Articles from the MnAPA February Newsletter


A New Urbanist Lexicon: Part 5
Metropolitics – A review of a new book by Myron Orfield
APA Releases Legislative Guidebook
PAS Releases Four New Reports

A New Urbanist Lexicon: Part 5

The last installment of the TND Lexicon series characterized the first five elements of an authentic traditional neighborhood:

A. An area of 40 to 160 acres.

B. A minimum density of five residential units per acre.

C. An internal balance of housing, jobs and services.

D. An identifiable neighborhood center.

E. Designated sites for civic buildings.

The remaining five elements also define relationships between components not typically considered in conventional planning practice. However, the first five describe larger scale organizing features, whereas the second describe design features of a cohesive public realm.

The public realm is the cohesive fabric of an authentic neighborhood. In mature, well-maintained city neighborhoods, it is this dominant neighborhood amenity people find attractive and desirable, even if they cannot describe all of its component characteristics. They may not recognize that it is a variety of buildings that enclose larger community places as well as smaller private places, but they love to spend time in them. They may not recognize that neighborhood streets serve multiple functions, but they know it feels good to walk them. The fact is, most people know a traditional neighborhood when they see it. By observing escalating real estate values of private property within these neighborhoods, it is also apparent many people are willing to spend money to be in them.

We should observe the characteristics that draw people and dollars to mature, well-maintained city neighborhoods as we build new neighborhoods and rebuild those which have been neglected. We should seek to spend the energy at the beginning to craft an attractive public realm. When that environment and human experience becomes the organizing neighborhood design determinant, and is built and promoted as the attractive amenity it is, incremental development will be attracted by the dignified community address it offers them.

While studying all ten organizing principles, think about the traditional neighborhoods you know and love. Think about how the arrangement and relationship between urban components is as important as the furniture arrangement of your living room. Think about how the public realm becomes the physical structure for community activity. Then, think also about how these principles may be used to create cohesive, attractive, and desirable new neighborhoods throughout the region.

F. A variety of public open spaces.
Natural and landscaped open spaces are for the use, benefit, and enjoyment of the entire community. All neighborhoods require open spaces for a variety of community activities. These are places where children may play, families may picnic, and individuals may find solitude or neighbors to chat with. These are places where neighborhood citizens come to know one another and thereby promote their collective security. When deliberately designed for safety, comfort and beauty, neighborhood squares, parks, playgrounds and greens become places of community activity, as well as neighborhood identity.

Larger open spaces such as municipal parks, greenbelts, ball fields, and golf courses are also valuable neighborhood amenities. As a connective civic space between neighborhoods, these natural or landscaped corridors create a regional character to which these urban units belong, while maintaining the functional integrity of each neighborhood community.

G. A hierarchy of interconnected streets.
Complete neighborhoods contain a range of street types that accommodate various traffic characteristics, connect with one another and are terminated by other streets.

Although complete neighborhoods have a pedestrian orientation, a street network permits several automobile routes around and through the neighborhood. Each roadway is defined by the traffic speed and volume appropriate to their adjacent building uses. Highways are for high speed regional traffic outside the neighborhood. Avenues and boulevards are for higher intensity commercial and pedestrian activity and connect neighborhood centers. Roads and lanes are for low speed traffic through predominantly residential areas. Alleys bisect each block.

Alleys, or service lanes in more commercial areas, are important civilizing neighborhood components. When their rights-of-way are of a width that accommodates garage aprons and passing of cars, service functions of households and businesses are unobstructed by pedestrian activity. At the same time, placing vehicular access to the rear of the lot allows sidewalks at the lot frontage to be free of vehicles and driveways. Building facades then are capable of shaping attractive neighborhood streets conducive to pedestrian activity.

H. Streets for both people and cars.
Neighborhood streets are public places meant to comfortably and deliberately accommodate all forms of transportation, including pedestrians and bicyclists. Sidewalks and public transit offer an attractive and reasonable alternative to driving when they are safe, attractive, and most importantly, lead to places people want to go. Providing comfortable pedestrian connections between frequent destinations and one’s home offers one half of an attractive alternative. Having frequent destinations, residences and transit stops are within walking distance of each other is the other half.

Sidewalks not only connect destinations, they are pedestrian community places. Sidewalks are places where residents can run for exercise, escape the confines of home or work, or just stroll around the neighborhood. They are also places where residents meet one another, form authentic community relationships, and promote their collective security.

On-street parking is another civilizing component of neighborhood streets. Cars parked to either side of a street’s traffic lanes deter high speed traffic, buffer pedestrian activity on sidewalks, and distribute parking evenly throughout the neighborhood. Also, on-street parking reduces the need for parking lots and long driveways. Buildings therefore occupy more buildable lots and help shape continuous neighborhood streets.

I. Many separate and distinct buildings.
Small lot platting and a variety of buildings not more than four stories in height generate a cohesive urban pattern that allows streets to be civic places of circulation.

Small building lots are most receptive to an extensive variety of building types, large and small. Depending on market demand at any time, smaller lots will accommodate multi-family, single family attached and detached housing types, as well as various single and mixed-use workplaces within the same neighborhood.

The principal advantage of small lot platting lies in a buyer’s flexibility to chose a location and parcel configuration appropriate to specific building uses. Deep, narrow lots reduce below-ground infrastructure costs, increase opportunities for shaping above-ground street spaces, and permit individual buildings to have a public front and a private back. Lots are often aggregated for larger buildings. However, buildings types are appropriate to a narrow lot, front and back lot orientation, and four story maximum height to preserve a cohesive urban fabric.

In addition to small lot platting, low-rise buildings also shape public spaces and contribute to a cohesive urban fabric. Like the hallways of a typical office building, public streets serve as circulation spaces between the many buildings of a neighborhood. There are two notable exceptions to the four story height limitation. Civic buildings are celebrated expressions of a community’s aspirations, and therefore have greater height and stature. In addition, towers on private buildings may exceed four stories. The floor area above four stories is often less than 150 square feet. In areas with spectacular views, towers offer places to view from above, even from the neighborhood’s interior, and their physical form punctuates the neighborhood’s skyline when viewed from afar.

A complete neighborhood is composed of several types of buildings. However, cohesion among all is always achieved when they appropriately address a well-defined public realm.

J. Outbuildings as affordable housing units.
Outbuilding residences on single family lots provide the neighborhood with high quality, well-maintained housing for residents of limited income or special needs. The backyard residence, whether constructed as an apartment above the garage, or as a separate building, serves as living space removed from the principal house. These accessory units may be occupied by older relatives who wish to live close to their family, but not intimately with them. Larger families may offer this residence to a caregiver so they are close, but able to live independently. A backyard residence can serve as a home for a newlywed couple, college student, single parent, or single adult unable to afford a mortgage. When not used as a residence, the space may become a studio or a workshop removed from the domestic environment of the principal house.

Outbuildings have four distinct advantages as a source of affordable housing. First, their small floorspace implies no more than one or two people can live there comfortably. Second, supervision is handled by the owner of the principal house, and therefore does not become a public charge. Third, any rental income from this residence makes the principal house more affordable.

Finally, because outbuilding units are neighborhood components, their residents become community members. They are therefore offered the same opportunities, and held to the same responsibilities, as the neighborhood’s principal residents.

Back to Top of Page

Metropolitics: New book by Myron Orfield examines change in the Twin Cities
This article is reprinted with permission from the January 1997 issue Land Lines, the Lincoln Insitute’s newsletter.

Metropolitan communities across the country are facing the same, seemingly unsolvable problems: the concentration of poverty in central cities, with flashpoints of increasing crime and segregation; declining older suburbs and vulnerable developing suburbs, with few local resources; and costly sprawl, with upper-middle-class residents and new jobs moving further and further out to an insulated, favored quarter. Exacerbating this polarization, the federal government has largely abandoned urban policy. Most officials, educators and citizens are at a loss to create workable solutions to these complex, widespread trends.

Metropolitics: A Regional Agenda for Community and Stability, by Myron Orfield, is the story of how demographic research, state-of-the-art mapping and pragmatic politics in the Twin Cities region built a powerful alliance between the central cities, declining inner suburbs and developing fringe suburbs with low tax bases. Orfield documents the process whereby groups formerly divided by race and class — poor minority groups and blue-collar suburbanites — together with churches, environmental groups and parts of the business community, began to jointly stabilize their communities.

The Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul had long believed they were immune from the forces of central city decline, urban sprawl and regional polarization that had beset older, larger regions. However, the 1980s hit them hard. The number of poor and minority children in central-city schools in Minneapolis and St. Paul doubled from 25 to 50 percent, segregation rapidly increased, distressed urban neighborhoods grew at the fourth fastest rate in the United States, and the murder rate in Minneapolis surpassed that of New York City.

These changes did not stop neatly at the central-city borders, but rather tended to accelerate and intensify as they reached middle- and working-class bedroom communities. These towns, which lacked the downtown tax base, elite neighborhoods, large police departments and social services of the cities, were less able to respond and went into transition far more rapidly.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the region, massive infrastructure investment and exclusive zoning were creating an entirely different type of community. In white-collar suburbs with high tax bases, where only 27 percent of the region’s population lived, 61 percent of the region’s new jobs were being created. As the rest of the region struggled, these communities pulled away physically and financially.

More than 20 regional maps in the book show that government spending on infrastructure and schools, funded in large part by revenues drawn from the cities and older suburbs, helped to shift the regional tax base toward the newly developing suburbs. Historically, state legislators from the suburbs tended to form alliances against legislators from the cities, which were seen as financial drains. But Orfield’s maps and other research fueled the formation of new coalitions, as legislators from the cities and older suburbs began to question public policies that appeared to undercut their communities in favor of subsidizing the growth of newer suburbs.

Orfield details the political struggle that accompanied the creation of the Twin Cities’ widely recognized regional government and the enactment of land use, fair housing and tax-equity reform legislation. His analysis has important implications for metropolitan regions in other parts of the United States, even in places that do not have, and have no real prospects of creating, a metropolitan or regional level of government.

Metropolitics and the experience of the Twin Cities show that no American region is immune from pervasive and difficult socioeconomic problems. As federal urban policy is eviscerated, local regions must find new ways to come to grips with complex dilemmas. Orfield argues that the forces of decline, sprawl and polarization are too large for individual cities and suburbs to confront alone, and that the answer lies in regional cooperation.

Metropolitics is being copublished this month by the Brookings Institution Press and the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy. It is available from both organizations in hardcover at $28.95.


It provides an interesting “outsider’s view” of recent events in our region. We would like to provide an “insider’s view” with our own review of Metropolitics. If you are interested in writing such a review, please contact the editor.

Back to Top of Page

State and local governments no longer have to rely on outdated models written as long ago as the 1920s for drafting new planning laws. To assist them, APA has now completed and released the Growing Smart Legislative Guidebook with new model planning statutes as part of a multiyear effort to help streamline government and make communities more livable. For the first time, a comprehensive and up-to-date resource is available to guide legislative reform affecting housing, affordability, traffic congestion, environmental degradation and community safety.

Legislative Guidebook provides governors, state legislators, local officials, professional planners and citizen activists with alternative statutory approaches to modernize and streamline existing planning laws. The 381-page guidebook combines the models with supporting commentary and research notes.

“APA began the project because the planning and zoning statutes in most states date back to the 1920s,” said Frank S. So, AICP, APA’s executive director. “The old laws are no match for the growth and change that challenge the quality of life in many communities today. We need new tools for new times.”

Since the 1960s, some 15 states–including Florida, Georgia, Oregon, Rhode Island and Washington–have undertaken total or partial reform of their planning statutes. Now other states–Colorado, Massachusetts, Michigan, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Wisconsin among them–have reform efforts underway.

“When states overhaul their planning legislation,” said Frank So, “they find it is complex, time-consuming, and expensive. It is especially hard to evaluate whether what has worked in, say, Oregon or Florida, will work in one’s own state. The APA models will help elected officials design a system that fits with the political traditions of their state and addresses the unique issues facing it.”

What’s in the Legislative Guidebook?

Model statutes in the first volume of the guidebook address state and regional planning, tax equity issues, and the process for initiating statutory reform. Highlights include:

Clear models for establishing state planning agencies and preparing state plans, including those intended to stimulate affordable housing and to remove barriers to it.
Structures for regional planning agencies and regional plans, including those for housing, infrastructure and transportation. The “urban growth area boundaries” concept is included as an option
Innovative land use controls, including a statute for siting controversial state facilities, such as prisons, as well as procedures for reviewing large-scale developments that have greater-than-local impacts.
New approaches to tax-equity devices, including a regional tax-base-sharing statute based on that of the Twin Cities.
A team of planners and attorneys in APA’s Research Department worked with several consultants in preparing the book, and a Project Directorate–members from eight national organizations that represent elected officials–advised the project team. The first phase of the project was funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Henry M. Jackson Foundation of Seattle, and APA itself.

Two future volumes of Legislative Guidebook will deal with local planning organization and plan preparation, development controls (e.g., zoning and subdivision regulations), transportation demand management, administrative and judicial review of development decisions, the relationship of state environmental policy acts to state, regional and local planning activities, and many other topics.

The guidebook is available for $16 from APA’s Planners Book Service, at the Chicago address (see page 2), 312/ 786-6344, 312/ 431-9985 (fax) or from The text of the book can also be downloaded from the APA web site, as can summaries of the planning statutes for all 50 states, bibliographies and project newsletters:

On January 16, the American Planning Association released the Growing Smart Legislative Guidebook. This article is drawn from APA’s press release.

Back to Top of Page


APA’s research department in Chicago has released four new Planning Advisory Service (PAS) Reports in recent months. Copies of PAS Reports are distributed automatically to PAS subscribers or are available individually through APA’s Planners Book Service.

Planners’ Salaries and Employment Trends, 1995 PAS Report 464
by Marya Morris, AICP

The 1995 survey is the latest in a series going back to 1949. The survey investigated where planners work, providing a number of breakdowns by agency type, jurisdiction type and size, and state. The heart of the report is a look at salaries. The cross-tabulations consider a number of factors, including type of employer, education, AICP membership, experience, jurisdiction type and size, gender, and race. The report includes a set of worksheets that planners may use to “predict” their salaries, using calculations that employ the most significant salary determinants (e.g., experience, public/private employer, the state one works in, etc.).

by S. Mark White, AICP

An Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance (APFO) or a concurrency management ordinance (the terms are used interchangeably by the author) is one of the many planning tools that have been used to help manage traffic congestion. APFOs have an innate advantage over congestion pricing and transportation demand management in that they rely on two regulatory powers already held by local governments–development permitting and capital budgeting. The author describes APFOs and concurrency, explaining the importance of establishing effective level of service (LOS) standards–the backbone of any good concurrency system. He also examines some related legal issues, including takings, equal protection, substantive due process, regional general welfare, and the role of planning. Finally, he offers some guidelines about how to design an APFO, specifically looking at the experience of Montgomery County, Maryland, and Florida. Appendices in the report contain copies of enabling legislation from Florida and Washington State, as well as a copy of a concurrency management ordinance developed by the author’s firm for Douglas County, Colorado. Most useful will be an appendix with a series of tables that summarize the results of a survey the author did of how numerous jurisdictions use concurrency. The tables will allow anyone drafting or revising an APFO to review a wide variety of standards and means that they might employ.

by Robert B. Olshansky, AICP

Hillsides pose unique problems for the construction and maintenance of human settlements. This report describes the importance of planning for hillside development before adopting any particular set of regulations to shape that development. There may be inherent contradictions in multipurpose hillside ordinances that try to deal effectively with safety, aesthetics, environmental preservation, and affordability simultaneously. Based on a survey of 190 local governments in 22 states, the report offers a variety of approaches to achieving a community’s specific goals in hillside development. Excerpts from 13 ordinances and one nonprofit association, a series of illustrations, an analysis of the survey, and a bibliography round out the report.

CREATING TRANSIT-SUPPORTIVE LAND-USE REGULATION. PAS REPORT 467. A Compendium of Codes, Standards, and Guidelines.
Edited by Marya Morris, AICP

In an effort to minimize urban sprawl and reduce automobile dependence, communities are crafting plans and development controls that can make using transit easier, safer, and more cost efficient for both users and providers. This collection of code provisions (with accompanying commentary) provides the tools to manage growth and development in ways that can support transit use and the creation of healthy communities.

The provisions–collected from more than 30 communities in eight states–are grouped in four chapters: site design, parking, mixed use development, and density.

Back to Top of Page