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...

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Date Published
May 5, 1994
APA Planners Press

About the Authors

Randall Arendt
Randall Arendt FRTPI is a landscape planner, site designer, author, lecturer, and an advocate of "conservation planning". He is the founding president of Greener Prospects and serves as Senior Conservation Advisor at the Natural Lands Trust in Media, Pennsylvania. He is also the former Director of Planning and Research at the Center for Rural Massachusetts, University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where he also served as an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning. In 2003 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Town Planning Institute in London, and in 2004 he was elected as an Honorary Member of the American Society of Landscape Architects. Among his books are Rural by Design, Conservation Design for Subdivisions, Growing Greener, Crossroads, Hamlet, Village, Town, and Envisioning Better Communities: Seeing More Options, Making Wiser Choices. He has recently completed a thorough updating and substantial expansion of Rural by Design for the APA.

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]