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Thread: Ploppy sloppy site planning: is organic always good?

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    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Ploppy sloppy site planning: is organic always good?

    In Traditional Neighborhood Development, the grid is celebrated, and the relationship of buildings to the street is a critical part of site design. Streets are considered as "outdoor living rooms" and common space, with buildings serving as the walls; mostly perpendicular to and facing the street.

    Our community's draft comprehensive plan recommends TND for certain areas close to the city that it surrounds. Compact, mixed use, a variety of building types, with design inspired by traditional town building principles; the usual. However, a possible wrench that might be thrown into the works is the local popularity of what could be called "ploppy sloppy site planning", where buildings are arranged in a deliberately random or "organic" manner. Here's an example of a cottage development in an outlying community:





    A cluster development in the area:



    Staggered setbacks for their own sake are also popular. A project now under construction in the area. Note the remote parking, also looked at positively around here.



    Every so often, someone will stop by the office with conceptual development plans for a parcel in the community. Inevitably, the form will be "ploppy", taking its cue from the iconic cluster development pictured above. Ploppy site planning seems to be so popular here, I believe because of rustic or natural aspirations that appeal to the region's crunchy, eco-minded populace. The response from other staff members to ploppy projects is usually positive. Me, not so much.

    What's the problem with ploppy? I think it could have a place in a rural context, among a landscape that is more rural, and indeed, natural. However, my fear is that when we move forward with TND, developers will still present the community with tempting plans for ploppy, Ploppy, however, doesn't work in the context of TND, where building arrangement, and the relationship of buildings to the street and each other, are more deliberate and regular. The pseudo-random building arrangement also results in a lot of unprogrammed space that is neither functionally common nor private. The inefficiency of random-ish site planning reduces the amount of land that is potentially available for useful, functional open space, or in a more urban context, density.

    What are your thoughts on ploppy site planning? What do you think are its pluses and minuses? Is it common in your area?
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

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    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    When I first looked at those images, I immediately thought of co-housing developments. Because, as “deliberately random” as some of those designs are, they do in some cases create little common spaces among the homes that connect them to one another in a functional manner. For example, I can see a value of a pedestrian-oriented common area in front of staggered setbacks that offer safe and monitor-able play spaces for kids, play areas and common gardens. So bucolic!

    But you are right that the net result of how this development integrates with others is no better than the walled, self-contained subdivisions I so loathe. My main objections to these is what they do to traffic patterns. With a number of little self-contained developments, its impossible to travel from one subdivision to the next as there is no connectivity. The traffic leaving the area is usually dumped onto one larger arterial that suffers from overcrowding and endless widening that never seems to make things flow any better.
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    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by wahday View post
    When I first looked at those images, I immediately thought of co-housing developments. Because, as “deliberately random” as some of those designs are, they do in some cases create little common spaces among the homes that connect them to one another in a functional manner. For example, I can see a value of a pedestrian-oriented common area in front of staggered setbacks that offer safe and monitor-able play spaces for kids, play areas and common gardens. So bucolic!
    "So bucolic" is the problem. My concern is the bucolic or rustic ploppy or "hippie random rural" form in a more urban context. It's the right thing -- well, sort of of -- in the wrong place.

    The inspiration for this post was a conceptual plan for a "pocket neighborhood, like what Ross Chapin designs" that landed on my desk. When I think of such a pocket neighborhood, this comes to mind.



    That wasn't the plan. Instead, the arrangement of the cottages was ploppy, and with staggered setbacks. The problem with such a design for a pocket neighborhood is that there's no clear view of the entire courtyard space from any of the units. The view off to one side of a porch will be blocked by the side of the neighboring unit. (There were other aspects that were far from the Chapin ideal, too.) The individual cluster were also small (Chapin recommends 8 to 12 units in a cluster), each arranged on the site in an equally ploppy fashion. Basically, the site plan looked as if five Lego bricks were casually put down here, six there, five somewhere else, six in another place. Yes, the plan resulted in common areas, but it wasn't quality space. There was a lot of wasted and unprogrammed land, worthless as conservation, common or private space.'

    By the way, it was a proposed cohousing project. Maybe there's an unwritten rule that site planning for intentional communities be "organic".
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

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    Cyburbian hilldweller's avatar
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    I've seen similar concepts in co-housing developments where there's a collectivist thing going on, but these examples are just weird. Any idea what the thinking was behind that pod-like pattern (three units facing each other, all painted the same color)?

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    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    I see the merit to an element of randomness in urban design. It is even something I have advocated as a contrast to the usual uniform setbacks found in traditional downtowns. And I can also see where it may work in pocket neighborhood design, particularly where there may be a significant slope or where the parcel is irregularly shaped. But in a typical pocket neighborhood I would agree that it should generally be designed to maximize the common space, provide visibility of the commons from all units, and also balance privacy with neighborliness. This is usually going to be accomplished with relatively uniform setbacks.
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    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    Ploppy does appear to have its problems. I would assume these developments would need to be run by a condo association because there is so much common area. Not that in itself is an issue, however, there are not many units per acre meaning the costs for maintaining common pipes, roads, and even maintenance has to be sky high per unit.
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

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