|From the September 2000
issue of New Urban News
"Transect" applied to regional plans
Rural-urban categorization system is touted as effective in coding, education,
The Transect, a new model for planning and coding the New Urbanism, is
beginning to be employed in regional planning. Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company (DPZ)
recently used the Transect as the basis to create a plan and code for Onondaga
County, New York, which includes the City of Syracuse and surrounding suburbs,
villages, and countryside. A regional planning effort by Torti Gallas &
Partners, completed in March, 2000, was based entirely on the Transect.
Developed by Andres Duany and DPZ, the Transect is a categorization system
that organizes all elements of the urban environment on a scale from rural to
urban (see diagram below). Its potential lies in: 1) Education (it is easy to
understand); 2) Coding (it can be directly translated into zoning categories);
3) Creating “immersive environments.” An immersive environment is one where all
of the elements of the human environment work together to create something that
is greater than the sum of the parts.
The Transect has six zones, moving from rural to urban. It begins with two
that are entirely rural in character: Rural preserve (protected areas in
perpetuity); and Rural reserve (areas of high environmental or scenic quality
that are not currently preserved, but perhaps should be).
The transition zone between countryside and town is called the Edge, which
encompasses the most rural part of the neighborhood, and the countryside just
beyond. The Edge is primarily single family homes. Although Edge is the most
purely residential zone, it can have some mixed-use, such as civic buildings
(schools are particularly appropriate for the Edge). Next is General, the
largest zone in most neighborhoods. General is primarily residential, but more
urban in character (somewhat higher density with a mix of housing types and a
slightly greater mix of uses allowed).
Courtesy of Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co.
The plan illustrates how the Transect classifies the
elements of the human environment from rural to urban, in a left-to-right
At the urban end of the spectrum are two zones which are primarily mixed use:
Center (this can be a small neighborhood center or a larger town center, the
latter serving more than one neighborhood); and Core (serving the region —
typically a central business district). Core is the most urban zone.
“The “Transect zoning” concept should be the new paradigm for local land-use
regulations, not the least of all because it can be implemented through the
familiar legal framework of Euclidian zoning districts,” says Bill Spikowski, a
planner in Fort Myers, Florida, who has applied Transect concepts in his
collaborative work with Dover Kohl & Partners. “This time around, though, the
zoning districts should be keyed to the desired Transect zones (edge, general,
center, and core), plus those unavoidable, auto-dominated zones for heavy
industry and big boxes.”
Duany, who previously put forward the Lexicon of the New Urbanism as a
universal standard for designing neighborhoods and towns, has since changed his
mind. He now touts the Transect, originally embedded in The Lexicon, as the true
standard. “I am convinced that the Transect will do the job, not The Lexicon as
we thought,” he says. “The Lexicon has advocates, but I have come to realize
that it is wrong. The Lexicon is too specific and complete to be a standard. The
real matrix, I believe, is the Transect.”
Onondaga County, New York
DPZ created a plan for the entire county during a charrette in October, 1999.
Since then, codes have been drafted and are being refined. Onondaga County is
the first regional plan and set of codes based entirely on the Transect.
DPZ created specific plans for seven study areas in the 800 square mile
county. These areas represent every part of the Transect — from the inner city
to the countryside. The specific plans have already inspired two new urbanist
projects, one of which has broken ground. Some of the other theoretical plans —
in particular a plan to turn the closed Fayetteville Mall into a town center —
have garnered interest from developers.
Like other new urbanist planning efforts, the Onondaga plan is based on the
idea that “The basic increment of planning is the transit-supportive, mixed-use
neighborhood.” The plan and the accompanying codes are innovative in that they
are geared to the zoning categories of the Transect.
In addition to the Transect zoning categories, the Onondaga codes have a
mechanism for “civic overlays” to introduce parks and civic buildings in
neighborhoods. Finally, special-use districts are included for developments that
fall outside of the provisions of the code. Districts that follow the “general
intent” of the code — e.g. a college campus — would be given a waiver. Districts
that do not follow the intent — e.g. an industrial campus or big box store with
parking in front — can be granted as exceptions through negotiation.
Each of the Transect zoning categories — Rural, Edge, General, Center, Core —
has detailed provisions for density, thoroughfare dimensions and design, block
dimensions, the design of parks, appropriate building frontages, the mix of
uses, building design, parking, and other aspects of the human environment.
In some respects, the Onondaga code is far more detailed than conventional
suburban zoning. For example, instead of just being asked for a percentage of
“open space,” the developer may be required to build a square, green, or plaza.
No architectural style is mandated, but DPZ does suggest detailed requirements
for frontages, facades, roofs, eaves, and other building elements.
In other respects, development options and freedom increase with the new
code. Under conventional zoning, a developer with 100 acres may have no choice
but to build one kind of residential at a consistent density. Under the new
code, the developer could opt to build a village — with the developer deciding
how much of the project would be designated Rural (0 to 30 percent), Edge (10 to
50 percent), General (30 to 50 percent), and Center (30 to 50 percent). All of
these zones have options in terms of thoroughfares, building types, frontages,
civic spaces, and other elements.
The code ensures that each zone is immersive — i.e. all of the elements
reinforce each other to produce a specific character.
Once the Onondaga code is completed, it will be available for adoption by all of
Onondaga County's 35 municipalities, who can tailor it to suit their needs. The
code actually has two parts — one for infill and another for greenfield. Karen
Kitney, director of planning for Syracuse-Onondaga County, expects the code to
be accepted in its final form in late fall. At that time, copies of it may be
available for purchase by planners outside of the county.
Albemarle County, Virginia
Torti Gallas & Partners created The Neighborhood Model: Building Block for the
Development Areas for the Development Areas Initiative Project of Albemarle
County, Virginia. The document was adopted by an advisory committee of 22 key
citizens, officials, and business leaders in March, 2000. If approved by county
supervisors, it will form the basis for new urbanist codes and development
The Transect helped participants get over their reflexive fear of mixed-use
development, says Neil Payton, lead planner for Torti Gallas on the project.
“When you talk about mixed use, people imagine a high-rise building or a Food
Lion next to their house. But when you show them what it looks like at an
appropriate scale and density, they say ‘yeah, I would like that — I didn't know
that was what you meant.' ”
The next question, says Payton, is “how do you code” the scale and density.
“The Transect was the key to getting a lot of light bulbs to go off in people’s
heads, to allow them to see how it would work,” he adds.
Torti Gallas explained every aspect of the Transect, applying it to
theoretical scenarios. The outcomes were drawn and compared to conventional
suburban development. “While seemingly radical at first, its ultimate
familiarity to them was so potent, it was easy to take the next step, a
methodical analysis of current policy and regulation and a proposal for
wholesale replacement,” says Payton. “What is also interesting is the consensus
that was reached between developers, builders, lenders, Realtors, environmental
activists, neighborhood activists, architects, planners, landscape architects,
rural conservation proponents, and affordable housing specialists.”
Payton says the Transect organizes the process of urbanism into a system. “It
represents the standardization that urbanism lacked, but the building industry
always had.” However, Payton does not expect this concept to be embraced by
everybody, especially municipal planners. “It’s so simple, it is viewed by some
suspiciously — yet that is the elegance of it.”
Albemarle County planner Elaine Echols says, at first, the Transect was “very
confusing, and hard to grasp” for the participants in the Development Areas
Initiative Project. Although the advisory committee supported the Transect
concept, she doesn’t believe that it was the most important factor in achieving
consensus. “Envisioning something better than what we have right now was the key
to getting them together on this.”