Defining and Measuring Community Character

Zoning Practice — December 2010

By Bret Keast, AICP


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Everyone knows character when they see it, but few can clearly define it. What does this term mean? How can it be clearly defined and used to describe or defend the qualities of place when it means different things to different people and is interpreted differently from place to place?

Even among professionals, the term is used to articulate different perspectives, be it architects who speak of the vernacular, landscape architects who reference native or cultural elements, or planners who rely on terms like livability, sense of place, and quality of life — more unclear and undefined terms.

This issue of Zoning Practice lays out a framework to describe the general characteristics of different classes and types of community character and suggests means and metrics communities can use to define character in local plans and zoning.


Page Count
Date Published
Dec. 1, 2010
Adobe PDF
American Planning Association

About the Author

Bret Keast, AICP
Bret C. Keast, AICP, is CEO and Owner of Kendig Keast Collaborative and enCodePlus, LLC. Bret has a B.S. in Community and Regional Planning, a specialty in Architecture, and a second degree in Speech Communication from Iowa State University. He also has a Master of Urban Planning degree from the University of Kansas with an emphasis in Urban Design. Bret was the Director of Planning and Transit for the Iowa Northland Regional Council of Governments (INRCOG); Senior Planner for the City of Olathe, Kansas; and National Practice Leader for Urban Planning and Wilbur Smith Associates (Houston, Texas). He became a partner of Lane Kendig, Inc. in 2003 and then sole owner of Kendig Keast Collaborative (KKC) in 2010. At each stop in his 30-year career, Bret has developed comprehensive and special area master plans, zoning and land development regulations and unified codes, and a broad array of other studies for municipal and county jurisdictions across more than 40 states. Mr. Keast is also the owner of enCodePlus, LLC, which is a cloud-based code drafting and editing, content management, codification, and online code publishing SaaS company used to computerize and codify development codes and entire codes of ordinances for towns, cities, counties, and other jurisdictions.