Clear, accessible definitions for common urban planning terms.
A road diet ‘trims down’ multilane roadways by reallocating street space to uses other than car traffic, improving safety for pedestrians, encouraging multimodal travel, and enhancing overall livability.
The buzzword recently popularized by urbanists describes an urban form that dominated cities prior to the rise of autocentric planning.
If you’ve ever noticed a public bench split in half by a metal bar, or a series of seemingly ornamental boulders blocking the sidewalk under a high-rise overhang, you’ve seen what is often described as defensive urbanism or ‘hostile architecture.’
Safe and comprehensive bike facilities play a crucial role in keeping vulnerable road users safe, promoting biking as an everyday transit mode, and reducing carbon emissions and traffic congestion by encouraging a shift to more multimodal transportation.
Clean Water Act
The primary environmental law to regulate water pollution in the United States, the Clean Water Act, went into effect 50 years ago, on October 18, 1972.
The woonerf, a type of road design that encourages multimodal transportation and blends pedestrian and vehicle space, was born as a reaction to the car-centric development that began dominating American and European city planning in the mid-twentieth century.
Variances allow for development projects to deviate from the zoning code on a case-by-case basis—if the project developer can prove a unique economic or physical hardship.
Zoning amendments change the existing zoning code by either of two methods: changing the text of the zoning code or changing the zoning map.
Traffic calming is a set of design interventions aimed at slowing or diverting car traffic to reduce the chance of crashes and improve safety for all road users.
Urban Heat Island Effect
Man-made surfaces and urban density contribute to higher temperatures, intensifying heat waves and posing a growing danger to public health.
In urbanism and planning, the term transect provides a conceptual framework for understanding how the scale of built environments can vary from place to place.
Geographic Information Systems
GIS software, which combines location information with data about a range of other attributes, has become an indispensable tool for mapping and spatial analysis in urban planning and dozens of other fields.
Redevelopment includes all development projects that build new structures and land uses on a previously developed site. Understanding the nuances of redevelopment is critical for understanding the ways cities and communities change.
A non-conforming use is an existing building that would not be built under current land use regulations. While esoteric, the term is nonetheless critical to understanding the changes in development regulations over time.
Land banks are public or private organizations that purchase, hold, redevelop, or otherwise manage foreclosed or abandoned properties with the goal of achieving community objectives such as affordable housing construction or public park space.
YIMBY, an acronym standing for "Yes In My Backyard," describes advocates who support housing development as a response to the outcomes of restrictive zoning and planning policies.
Tactical urbanism, one of the most common buzzwords in planning over the past decade, describes a variety of low-cost, incremental public realm design interventions.
A zoning overlay district superimposes an additional set of regulations over an existing zoning district, or multiple zoning districts.
“If you build it, they will come.”
The concept of incrementalism can be applied to numerous fields and disciplines—one of which is planning. In the field of planning, the word incremental is usually used as an adjective to describe other planning words, such as code reform and development.
Planning commissions fill an influential advisory role in planning processes, maintaining citizen oversight of government planning powers and also providing a public forum for debate about the future of communities.
Supportive housing combines affordable housing with social services providers to help people experiencing homelessness, disability, or other hardships transition to permanent housing.
Automobile dependency is a term used to describe households who must rely on private vehicles for everyday transportation, often due to a lack of safe pedestrian infrastructure, ineffective or absent public transit options, and sprawl.
Planned Unit Development
A Planned Unit Development (PUD) is a specific type of plan or development commonly associated with master planned communities and sprawl. The specific definitions of a PUD vary by jurisdiction, but the term generally refers to a flexible approach to the planning of a variety of housing types and land uses on a relatively large portion of land.
Level of Service
Level of Service (LOS) defines how well vehicle traffic flows along a street or road. LOS is one of the most influential metrics in planning, with critical relevance for both land use and transportation planning.
Area Median Income (AMI)
Frequently used to determine eligibility for housing assistance programs, Area Median Income measures the midpoint of an area’s income distribution.
First adopted by the Swedish parliament in 1997, Vision Zero is a strategy aimed at eliminating pedestrian deaths by improving road design and infrastructure with a focus on safety.
A density bonus offers development permissions beyond what's allowed by a zoning code as an incentive for developers to contribute to desired policy goals. Density bonus programs can offer numerous forms of incentives, and can be used as an incentive to address a variety of policy goals.
Designed to assess the environmental impacts of new projects and provide mitigation measures, the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) has a controversial history, sometimes serving as a convenient tool for groups intent on stopping or slowing development.
One of the most politically charged and controversial terms in planning, the acronym NIMBY stands for Not In My Back Yard.
California Polytechnic State University
City of Albuquerque Planning Department
HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research
HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research
Harvard GSD Executive Education
City of Hercules
City of Fitchburg, WI
City of Culver City
This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.