From densification to woonerf – a guide to urban planning jargon.
Designing urban spaces is a complicated business. It’s no wonder, then, that it comes with its own brand of complicated language. Here’s a handy guide to help you understand some of the most common buzzwords used in urban design currently.
Urbanism is the broad term referring to the study of how people live and interact with the built environment in cities or towns. Sometimes it’s used interchangeably with “urban planning.”
A narrower and more specific variant of urbanism is tactical urbanism, which describes quick, temporary interventions that seek to improve neighbourhoods or common gathering places through grassroots initiatives. Some great examples are pop-up festivals or temporary public art installations. Remember the Park(ing) Day hosted by the Regina Downtown Business Improvement District? It transformed metered parking spots into temporary public park spaces for the day.
Learn more from City Lab’s comprehensive guide to Tactical Urbanism.
A term that originated in the 1960s but has gained prominence recently is “placemaking”. Defined as an approach to urban design that foregrounds the health, happiness and experiences of people in public spaces, placemaking is a movement that seeks to strengthen the connection between people and the urban environment.
In Regina, The Regina Downtown Business Improvement District recently hosted a public Placemaking discussion seeking thoughts on how to improve a neighbourhood, city or region.
An offshoot of the Placemaking philosophy is “woonerf”, or “living street”. Originating in the Netherlands, woonerf refers to a collection of tactics aimed at making streets more pedestrian friendly and multi-purpose, rather than just thoroughfares for automobiles.
In the US and Canada, this concept has been translated into “Complete Streets”, where traffic calming, lowered speed limits and increased accessibility are employed to give equal priority to walking, biking and driving.
You can read City of Regina’s Complete Streets Framework in the Transportation Master Plan (Appendix “D).
5.) Urban Metabolism
Urban metabolism is a model describing an urban area’s material and energy flows. This kind of analysis helps us understand a city’s energy consumption, production, efficiency and sustainability.
For a more in-depth explanation, see our article on Urban Metabolism.
Often used instead of the full term “planned densification”, this concept refers to planning or design aimed at increasing population density in key urban areas.
Increasing density can often have positive side effects of limiting urban sprawl, reducing energy consumption and promoting alternative modes of transportation. However, densification has to be balanced and managed against issues like land availability, real estate costs and policy challenges.
7.) Infill development/ Intensification
Construction of new buildings or addition to existing buildings on existing serviced land within existing built areas through practices of building conversion, new construction or redevelopment.
8.) Urban revitalization
Refers to reorganizing an existing city structure, particularly in neighborhoods in decline due to economic or social reasons. Urban revitalization initiatives generally include improving features of the urban environment, such as the quality of pavement and the functionality of the sidewalks. Depending on the intended usage of the revitalized neighborhood, the projects can also address the need for improved community engagement and utilization of the public spaces, providing new entertainment facilities like parks and museums.
9.) Biophilic Design
Based on the idea that people have an innate connection to nature,“biophilic design” more fully integrates things like trees, vegetation, water and natural light into modern cities and living spaces.
We described biophilic design and its potential benefits the article “A Natural Cure For Urban Stress”.
An acronym that stands for “not in my backyard”, NIMBY is the tendency for people to oppose certain developments near their home or in their neighbourhood, even if they might consider them socially beneficial in general. Usually this fear is based on perceived quality of life or property value concerns.
Developments that are often challenged by NIMBYism range widely, including everything from industrial parks and landfills to highways and airports.
11.) Complete Community/Complete Neighbourhood
Complete neighbourhoods are places where residents enjoy their choices of lifestyles, food, housing options, employment, services, retail and amenities, multi-modal transportation, and educational and recreational facilities and programs. Most importantly, complete neighbourhoods provide easy access to the daily life necessities for people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds in an engaging and adaptable urban environment.
12.) Complete Streets
Complete Streets is a design approach that changes the purpose of a roadway from moving as much motorized traffic as possible to a street that can meet the needs of all users, regardless of age, ability or mode of transportation. It includes increased priority on bike and transit lanes, more trees and greenery, more patios, wider sidewalks and pathways, more separated sidewalks and sidewalks on both sides of the street in more communities. All of this, The City believes, will encourage more travel by transit, bikes and walking. This will help support a vibrant, active and Complete Neighbourhoods.
13.) Mixed Use
Any urban, suburban or development, or a single building, that combines residential with various uses such as commercial, employment, cultural, institutional or industrial where those functions are physically and functionally integrated and provide pedestrian connections, as well as access to multi-modal transportation options
14.) Greenfield Development
Refers to the real estate development of land not previously used for residential, commercial or industrial purpose. Greenfield Development is like painting on a blank canvas in that it is unconstrained by impacts leftover from previous development, such as existing building, infrastructure and utilities. In Regina, this usually refers to development for urban uses on land previously used for farmland adjacent to the city.
15.) Brownfield Development
Undeveloped or previously developed properties that may be contaminated. These are usually, but not exclusively, former industrial or commercial properties that may be underutilized, derelict or vacant.
In 2013, the City introduced Design Regina, its Official Community Plan to manage the city’s growth to 300,000 people and set the stage for its longer-term development. Design Regina contains a comprehensive policy framework that guides the physical, environmental, economic, social and cultural development of the city.
17.) Secondary Plan & Concept Plans
“Secondary Plans” and “Concept Plans” are used by the City of Regina to guide the development of new neighbourhoods and employment areas (e.g. new commercial and industrial parks) in the city. These planning instruments are also used to guide the redevelopment or intensification of existing neighbourhoods and employment areas. Secondary Plans and Concept Plans provide direction for land-use (zoning); the provision of community services (e.g. parks, recreation, schools); the provision of utility services (e.g. water, wastewater and stormwater) and the provision of transportation services (e.g. roadways and transit).
Secondary Plans and Concept Plans include a combination of text, maps and graphics, and are supported by accompanying technical reports that substantiate proposed solutions for the utility and transportation networks proposed in the plans. Where a Secondary Plan applies to a proposed new neighbourhood, it is referred to as a “Neighbourhood Plan”.
Secondary Plan vs Concept Plan:
|Secondary Plans||Concept Plans|
|• Secondary Plans include policy statements, which are legally binding||• Concept Plans include descriptive text, but not actual policy statements|
|• Secondary Plans generally address a broad spectrum of issues||• Concept Plans generally only identifies the location of land-use, utility and transportation services and phasing|
|• The entire Secondary Plan document is subject to approval||• Only the key maps of the Concept Plan (e.g. land-use and circulation) are subject to approval|
|• Secondary Plans generally apply to a very large area and provide high level policy direction (although, this is not always the case)||• Concept Plans generally apply to smaller tracts of land (e.g. infill sites or development phases), and provide detailed direction|
|• Secondary Plans are approved by bylaw, and require approval by the Province||• Concept Plans are approved by resolution only|
18.) Neighbourhood Plan
Is the same as a Secondary Plan
Small houses and tiny condos called “micro units” are growing in popularity amongst urban dwellers, potentially causing builders and cities to change how they plan and design our cities.
A micro unit is a dwelling between 200 and 500 square feet. Of course, homes of this size are not uncommon in places outside of North America. The average house in Hong Kong, for example, is 484 square feet, which illustrates that “micro unit living” isn’t unprecedented.