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Urban design Creating neighborhood feel along major transportation thoroughfares


We are conducting a small area plan for a development area that crosses into two different counties. There is a major state highway that runs N/S through the area, another one that runs E/W and then and interstate that also runs E/W. One county has already experienced a lot of growth, but it's mostly a couple of big box stores and a couple of smaller outdoor shopping centers/fast food restaurants, etc. It has a reputation as a truck stop, and so the commercial development that has located there has followed that pattern.

This one county has recently completed a county-wide Comp Plan and identified this as a growth area. There will be additional commercial development, as well as several multi-family housing projects that were recently approved by the elected body. There is of course push back from the higher-income folks in a nearby residential development, but overall, the County seems committed to supporting the continued commercial development of the area.

The other county has some catch-up work to do on their public engagement for this area. So one challenge is just trying to balance where they both are respectively. Another big challenge is that one of the things they've described wanting to do is create a neighborhood feel in this area. They want it to feel more like a unified neighborhood despite the major transportation systems breaking it up. Check out the google map here.

Anyone aware of any other area plans that have tackled this kind of challenge? I think our first goal should be to focus on doing some targeted outreach on the County that hasn't been through a big Comp Plan update to get them closer to the same point that the first County is at. The first County has voiced that they would like some nuts and bolts such as ideas for landscaping, signage, etc. But it's a weird place to be since we don't have the capacity to do any kind of Master plan work, so it's mostly going to be policy recommendations. I was thinking after doing the initial visioning/SWOT analysis, it might be good to go back with photos of other places that are similar to start getting a feel for what they like that we could incorporate, but I'm not sure how to identify comparable areas.

Any helps is appreciated!
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Arlington, TX, has a development on I-20 just east of a major mall that's got a bunch of restaurants, retail and entertainment venues (movie theater, comedy club) with a "main street" feel. Being right on the freeway it's become a place for people to come together from various parts of the metro area to spend time together, and the main street facades are easier on the eyes than typical strip mall. It's still kind of disney-esque or movie set-ish, but better than your typical shopping center.


Dear Leader
Staff member
This is a tough one. We knew how to turn rural crossroads into walkable villages, and know how to turn arterial roads into suburban strips. We really don't have much experience with turning suburban strips into coherent neighborhood centers.

The idea of suburban retrofitting and sprawl repair has a lot of attention among the new urbanist crowd, but its application has usually been centered around nodes, not an entire strip. (In the community where I work, the comp plan targets an area around a 1960s-style plaza for redevelopment as a TND.) Here's a few things I found online:

I don't want to be one of those planners who thinks a form-based code is the solution to everything. However, they have a lot of advantages when you have a specific vision in mind. Even just implementing a few FBC concepts into existing zoning, like build-to lines instead of setbacks, minimum frontage occupancy, prohibiting parking between a building facade and street. streetscape/public realm standards, and basic architectural regulations that consider human scale would go a long way.

Many dense, somewhat walkable areas in American suburbs were vehicle-oriented strips 30 or 40 years ago. Their evolution into something more dense and urban wasn't sudden, but incremental, happening over many years. The West Colfax Avenue strip in Denver is an example of how a really awful 1950s-era strip is slowly becoming more traditionally urban. However, Denver has the advantage of being a city with increasingly pricey real estate, neighborhoods that gentrify in a couple of years instead of a couple of decades, and a growing population of hioghly educated, well-off "lifestyle" Millennials and Generation Xers that crave urban living. Those conditions don't exist for places like Market Street in Boardman, Ohio or US 41 in Terre Haute.

tl;dr: look at Denver, zone appropriately, and think incrementally.