Articles from the November 1996 Newsletter

Lakeville Institutes New Public Notification System
Mentoring: a Meaningful Way to Nurture Future Planners
Letter to the Editor re A New Urbanist Lexicon: Part 2
Link to Part 2
A New Urbanist Lexicon: Part 3

The Lakeville City Council, with the assistance of the Community and Economic Development Department, has established a program intended to improve and expand the method of notifying the public of upcoming planning and land use actions.

The need to increase public awareness of development proposals and planning actions was identified during the four neighborhood Lakeville Forums:

Strategies for Tomorrow meetings which were held in the fall of 1995. These meetings were held in four different neighborhoods in the city and were well attended by the public.

One way to achieve the goal of increased public awareness was to expand the distance in which surrounding property owners receive mailed public hearing notification. The mailed notification area has been expanded from 350 feet to 500 feet for preliminary plats, conditional use permits, variances and rezonings.

In conjunction with the increased mailing area, a series of public notification signs were designed. The signs direct the public to call a 24-hour automated telephone number (985-PLAN). Callers are then directed through a menu of pre-recorded messages and detailed information related to the specific project they are calling about. The caller is then invited to leave a message to receive more information if they desire. Tho the best of the City’s knowledge, this method of public notification via signage and an automated telephone system is the first of its kind in Minnesota.

Frank Dempsey is an Associate Planner with the City of Lakeville.

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Planners often ask me how they can contribute more to graduate planning education. We all remember how as a student there was a significant person (e.g. faculty member, planner) who nurtured our interest in the profession and made a difference in our careers. Now there is an opportunity for professional planners to play such a role through the mentoring programs operated by both graduate planning programs in Minnesota.

The Urban and Regional Studies Institute at Mankato State University and the Humphrey Institute of the University of Minnesota have been operating voluntary mentoring programs for their students for several years. These programs are designed to be informal interactions between a practicing planner and a planning student and can include discussions at the office or over lunch of planning activities, professional goals, challenges facing the profession, etc. Or it may involve attending conferences, public hearings, council meetings, and so on. The important thing is that you share your interests, insights, and experiences with students and help them prepare for a career in planning.

The two programs are organized a little differently but generally they require approximately a 14 hour commitment of your time during the academic year. For further information or to apply to be a planning mentor, contact:

Prof. Robert Barrett
Urban and Regional Studies Institute Mankato State University
Mankato, MN 56002
(507389-1714 or FAX (612)389-6377


Lynne Schuman
Humphrey Institute
Univ. of Minnesota
301 19th Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN 55455
(612)625-2847 or FAX (612)625-6351

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It is unfortunate that disdain for all city planners seems to be central to the dogma of the New Urbanists, or at least some of the movement’s followers. I suggest that knocking the intentions and intelligence of all planners is not the best way to solve the land use problems that concern us all.

In last month s lead article in Planning Minnesota [A New Urbanist Lexicon: Part 2], the author dismissed the entire planning profession, and local and regional planners as well, by stating that they have no clear way of thinking about organizing land development and urban redevelopment initiatives to build authentic community. The assumption is that if only they would adhere to New Urbanist beliefs, sprawl would be stopped in its tracks.

A leading proselytizer, writer James Kunstler (“The Geography of Nowhere”) last month warned in an after-dinner speech at the Pro Bike Conference that current planning and design trends will soon doom the country to everlasting darkness.

Perhaps the excesses of the apostles should be overlooked in light of the fact that intolerance and inflexibility are taught by the Messiah himself, St. Andres. [Andres Duany, for those who have to ask–ed.] Each of his revival meetings is opened with a harangue about the original sin of every land planner since Olmsted. I just wish we had half as much sway over development patterns as he seems to think we do.

However, I don t think all the rest of the world is as clueless as some of the New Urbanists claim. Ideas such as multi-modal travel, recreational open space, permanent agricultural areas, physical community, enhanced public space, mixed-use development and rural villages are not new. The theory is under stood. The challenge is mobilizing a consensus for them in a society that has often-contrary values.

If only our regional development problems were as simple as last month’s column made them seem, a Just Say No solution might work. The writer’s argument seemed simplistic and unconvincing, and the lexicon itself lacks practical applicability to the problems of regional development. For example: if we are supposed to identify and set aside permanent rural preserves that are resistant to legal challenge solely “on the basis of technical criteria,” how about some discussion of workable techniques such as downzoning, clustering, and purchase or transfer of development rights from these preserves?

It might have been more helpful to assemble a thoughtful presentation on how to overcome the many hurdles to changing and improving how our cities and regions are designed. Proof by assertion may be acceptable in the Atlantic Monthly but the audience for Planning Minnesota would probably appreciate a more reasoned argument.

I think most planners support the need for a new approach. The Minnesota APA position paper on regional development published in Planning Minnesota last summer is evidence of that, and highly consistent with New Urbanist teaching as well. The movement is a breath of fresh air for a profession that sorely needs one. So, instead of demeaning the profession, those impatient for change might better advance the cause by acknowledging the diversity of views and values in the United States, recognizing the good work that is being done in many quarters, tipping their hat to economic forces and inviting pluralistic participation. You can t collect honey by first kicking over the beehive. Inclusivity and cooperation are what s needed.


Bill Weber, AICP

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The contemporary problem of urban sprawl is a direct result of planning practices that no longer use human-scaled neighborhoods as building block s for urban growth.

In the previous series, the Neighborhood, Corridor and District were discussed as the fundamental components of a New Urban regional pattern. Here we will begin to describe neighborhood typology and its role as a fundamental building block for villages, towns and cites. There are many differences among traditional neighborhoods based on individual topography and the creativedesign of planners and builders. Yet complete neighborhoods have many formal characteristics in common as well as proximity relationships necessary for them to function as urban units.

A complete neighborhood accommodates a variety of building uses and human activity within. There are always a number of places to go and things to do within walking distance of one another. It contains an assortment of residential buildings (i.e., houses, apartments, garages, outbuildings), workplace buildings (i.e., offices, studios, craft shops), commercial buildings (i.e., grocery stores, craft shops, boutiques, salons, rental stores, restaurants, taverns, delicatessens, (bakeries), and public buildings (i.e., schools, churches, libraries, assembly halls). These components are bound together by a well-crafted public realm. Elements such as tree-lined streets, sidewalks, greens, playgrounds, parks, benches, picnic shelters and gazebos define a neighborhood’s public spaces and offer valuable community amenities. The unique composition of these components is what characterizes each neighborhood, new or existing.

The desirability of well-maintained, older neighborhoods is a notable testimony to the durability of traditional urbanism. A virtual reference library of practical design principles can be found in the traditional neighborhoods throughout America, and the world. They provide techniques applicable to today’s urban development and redevelopment needs, independent of nostalgic architecture and ornamentation styles. Through observation of spatial relationships in the landscape between buildings, many of the attractive and functional characteristics of historic neighborhoods become evident. Measurement and documentation of specific details further enriches a planner’s design library.

More importantly, traditional neighborhood models demonstrate that the manner in which urban environments are crafted and maintained has much more to do with inherent property value than designated land use, zoning criteria, or the age of buildings. Most people invest into a traditional neighborhood or spend a great deal of time there because it feels good, even though they may not know why.

Memorable and valuable neighborhoods exist where the total sum of all the irparts generates positive human experiences.

Following are ten principles considered essential to a complete, traditional neighborhood, new of existing. They are meant to be used as both a prescriptive format for design and a checklist for compliance. For authenticity, each neighborhood should have at least nine of these principles articulated in physical form. In later articles these principles will be described individually in greater detail, with attention to their typological attributes and their capacity to foster the positive social, political, and economic relationships necessary for a “sense of community”

A. An area of 40 to 160 acres. Development of a complete, walkable neighborhood is best accommodated in an area this size.

B. A minimum density of five residential units per acre. A critical mass of citizens in close proximity to daily services and activities is necessary for mutual support between local residents and businesses.

C. An internal balance of housing, jobs and services. A complete, self-sufficient neighborhood requires many buildings housing a variety of daily activities within its boundaries.

D. An identifiable neighborhood center. The neighborhood center is both a civic focus and informal place of gathering for the community.

E. Designated sites for civic buildings. Buildings such as schools, libraries, museums, assembly halls, places of worship, and day care centers occupy the most prominent places in the neighborhood and should be planned in coordination with public open spaces.

F. A variety of public open spaces. Natural and landscaped open spaces are for the use, benefit, and enjoyment of the entire community.

G. A hierarchy of interconnected streets. Complete neighborhoods contain streets of different traffic characteristics and that connect with one another and are terminated by other streets.

H. Streets for both people and cars. Neighborhood streets are public places comfortably and deliberately accommodating many modes of transportation, including pedestrians and bicyclists.

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.

J. Outbuildings as affordable housing units. Outbuilding residences on single family lots offer high quality, well maintained housing for residents of limited income or special needs.

Editor’s comment: Can you determine how many of these principles your neighborhood embodies? Most likely, the last one — outbuildings as affordable housing units — is not present because zoning rarely permits it. Should it be permitted, and with what conditions, if any? And how self-sufficient can a neighborhood in a metropolitan area be in terms of the jobs it provides within its boundaries? We’re pleased that this series is generating some controversy (see Bill Weber’s letter). Please join the discussion by sending any comments by e-mail by November 21.

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