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Thread: Can you or should you attempt to define a town's character with the comp plan?

  1. #1
    Cyburbian Hawkeye66's avatar
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    Can you or should you attempt to define a town's character with the comp plan?

    Should a council or planning commission be shaping the character of the city? Should it even try? or just lay out street plans, future growth, zoning districts, etc.?

  2. #2
    Cyburbian cch's avatar
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    The way I look at it, comp plans are a way to attempt to give a town some character, and that is a good thing (as martha stewart would say ). But, it shouldn't be entirely up to the council or planning commission, and lot of public input should help to dictate what the desired character would be like.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Community character is always part of planning, as I see it. We often start the planning process with a visioning elment.
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    Cyburbian Joe Iliff's avatar
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    Some would say that a comprehensive plan, or the process by which it was created, would reveal a community's character, much as adversity reveals a person's character, but doesn't create it itself.
    JOE ILIFF
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  5. #5
    You have to know where you are before you plot a course to take you somewhere else. So, yes and yes.
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  6. #6
    Cyburbian Seabishop's avatar
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    I think it should lay out a character as far as land use goes. If a town has a historic main street surrounded by high density residential neighborhoods and a park, that layout is part of its character. Plopping a race track in the residential neighborhood changes that character. So "character" isn't just about "friendliness" or other intangible things.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian craines's avatar
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    Shaping and facilitating, yes. But what of new towns? Is it possible to establish or create character for a new community?

  8. #8
    Cyburbian munibulldog's avatar
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    Yes, because character is created by such things as minimum lot widths and right of way widths. Most people do not understand this and never think about it.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian craines's avatar
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    Maybe it is too esoteric of a point but what character comes out of everything being just right, right widths, right depth so on and so forth. I do not think that character comes from every thing being perfectly planned.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian munibulldog's avatar
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    For example, in a commercial area, narrow lots of a width of about 10 paces with zero setbacks create a very interesting experience for the pedestrian. When the area is developed, the pedestrian can see many different storefront window displays without having to walk far.

    In single family residential areas, narrow lots and small setbacks mean more density, and more population within a given walking or biking distance to commercial/service locations. This can enhance the number, quality and viability of commercial/service businesses near the residential neighborhood.

  11. #11
    I think this whole question of 'character' is very interesting, but also very difficult to define. I'd argue that the layout of streets, land uses and future growth areas was a huge part of the area's character in itself.

    In addition, the large scale layout guides the development of the more detailed character, defined by policies such as parking restrictions and by the actions of the many individuals who live in the area.

    We've been discussing the question of character a lot recently in our consultancy, and with buildings there is an analogy with human characters. The character of a person can be defined as a collection of habits. Habits, in turn, are repeated actions. With cities, a consistent character is created by a consistent set of design decisions - it might be a common choice of material, a common relationship with the street or some other feature, consistent signage or a repeated choice of housing type.

    The danger with repetition is that the area can become monotonous, and so consistency is not enough - it has to be high quality consistency which allows for some variety for a successful character to be created. The buildings are just part of this - character is created ultimately by people who live in an area and the activities that take place.

    In the UK, the conservation areas place very strict controls on small chunks of the city, and the law says that new development must 'preserve or enhance the character' of the area. Conservation Area character appraisals are produced by local government to set out what that character is. A great deal of this is of course subjective, and It is sometimes difficult to make judgements on new proposed buildings, and even more difficult to consider the other, less tangible, qualities of an area.

  12. #12
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    I say YES!!!


    We plan for those unable to plan for themselves, or facilitate the process of planning for them. So I say absolutely.....


    Do we want the opposite to happen?? Do we want developers to shape the character of the towns we live in? Hell no....that's the reason we all have a job in the first place, as a stopgap to prevent runaway development without thinking about future implications of those actions.

  13. #13
    Cyburbian Plan-it's avatar
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    Most definetly. The Comp Plan should be about creating a vision for the future of the community. If that does not help to define Character I do not know what does. The visioning process is important to help staff/consultants understand what the community/elected officials/stakeholders want in their community.
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  14. #14
    Cyburbian TOFB's avatar
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    Good luck trying to get Joe Citizen to define it. It is a pretty esoteric topic. I think image preference surveys have run their course too. Planners and urban designers should take the lead in supporting and reinforcing community character in most cases.

  15. #15
    Cyburbian imaplanner's avatar
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    Yes I think so -IMO defining, protecting and enhancing community character is a very important part of creating a sustainable city/county. I think that Joe Citizen generally has some idea of what the character is, although it could be an effort to get something that most people agree on.

  16. #16
    Super Moderator luckless pedestrian's avatar
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    I think it's essential because that character then guides the specifics: infrastructure investments & other capital expenditures, zoning, permitting, the whole thing rests on what it is you as the Town are trying to either become or protect

  17. #17
    This place has character:

    So does this place:

    This character is not accidental.

    A city that does not create, enhance and protect its character ends up looking like this:


    The value of the whole town is increased when a few rules of character formation are respected. It may just be at the neighborhood level, like Times Square above, but it is fundamentally the function of urban planning to build character.

  18. #18
    Cyburbian natski's avatar
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    At the present i am managing an Urban Character Study for the Council i work for- and the process has been very interesting. It has observed everything from the history of the area, to built form and natural landscape features. From this study we can observe locations that have existing intact and predominant character, a poor character that should be changed, a character that should be preserved or a changing character that can be managed.

    The reason we undertook this study is because we are looking at where we can accomodate further infill and potentially higher density development- and this study will help identify places that may be suitable for this- of course more studies will be used to finalise that.

    The only thing this study didnt show was the character of the people in the locations- more like a social character. One of the planners brought it up at a meeting we had. To tell you the truth i dont know how you could study/define this.
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  19. #19
    Cyburbian Seabishop's avatar
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    The only thing I would look out for is that "community character" doesn't turn into keeping "others" out.

  20. #20
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    Not being cynical but if someone doesn't make a plan the developers certainly will and character isn't usually something that understand in a non-marketing sense.

  21. #21
    Cyburbian Plus JNA's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Gedunker View post
    You have to know where you are before you plot a course to take you somewhere else. So, yes and yes.
    I agree, and would add
    you have to know who you are and how/what got you there before you plot a course to take you somewhere else.
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  22. #22
    Cyburbian Tobinn's avatar
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    Can you or should you attempt to define a town's character with the comp plan?

    I would argue that that is one of the prime purposes of the Comp. Plan. The Plan should tell you where you are and, just as importantly, where you want to go. The Plan should give authority to and support the zoning code. The zoning code is where things like setbacks, lot widths and the like is found. Those will be some of the elements which will result in your communities character all supported, as mentioned above, by the Plan.

  23. #23
    Cyburbian
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    I dont really think you can regulate character because it is far too subjective. I interpret the word stemming from characteristics, or traits. You can have positive and negative characteristics, and you can have a positive and negative character. If anything, promoting character through the use of comprehensive plans, zoning ordinances, design guidelines, and other planning tools, helps give parts of community (borough, neighborhoods, parts of a block, or even a parcel) a unique collection of traits (architectural styles, setbacks, local history, materials, elevations, existing uses) that lessen the impact of monotony (this has already been discussed).

    Hopefully, if we do our jobs as planners, we lessen the impact of a negative character in a community, and promote the positives. This promotion of positive character in a community does not necessarily equate to new development, but rather the promotion of positive traits in a given area.

  24. #24
    Cyburbian
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    I always thought that a comp plan was meant to give a town character and define its essence, it would be a toothless document if that wasn't the intention.

  25. #25
    Cyburbian
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    A word from one a' them Joe Citizen's...

    As Gedunker and JNA said, you need to know who/what you are as a community and how you got to be that way to figure out where you want to go. I agree that a comrehensive plan's main purpose is to lay out the general vision of what the community is now, what most of its members want it to be, and what can be done, generally, to make that happen. Any kind of community plan can really only address the physical character (building density, infrastructure, where certain types of business or activity are not allowed) directly. Those physical characteristics can be planned and used to make desired social behaviors easier (higher density, mixture of uses, and sidewalks to encourage walking and social interaction) and unwanted behaviors harder (mixed uses keep more people on the streets through the day and evening, meaning more potential witnesses to discourage crime). But social character can't be forced by physical plans; more witnesses on the streets aren't much good until the witnesses stop being too afraid of retaliation to testify.
    Basically, figure out what you want to promote and support, and plan accordingly, but make sure you understand the limits of plans. And do everything you can to keep us peons informed.

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