1 Compact Complete Communities | West Coast Environmental Law

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Compact Complete Communities

Compact complete communities is another term for traditional neighbourhood development, new urbanism, transit-oriented development, smart growth, and other land development forms that emphasize (1) the ability to walk to services and recreation, and (2) a diversity of both housing and commercial forms. The completeness of a community means that everyday needs, including transit, can be fulfilled within a five- to ten-minute walking distance of residences.

For a detailed discussion of the benefits of compact complete communities, please see A Case for Smart Growth.

Compact complete communities possess the following characteristics (adapted from Traditional Neighbourhood Development zoning for Concord, North Carolina):

  • complete and integrated communities contain housing, shops, workplaces, schools, parks and civic facilities essential to the daily life of the residents and connected by a system of sidewalks
  • housing, jobs, daily needs and other activities are within easy walking distance of one another
  • as many activities as possible are located within easy walking distance of transit stops
  • a diversity of housing types to enable citizens from a wide range of economic levels and age groups to live within the neighbourhood
  • the location and character of the community is consistent with a larger transit network
  • the community has a center focus that combines commercial, civic, cultural and recreational uses where civic buildings and squares reinforce the identity of the neighbourhood
  • the community contains an ample supply of specialized open space in the form of squares, greens and parks whose frequent use (for social activity and recreation) is encouraged through placement and design
  • the neighbourhood is spatially understood and limited in size
  • the hierarchy and design of streets serves equitably the needs of pedestrians, bicycles and automobiles
  • architecture and landscape respond to the unique character of the region and preserve the charm and unity of the neighbourhood as a whole

More specifically, compact complete communities mean (from Steve Tracy and Local Government Commission, Smart Growth Zoning Codes: A Resource Guide pp. 9-11):

  • neighbourhoods that can be walked from the neighbourhood edge to the mixed-use centre in five to ten minutes
  • sidewalks at least 1.5 metres (5 feet) wide in residential areas and 1.8 and 3.7 metres (6 to 12 feet) in mixed-use and commercial areas. Parkway strips of 1.5 to 3 metres (5 to 10 foot) buffer pedestrians from traffic and allow tree planting. Crosswalks should be provided mid-block if the blocks are longer than 90 metres (300 feet)
  • street and block patterns that form an interconnected grid
  • short block faces, generally between 90 and 240 metres (300 and 800 feet), with an average of 150 metres (500 feet)
  • narrow streets and alleys
  • street trees and landscaping strips
  • creative parking strategies and lower requirements
  • surface parking lots behind or beside buildings with structured parking facilities where financially feasible
  • visibility into commercial buildings, and out of all buildings onto public areas
  • a variety of housing types and commercial and civic uses
  • small scale commercial uses (up to 465 square metres/5000 square feet) integrated into mixed-use retail centre and residential areas
  • prominent public features, which also serve as navigation points

A key component of smart growth and creating more compact complete communities is taking advantage of density in appropriate locations. Density is about creating a balance of residential, commercial, recreational and open space uses in a neighbourhood. This means that different types of densities are appropriate in different places. Densities that are more than 25 units per hectare (10 units per acre) provide enough residents and activity to support neighbourhood retail and more efficient transit services. Neighbourhood hubs near transit stations, town centres, civic centre, where two neighbourhoods meet, and at major retail and employment locations are ideal locations for more density and diversity because they provide nearby employment, transportation options and services.

In British Columbia, one way to encourage appropriate densification and also obtain desired amenities such as affordable housing and protection of the environment is to offer a voluntary density bonus program for developers.

Examples of Compact, Complete Communities Zoning

Examples of Policies for Doing More with Less Land

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