Planning based on community typology

Focusing planning efforts on pedestrian scale communities can lead to better places.

An emerging practice in community planning is focusing on creating walkable environments based on pedestrian catchment areas or pedestrian sheds.

Catchment areas or pedestrian sheds are areas of walking destinations. It is basically the area encompassed by the distance an American pedestrian will walk before they choose to use the automobile instead. These sheds are centered on a destination or cluster of attractions and contain concentrations of dwellings and places of employment. They also include civic structures such as schools and churches. The area within the pedestrian shed is based on a walking time of five to ten minutes, or about a quarter to a half mile across. A pedestrian shed might increase in size if there are a greater number of significant destinations. The pedestrian shed may be a perfect circle, but are more often shaped by barriers to covenant walking such as high speed street corridors, hard-to-cross busy streets, railroad with infrequent crossings, and natural barriers such as a river. These areas become the base geography for planning efforts.

Pedestrian sheds also become the natural basis for community types a local government might plan for in terms of staging growth or redevelopment. This happens because the size and shape of a neighborhood is based on the concept of a pedestrian shed.

 A neighborhood, small town, or traditional neighborhood design are all synonymous terms for a complete residential development that has a mix of uses, incomes and housing options. The neighborhood meets most of the daily human needs. There is a defined center and logical edges. A small town is simply a neighborhood within a surrounding rural area.

The hamlet or conservation design/cluster is an incomplete neighborhood typically lacking the commercial element found in small towns. It is a community type that can anchor working lands by providing the nearby housing and a civic structure such as a church or a school, or a retail such as a general store. Located in rural areas, hamlets serve to help with open space conservation – so open space is set aside to retain rural character.

Transit oriented development is a community based around a transit stop. It has a larger pedestrian catchment area than a typical neighborhood. Often extending more than ½ mile in walking distance—measured from the transit stop. Transit oriented development represents a pedestrian shed area suitable for high levels of transit service. It often has a higher concentration of commercial activity than a neighborhood.

Regional center development is a community type that mimics traditional downtowns. It is dominated by mixed use buildings often built right up to the right of way. It serves the surrounding neighborhoods as the commercial and cultural hub. It typically consists of one large pedestrian shed with a radius of ½ mile.

All of these community types are based on walkability and have a size and building layout scaled to pedestrian accessibility. Instead of the conventional use based planning where differing land uses drive the goals, objectives and policies of the plan, focusing the plan on community types to drive the policies and actions specified in the plan can result in creating better places.

For more information on planning and placemaking in your community, contact a Michigan State University Extension Land Use educator.

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