by Design he advocates creative, practical land-use planning techniques to preserve open space and community character. He shows how developments all across America have used these techniques successfully.

This book examines a broad spectrum of nitty-gritty design topics in a lively, readable style. Topics range from sewage disposal and farmland preservation to greenway planning for interconnected open space and the design of rural subdivision streets. The book includes numerous case examples of residential, commercial, and mixed-use projects that have used these innovative design techniques. And it takes an in-depth look at the design elements of the traditional town-and how to reinvent those elements in today's communities.

Rural by Design appeals to a wide audience. Planners in small towns as well as rural and suburbanizing areas will find practical information to guide them on the job. Planning board members and interested laypeople will find a highly readable, nontechnical reference. And instructors in planning and allied fields will find a valuable textbook for undergraduate and graduate courses.

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Page Count
Date Published
May 5, 1994
APA Planners Press

Table of Contents


Part I. The Character of towns

1. Common qualities of traditional towns
Planned origins • Diverse uses within a common building vocabulary • Distinguishing features • Sense of community • Opportunities for casual socializing • Open space within and around • Compact form and incremental growth

2. Changes in the pattern
Zoning unconnected to planning • Planning education • Rediscovering traditional townscape elements • A question of scale • Mental connections and conscious choices • Visual techniques to increase awareness • Conventional zoning as "planned sprawl" • Performance zoning for open space • Pigeonhole zoning or traditional mix?

3. Future prospects: choosing among alternative patterns
Public dissatisfaction with conventional zoning • Citizen planning • Standing up for design issues • Community image preference surveys • Identifying "places of the heart" • Contextual standards for new development • Community design forums • Village and Hamlet planning • Opposition to planned communities • Initiating better design solutions • Getting started

4. The aesthetics of form in town planning: Learning from the past
The unwinian school • Unwin's relevance today • Village form and townscape • Timeless principles • Design awareness initiatives • The common townscape • Hamlet design criteria • The "land-use forum" process in New Jersey • Subdivisions of the future

Part II. Alternative scenarios for conservation and development

5. Residential development patterns along the Connecticut River

6. Homes, jobs and agriculture beside the Taylor River

7. Evolution from village to town in a typical inland site

8. Commercial infill development along a major street

Part III. Implementation techniques

9. Development in town centers and along highways
Town centers • Infill development as pattern enhancer • Shopping streets as "outdoor rooms" • The value of public open space in town centers • Official mapping to set the proper pattern • Rural highways • Coping with malls • Planning highway uses in Guilford, Connecticut • Reclaiming existing "commercial strips"

10. Affordable housing
Overview • Compact neighborhood layouts • Two-family houses: Not always "ugly ducklings" • Multifamily dwellings • "Community-assisted design" • Accessory dwelling units: a hidden resource • Preserving affordability through "community land trusts" • Preserving land with affordable housing through "land conservation trusts" • Mixed uses, or living over the shop • Compatible mobile home design

11. Street design for rural subdivisions
Overview • A fresh look • The width factor • The forgotten pedestrian • Kinder but not gentler curves • To curb or not to curb • Cul-de-sacs and their alternatives • Street connections and official street maps • Street tree planting • Street names • Country lanes and common drives

12. Scenic roads
Overview • Delaware's Red Clay Valley • Kentucky's Old Frankfort Pike • Historic corridors in Spotsylvania County, Virginia • Local scenic roads • The development pattern along scenic roadsides • Efforts of local land trusts

13. Sewage disposal
Open space design and septic disposal • Common septic systems • "Contour systems" • Intermittent sand filters • Land treatment • Wastewater reclamation and reuse • Implications of private sewage facilities • Septic system design innovation • Constructed wetlands • Alternative sewer systems • Wastewater volume reduction

14. Encouraging open space design
Creative sketches and special incentives • Density bonuses • The folly of large lots • Reducing uncertainty • Altering public perceptions • Comparative studies

15. Requiring open space design
"Build-out" mapping • Area-wide planning for conservation and development • Origins and rationale • Degrees of mandating open space development design (OSDD) • County zoning for OSDD in Virginia • OSDD requirements in California • State-level review in Vermont

16. Greenways and buffers
Green edges and links • Comprehensive greenway planning • Greenway zoning and subdivision techniques • Greenways and property values • Minimum greenway widths • Greenway buffers for water quality • Greenway corridors for wildlife • Composite greenway standards

17. The economics of preserving open space
Overview • The real costs of sprawling development • The costs of environmental degradation • Fiscal impact analysis, or how much does Sprawl cost the taxpayer? • The value of open space • The economics of clustering and open space provisions

18. Retaining farmland and farmers
Metropolitan agriculture • Characteristics of metro-farms • Characteristics of Metro-farmers • Adaptive metro-farmers • Problems and opportunities • Minimizing conflicts with farmers: Urban growth areas, existing use zoning, agricultural protection zoning, and buffers • Low-density agricultural zoning, sliding scale, PDR, TDR, and "open space development" • Combinations for success: Howard County, Maryland • LESA: Adaptable tool from SCS • Continuing concerns

19. Regional contexts for growth management
Overview • State planning initiatives • Regional planning initiatives • Metropolitan planning initiatives • Conclusion

Part IV. Case examples

20. Residential cases [22]

21. Town center commercial cases [6]

22. Roadside commercial cases [10]