Traditional Neighborhood Development

Sep 18, 2013

Traditional Neighborhood Development

In today's development context, Traditional Neighborhood Development (TND) is somewhat of a misnomer. TNDs are "traditional" only as they revert to the designs more common in pre-automobile cities and neighborhoods. In fact, the compactness and versatility of TNDs often make them distinctly innovative when compared to many postwar suburbs. Though the criteria and specifications of a good TND can vary, they tend to line up under four headings: compact development, a mix of land uses, clear and convenient transportation alternatives, and a demonstrated appreciation of community character and context (Ohm et. al. 2000).

Modern TNDs are often located in greenfields or occur as large infill projects. The Glen in Glenview was previously a naval air base. The Park Ridge Town Center used to be a large shopping mall. Prairie Crossing sprouted from a vast stretch of undeveloped land in Grayslake. Such projects require large sites to allow for the walkable street grid and multiple, mixed structures that define them. Greyfield sites (discussed below) are often ideal canvasses for these projects because of their size and potential for economic revitalization – all while discouraging greenfield development. On the other hand, greenfield TNDs skirt the costs and constraints of demolition and redevelopment, while bringing a compact, efficient development paradigm to the urban fringe where it is least represented.


Compact Development


A signature of TND is the compact placement of it structures and land uses. Residential, retail, office and civic spaces are often consolidated into a handful of buildings that are either contiguous (as is the case of many "main streets") or separate, but still in close proximity. Additionally, TNDs embrace streets that are platted in simple grid patterns that allow structures to sit flush against each other, maximizing their efficient use of space, promoting connectivity, and hastening navigability.

According to TND advocates, siting structures compactly does more than pose an efficient use of land and infrastructure. It reduces developments to the "human scale" (by encouraging street-side amenities such as signs and sidewalks while restricting building heights and walking distances), which makes them more inviting to pedestrians. This serves a social purpose by placing more people on the street and providing opportunities for plazas, courtyards and other public gathering places.

These gathering places can create a cycle where more people mean a larger market, endearing the street to more businesses, which then attract more people. Additionally, compactness allows for different types of buildings (e.g. residential, commercial and civic) to be in close proximity so that an afternoon of errands can be spent on the sidewalk, not the highway.

Mixed Land Uses

Arlington Heights

As an extension of compactness, TND also promotes a mix of land uses so residents can work, shop and be entertained within walking distance of their homes. Like other aspects of TND, mixed-use developments relate to a time before automobiles when proximate housing and services were a necessity, not a convenience. Ironically, modern examples of TND – though still defined by the characteristics of their predecessors – are often perceived as trendy, if sometimes artificial, when compared to the strip malls and subdivisions of the mid-to-late 20th Century.

Most planners encourage mixed-use developments for many reasons, not least is the premium they place on walking, bicycling and public transit. Additionally, they can broaden the tax base while providing a community focal point, forming a clear town center and tourist draw. Mixed-use also allows for a diversity of structures, services and incomes to accommodate many demographics, including single professionals, families with teenagers, and retired couples.

Multiple Transportation Modes

TNDs, by their compact nature, allow for transit alternatives. Though not all TNDs are on rail lines or bus routes (see transit-oriented development), they all encourage walking and bicycling while still including easily accessible roads and parking lots. Unlike winding cul-de-sacs and wide, high-speed boulevards, the well-connected grid pattern of most TND streets simultaneously facilitate pedestrian and automotive travel.Lake Forest

Community Character

An emphasis on community character gives many TNDs the "sense of place" and "public realm" that planners strive to create. Elements of community character can include natural attributes (e.g. wetlands, rivers, bluffs) or historic/cultural/architectural landmarks. According to a local TND expert, because compact, mixed-use development was popular at the origin of many older municipalities, re-branding these aging downtowns as "New Urbanist" is a way of advocating historic preservation.

Region-specific Strategies

The GlenThe Glen
Formerly a navel air station, Glenview's "The Glen" is now a 1.5-square-mile, mixed-use development not far from Metra's Milwaukee District North Line – lending it an element of transit-oriented development (TOD) as well. When the air base closed in 1995, the village coordinated the site's redevelopment with a mission to "create a lasting source of pride for the community by building quality public amenities, infrastructure, housing plus recreational and job opportunities." Today, the Glen includes of a variety of retail and residential options, as well as a new post office and the new home of the Kohl Children's Museum. Additional construction, including office and light industrial space, is pending. The distinct street grid and compact, versatile structures make the Glen easily walkable, while not discouraging automobile traffic.


Prairie Crossing
Prairie Crossing is located 40 miles northwest of Chicago in the Lake County suburb of Grayslake. It applies many elements Prairie Crossingof TND to a former greenfield site in an area where residential cul-de-sacs and isolated land uses are the norm. In fact, Prairie Crossing originated from a group of neighbors who opposed a conventional 2,400-unit subdivision for the site in the 1980s. Touting the need for conserved open space and agricultural land, these neighbors collectively acquired Prairie Crossing's 667 acres and broke ground on a less intrusive development of 359 single-family homes and 36 condominiums. The structures were laid out compactly, not far from two Metra commuter rail stops, and anchored by a mixed-use neighborhood center. The architectural styles were adapted from historic houses nearby to ensure the development was representative of its community. Prairie Crossing has been nationally recognized as the positive result of mixing environmental conservation with good urban design.

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