Site Analysis: A Contextual Approach to Sustainable Land Planning and Site Design / Edition 2

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Site analysis is the key to a well-designed project. In fact, the careful and complete analysis of a site and its surrounding context can lead to better development proposals, smoother design implementation, and, ultimately, higher quality built environments.

This carefully conceived book is the first to detail each crucial step in the site analysis and planning process, from site selection through design development. It shows how these activities are integrated to arrive at a site plan that successfully balances the needs of the client and other stakeholders with the site's suitability for the intended land uses. With more than 130 illustrations, this book includes many outstanding examples of maps and site plans created by leading land planning firms. It offers guidance on:

* Site identification, evaluation, and selection
* Site inventories of physical, biological, and cultural attributes
* Land use suitability analysis using Geographic Information Systems (GIS)
* Concept planning and design development
* Graphic communication with clients, government agencies, and other stakeholders

Filled with need-to-know information on the entire land planning and design process, Site Analysis is a vital addition to the library of students and professionals in landscape architecture, urban design and planning, and related areas.

This book will fill a void in the academic market by offering a comprehensive introduction to all stages of the site analysis process. The Second Edition of Site Analysis will detail each phase of the land planning and site design process, explain the influence of site and contextual conditions conditions on land use development and conservation decisions. It will also provide a valuable resource for professionals seeking design solutions for successful land use.

Content from this book is available as an online continuing professional education course at  WileyCPE courses are available on demand, 24 hours a day, and are approved by the American Institute of Architects.

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Editorial Reviews

Details each step in the site analysis and planning process, from site selection through design development, and shows how these activities are integrated to arrive at a site plan that balances the needs of the client and other stakeholders with the site's suitability for the intended land uses. Gives advice on site identification and selection, site inventories of physical, biological, and cultural attributes, and graphic communication with clients and other stakeholders. Offers many examples of b&w maps and site plans created by leading land planning firms. LaGro is a registered landscape architect and professor of urban and regional planning at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780471797982
  • Publisher: Wiley, John & Sons, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 11/9/2007
  • Edition description: REV
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 384
  • Product dimensions: 8.27 (w) x 8.98 (h) x 1.19 (d)

Meet the Author

James A. Lagro Jr. is Professor and Chair of the Department of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is a planner and a registered landscape architect with more than twenty-five years of experience as an educator, consultant, and designer in private practice. He has been published in Landscape Ecology, Landscape and Urban Planning, and other leading publications.

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Read an Excerpt


The built environment is the result of decisions made by individuals and intitutions within both the private and public sectors. In the United States, the subdivision of large tracts of land into smaller parcels is a significant step in the land development process. The individual land parcel is the spatial unit for which most land development projects are designed and implemented. This book is concerned with the land planning and design process that occurs at the site, or individual land parcel, scale.

Private sector land development projects include single-use developments such as office buildings or shopping centers, as well as mixed-use developments combining retail, commercial, residential, and other uses within individual projects. Although land development in the United States is largely a private sector enterprise, significant land use changes are also initiated within the public sector. Local, state, and federal governments provide a wide range of public services requiring buildings and other physical infrastructure. Public sector projects range from interstate highways and national parks to neighborhood parks and playgrounds. Highways, greenways, and public recreational trails occupy long linear corridors, and these projects require the acquisition of many contiguous land parcels. The length of these corridors may stretch from a few to several hundred kilometers. In contrast, public schools and parks are built on individual land parcels, making these similar in many ways to private sector projects.

Protecting ecosystem structure and function and maintaining a site's "sense of place" are laudable development goals. This implicitly requires, however, a sound understanding of the site and its biophysical and cultural context. The arrangement of buildings, the organization of pedestrian and vehicle circulation systems, and the management of stormwater are a few of the many land use decisions that require a comprehensive understanding of local site conditions.

In many cases, a well-designed project--supported by a thorough analysis of the site and its surrounding context--is not any more expensive to build than a poorly designed project. Moreover, site planning and design excellence can yield significant economic and social benefits (Bookout, 1994). The linkages between design quality, location, and real estate value are a fundamental concern within the land development industry. For example, in a panel discussion convened by Architectural Record, Dennis Carmichael, a landscape architect with EDAW, Inc., asserted (Dean, 1997, p. 49):

. . . developers have learned that a good design equals return on investment. Rather than bulldozing a site into submission, they now try to celebrate its intrinsic qualities.

The careful analysis of sites--and the surrounding context--can lead to better development proposals and, ultimately, to higher-quality built environments.

Adapting development to the unique conditions of a site is also good business. Proposals for carefully sited projects may receive faster approvals and permitting, improved marketability, and rent and sales premiums (Bookout, 1994). A contextual approach to land development also helps protect public health, safety, and welfare. By avoiding inherent site problems, or constraints, and by capitalizing on inherent site assets, or opportunities, developers can limit long-term maintenance costs and, more important, reduce the risks to life and property from natural hazards.


This book is divided into four parts. Part I contains Chapter 1 (Land and Society) and Chapter 2 (Spatial Information and Mapping). The first chapter summarizes the land planning and design process, and places land planning and design in the broader context of land use decision making. The second chapter summarizes the major principles and processes of collecting, organizing, and mapping site attribute data within a geographic information system (GIS).

Part II has two chapters. Chapter 3 (Site Selection) examines methods of identifying and evaluating alternative sites. Chapter 4 (Programming) focuses on programming methods such as user surveys, focus groups, and market analyses. Part III (Site Inventory and Analysis) is the core of the book. Chapter 5 (Site Inventory: Physical Attributes) and Chapter 6 (Site Inventory: Biological Attributes) cover a wide array of physical and biological attributes that, depending on the unique features of the site and the program, may be analyzed during the land planning and design process. Chapter 7 (Site Inventory: Cultural Attributes) concentrates on documenting relevant cultural and historic attributes. Chapter 8 (Site Analysis: Integration and Synthesis) describes how site opportunities and constraints for specific project programs are identified and graphically communicated to clients and other stakeholders.

The last two chapters of the book are in Part IV. Chapter 9 (Concept Development) addresses alternative approaches to spatially organizing site land uses and associated infrastructure. Chapter 10 (Design Development and Implementation), the last chapter of the book, addresses several key principles of site planning and construction documentation. The chapter also examines the role that local government--and citizen boards and commissions--play in reviewing land planning and design proposals. The book concludes with an Appendix and a Glossary. The Appendix lists both commercial and government sources of data and other information that can be potentially useful in land planning and design.


Practitioners from several professions are involved in the land planning and development process. Depending on the project's size, location, and complexity, the planning and development team may include architects, engineers, landscape architects, planners, economists, environmental specialists, bankers, builders, developers, or realtors. Landscape architecture is a profession that is integrally involved in the analysis and planning of the land.

However, professional trade magazines in landscape architecture and other allied fields routinely include articles about the product--rather than the process--of design. That is, the articles focus on the buildings and outdoor spaces created or modified by designers. These articles may be accompanied by attractively rendered site plans, sections and elevations, aerial perspectives, and glossy photographs of the recently completed projects. However, relatively little attention--and usually no graphic documentation--is devoted to explaining the factors that influenced the designs. In fact, many articles virtually ignore the site's context, as well as other design determinants, and focus exclusively on the artifacts of design (i. e., the edifice complex). What, if anything, would convince a potential client--or a colleague--that these attractively illustrated designs are appropriate for each particular site? What evidence is there to justify the design decisions portrayed in the photographs? More important, from an educator's perspective, what values and priorities do these articles convey to students in professional design programs?

A task analysis of the profession of landscape architecture in North America was conducted in 1998 by the Council of Landscape Architectural Registration Boards (CLARB). One goal of the survey was to document the types of work performed by practicing landscape architects. The respondents were asked to identify their work tasks, and rank them in terms of each activity's perceived contribution to the protection of public health, safety, and welfare. This is a relevant question, because state licensing laws for landscape architects, engineers, architects, and many other professions are specifically intended to protect public health, safety, and welfare. Completed surveys were received from a randomly selected sample of more than 2,000 landscape architects. Six of the fifteen most important tasks listed in the CLARB survey--including two of the top three--involve either site selection or site analysis (Table 1).

TABLE 1 Partial results of a survey of over 2,000 landscape architects. Self-assessment of work tasks, by rank, that affect public health, safety, and welfare.

Source: CLARB, 1998, p. 7.

I hope this book contributes to the evolution of rigorous--and defensible --land planning and development methods. It should be useful to practitioners, educators, and students in several fields. In the academic arena, it can be used in at least four types of college-level courses. It can serve as a required text in site planning courses taught in architecture, civil engineering, landscape architecture, planning, and urban design programs. By focusing on the planning and design process, this book should complement other textbooks that emphasize the products of that process, such as the individual elements that comprise a developed site (e. g., buildings, walkways, vegetation). Second, the book also may serve as either a primary or supplementary text for site analysis courses in landscape architecture. Third, this book can be used as a supplementary text in graphic communication courses in architecture and landscape architecture. Although most design students in these programs are proficient at illustrating final design proposals, far fewer are proficient at graphically communicating information that supports, and justifies, the results of the planning and design process.

Finally, this book should serve as a general reference for courses in both urban planning and real estate development programs. Real estate students--as future clients of multi-disciplinary planning and design teams--should understand what services can be expected from land planning and design consultants. This book can help current and future real estate developers become better-informed consumers of professional land planning and design services. Additionally, many public sector planners are involved in the administration of zoning codes, subdivision ordinances, and a broad array of other land use regulations. These planners also may be involved in design review of development proposals. My hope is that this book will encourage them to seek, from consultants who submit these proposals for review and approval, explicit--and defensible--evidence that supports their land planning and design decisions.

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Table of Contents




Chapter 1: Shaping the Built Environment.


Toward Sustainable Built Environments.

The Power of Place, The Role of Design.

The Site Planning Process.


Chapter 2. Visualization of Spatial Information.


Graphic Communication.

Mapping Fundamentals.

Principles of Effective Graphic Communication.

Base Maps.

Geographic Information Systems (GIS).



Chapter 3. Site Selection.


Site Selection Scope.

The Site Selection Process.


Chapter 4. Programming.


Programming Methods.

Program Documentation.



Chapter 5. Site Inventory: Physical Attributes.


Parcel Size and Shape.








Chapter 6. Site Inventory: Biological Attributes.





Chapter 7. Site Inventory: Cultural Attributes.


Land Use and Tenure.

Land Use and Tenure.

Property Value.

Land Use Regulation.


Building Typology.

Historic Resources.

Perceptual Quality.


Chapter 8. Site Analysis: Integration and Synthesis.


Spatial Analysis Fundamentals.

Site Opportunities.

Site Constraints.

Site Development Capacity.

Suitability Analysis.

Integration and Synthesis.



Chapter 9. Conceptual Design.


Sustainable Site Planning.

Design Determinants .

Creativity and Conceptual Design.

The Conceptual Design Process.

Anatomy of a Concept Plan.

Concept Plan Graphics.

Concept Evaluation and Refinement.


Chapter 10. Design Development.


Design of the Built Environment.

Design Theory.

Open Space.

Circulation Systems.



Chapter 11. Project Implementation.


Mitigating Development Impacts.

Construction Documents.

Construction Administration.

Public Review and Approvals.






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