Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Sprawl Transect

The Rural to Urban Transect is a great tool. It provides a method for understanding the various types of built environments that one may encounter, from the densest downtown to the sparsely settled countryside. More importantly, it helps planners and designers to address each type of place according to its needs. A country road doesn't need curbs, gutters, and sidewalks, but a downtown street without them is hopelessly inadequate. Each type of place can be great, and the trick is to understand what zone you are in and design it appropriately. It can even be used, in a tongue-in-cheek manner, to select a wardrobe.

It can also help to lay out neighborhoods and cities. For example, the T5 zone shown above may be perfect for a neighborhood main street, whereas the residential side streets may be T4. Deeper within the city, where transit is available and jobs are clustered, the denser Transect zones should be more prevalent. Near the outside of the city, away from such amenities, the less intense Transect zones should dominate.

It has even been used as the basis for zoning and other codes. There has been quite a bit of thought put into it. If you'd like to learn more, go to www.transect.org

Several years ago, I developed a counter-concept that I called The Sprawl Transect. Some folks had erroneously accused the T3 zone of being sprawl, thereby accusing the Transect of accommodating sprawl. This simply isn't the case; T3 simple represents walkable low-density residential areas. These areas existed long before sprawl was a problem, and they are a great and important part of any city's land use portfolio.

Not sprawl.
(Photo by Mark Crosse)
Also, sprawl includes more than just single-family homes; it also hosts strip malls, office parks, apartment complexes, and all sorts of other goodies. 

T3 is most certainly not sprawl. So I created The Sprawl Transect to show how actual sprawl looks in transect form. There are several key differences between it at the real Transect, thereby helping to highlight the genius of the real Transect.
  • Unwalkable Residential Areas. The single-family homes are also laid out on disconnected and unwalkable street networks and larger lots. 
  • Poor Connections. The Sprawl zones don't blend seamlessly into each other as the zones do in the proper Transect. Instead, each zone abruptly ends before the next begins, and the connections between them are poor and sparse. 
  • Parking is King. The prevalence of parking is made obvious in The Sprawl Transect. 
  • No Height Variety. There are no gradients to the building heights in sprawl. Most buildings are very low, except in the rare cases when they're really tall. In the strip commercial areas, though, the pole signs create an interesting skyline of sorts.
  • No Respect for the Rural. Rural areas are often seen by developers, and sometimes by the local planning department, simply as future sprawl instead of something valuable in its own right.
  • Space Hog. To help show how space-intensive sprawl is, I used a scale which highlighted the amount of land that it consumes.

A few people have found it useful, and so I hereby share it with you today in case it can also be useful to you. It has been used as a tool, such as here and here, and it has even been included in a German language urban planning book called More Urban to Suburbia by Juliane Lorenz. I hope you like it!


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