Site Design for Multifamily Housing: Creating Livable, Connected Neighborhoods

Site Design for Multifamily Housing: Creating Livable, Connected Neighborhoods


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781610915465
Publisher: Island Press
Publication date: 04/17/2014
Pages: 168
Product dimensions: 8.60(w) x 11.00(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Nico Larco, AIA is Associate Professor in the Department of Architecture and Affiliated Faculty in Planning, Public Policy, and Management at the University of Oregon. He is also Co-Founder and Co-Director of the Sustainable Cities Initiative. Larco holds a Bachelor in Architecture and Bachelor of Arts in Cognitive Psychology from Cornell University and a Master of Architecture and a Master of City and Regional Planning from the University of California, Berkeley. His research work has been focused on livability and multifamily housing and he has published on this topic in the Journal of International Planning Studies, Journal of Urbanism, and Journal of Urban Design. Larco is a 2012/2013 Fulbright Scholar and was OTREC’s National University Transportation Center’s Researcher of the Year.
Kristin Kelsey recently graduated from the University of Oregon’s Department of Architecture with a Dual Masters in Architecture and Interior Architecture. She is currently practicing in Seattle, Washington.
Amanda West is a graduate of the University of Oregon’s Department of Planning, Public Policy, and Management and has been a Project Manager at the Community Planning Workshop at the University of Oregon.

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Site Design for Multifamily Housing

Creating Livable, Connected Neighborhoods

By Nico Larco, Kristin Kelsey, Amanda West


Copyright © 2014 Nico Larco
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-61091-547-2


Pedestrian Network

Addressing Pedestrian Access on the Site and to Neighbors

The pedestrian network is the system of walkways, crosswalks, and paths that allow walking within a development. A well-planned network is important for allowing people to easily access all parts of the development without a car, increasing interaction among residents, and decreasing automobile use.

Existing Conditions & Challenges

Limited or No Sidewalks

Buildings are sited on fully paved, open lots without designated space for pedestrians. Physical elements that cue pedestrians where to walk and drivers where to drive are nonexistent, thus hindering safe travel for all users.

Not Networked

Sidewalks that provide only single-loop circulation throughout a development limit travel choices and do not provide the most direct access between units, amenities, and other destinations. This condition creates an uninteresting walking environment, longer travel lengths, and does not encourage recreational walking.

Disconnected Sidewalks

Sidewalks that don't lead anywhere, that don't lead to the end of a street, or force pedestrians to make only out-and-back trips are difficult to use. This condition limits route choices and may create a disincentive to walking. This obstacle is particularly challenging for parents with strollers, the elderly, and residents that may be using a wheelchair.

Unmarked Crosswalks

Natural street crossings exist within developments, but are often not designated as pedestrian crosswalks. They lack any or all of these elements: paint, bulb-outs, raised elements, curb cuts, or signage. Cars may not expect pedestrians to be crossing in these areas because of the lack of identifying elements. These situations can also make it less comfortable for pedestrians to cross the street.


1.1 Sidewalks Connecting Every Destination

Networking building entries, amenities, access points, and parking.

1.2 Robust Network

A sidewalk system with many route choices for pedestrians.

1.3 Attractive and Usable Pedestrian Paths

Designated crosswalks at natural crossing points.

1.1 Sidewalks Connecting Every Destination

Developments often lack sidewalks or a network of sidewalks that connect units to other units and/or amenities within the development. This condition forces residents to be exposed in parking lots or through undefined spaces. Building sidewalks to every destination makes walking within the site safe and easy, and discourages the use of automobiles for short-distance trips.

Within a development, sidewalks should connect all possible destinations, including building entries, access points, and amenities. Internal routes should not be focused only on streets but should allow residents to access amenities and neighbors through direct paths.

Pedestrian walkways should be integrated into parking areas and, when possible, use planting strips to further increase comfort. Where pedestrians must cross streets and parking lots, incorporate marked crosswalks to show where it is appropriate to cross and cue drivers of possible pedestrian presence.

The pedestrian network should extend its reach beyond the development, at a minimum connecting internal sidewalks to those of neighboring public streets and/or other developments.

1.2 Robust Network

A robust sidewalk network incorporates many route choices to all destinations, not only the path going between cars and units. Creating a robust sidewalk network gives pedestrians options and makes it easier and thus more likely that they will choose to walk to their destinations. The access points, streets, units, and amenities should all be easily accessible on foot. Making this system attractive for walkers can increase activity and social interaction among residents and the community.

Many developments only provide single-loop street and sidewalk circulation. This type of system offers minimal route choices and often increases the distance pedestrians must travel to their destinations.

1.3 Attractive and Usable Pedestrian Paths

Areas with unattractive, unusable, disconnected, or nonexistent sidewalks deter residents from walking within the development. Creating attractive and usable pedestrian paths encourages residents to walk and engage with their neighbors both inside and adjoining the development. The goal is to create the 'stroll effect' by making the development a pleasant and easy place to walk.

Paths should be located at appropriate distances from buildings so that pedestrians feel a part of the public realm and building occupants retain privacy. Where possible, utilize planting strips to buffer paths and sidewalks from cars. Pedestrian paths should be wide enough to accommodate at least two people walking side-by-side.

Pedestrian networks should be designed with adequate landscaping that still allows for usable amounts of green space within the site. (See Section 8, Open Space and Landscape Design, for ideas of natural elements to include.) Some paths can cut along green spaces to create shortcuts through the site and enhance and incentivize walking.

Street crossings should be marked by painted crosswalks on internal streets. Also consider including bulb-outs, signage, and textured or raised pavement at these locations.

Crossing designations integrated into the pedestrian network show where pedestrians and cars should travel. Visible pedestrian networks have traffic-calming effects and provide an inherent right-of-way to walkers.

43% of trips by residents living in well-connected multifamily housing are walking trips, compared to only 23% of trips made by those living in less-connected developments.

-Larco et al, 2010. "Overlooked Density: Re-Thinking Transportation Options in Suburbia."


Street Network

Creating a System of Well-Connected Streets

A street network refers to the organization of streets through a site; where the streets go, what they lead to, how they relate to each other. A street network should provide many travel choices and create a logical organization for the development. The organization of buildings and internal neighborhoods is dependent upon the street network. Internal street networks should be integrated with neighboring street organizations for logical way-finding and easy connection. The street network allows for car, cyclist, and pedestrian access to amenities and destinations both inside and outside the development.

Existing Conditions & Challenges

Auto-Dominated Environment

Many developments primarily accommodate auto travel without making provisions for nonauto travel. All areas of the development are accessible by car, but not necessarily by foot. Users rely on cars to get places throughout the site safely and quickly, creating an environment that discourages walking and biking.

Parking Lots Instead of Streets

Often, developments are designed with parking lots acting as the primary circulation through the site. Parking encompasses all areas of the site, making it seem as though buildings are located in a sea of parking. This condition makes it difficult for people to orient themselves and feel comfortable walking throughout the development.

Limited Connections to Adjacent Street Systems

Often dictated by local codes, developments have just one or two motor vehicle connections to adjacent street systems. These connections are usually focused on arterials and rarely on neighboring developments. Limiting street connections does not allow for local travel between neighboring developments.

Inaccessible Streets

Some developments prohibit or discourage the use of the development's internal street network by nonresidents. Although this condition provides residents with control over their streets, it creates physical barriers within the city, causing traffic along arterials and long, circuitous routes for both cars and pedestrians.


2.1 Legible System of Streets and Blocks

Using streets to clarify the organization of developments.

2.2 Connection and Continuity to Adjacent Streets and Properties

Multiple and seamless street connections to neighbors.

2.3 Minimize Cul-de-Sacs and Dead-Ends

Use grid patterns to facilitate local travel.

2.4 Local Auto, Pedestrian, and Bike Travel

Encouraging local, non-commuter travel.

2.1 Legible System of Streets and Blocks

Use a legible system of streets and blocks to reduce confusion, increase safety, and create aneighborhood feeling. Poorly defined streets, lack of a street system, and the use of parking lots as primary circulation routes creates a confusing environment for cars and pedestrians. These environments often result in unpredictable travel patterns and decreased comfort, thus discouraging walking and biking.

Create clear, legible streets for cars and pedestrians to travel to units and amenities. A legible system of streets and blocks orients people, shows them how to travel through the site, and can help determine building locations. It should include clear intersections, stops, and pedestrian walkways. Drivers have been shown to adapt to the road they see, thus it is important that the streets clearly demonstrate that they are a residential area. The context of the site should be used to drive the organization of the streets. Doing so allows for connection and continuity with neighboring networks.

In larger developments, it is possible to create a unique network of buildings and streets. Buildings can be grouped into blocks that promote a neighborhood feel and connect to each other through the street network. Networking buildings and streets can provide natural and useful connections to surrounding housing, commercial areas, or open spaces.

In smaller developments where block systems are more challenging, the existing site conditions and context should be the first consideration. Design the internal street network as a logical extension of the neighboring street network. Utilizing the look and feel of existing motor vehicle and pedestrian connections can help to create a more seamless integration with new circulation systems.

2.2 Connection and Continuity to Adjacent Streets and Properties

Developments with street networks and connections focused only on arterials miss opportunities to connect with neighboring developments and other local streets. This condition can unnecessarily clog arterials with short-trip vehicle traffic. It can also create barriers to easily accessing neighbors by foot as it increases walking distances, which can force residents to drive when a more-direct connection would have made walking or biking possible. A robust network lets residents get to desired destinations easily and more conveniently.

The street network should make logical connections to adjacent street systems and promote travel through the site. Look to existing street systems, not just arterials, around the development to determine the placement and design of the street network. Use similar design features to create continuity and to cue users that the system is continuous and it is possible to travel there. If adjacent sites are vacant, create street stubs to encourage future connections and the continuation of the network (see Section 3, Access Points).

2.3 Minimize Cul-de-Sacs and Dead-Ends

The use of cul-de-sacs and dead-ends can deter walking or biking because they increase the distance that pedestrians and cyclists have to travel. Avoiding the use of cul-de-sacs provides more route choices for travel and distributes auto traffic rather than allowing it to collect on over-burdened connecting streets. Cul-de-sacs also make it difficult for emergency service providers to navigate quickly and safely.

Create internal street networks that are connected to adjacent street systems, provide travel options, and decrease walking and driving distances. Build shared pathways between the development and neighbors to create more community connection and easier/ shorter commutes for residents and neighbors.

If there are instances where cul-de-sacs are desired or existing, strive to make inviting bike and pedestrian-only connections between cul-de-sacs and the street network. These connections will promote walking and biking while still limiting pass-through auto traffic.

2.4 Local Auto, Pedestrian, and Bike Travel

Restricted entries and limited connectivity can make it difficult for residents to access outside amenities located adjacent to the development. Allowing local auto, pedestrian, and bike travel through the site integrates, rather than isolates, the development with its surrounding neighborhoods. Many developments might welcome local auto, pedestrian, and bike trips, but are worried that increased connectivity will increase high speed pass-through traffic. This type of traffic can be limited through the design of the street network. Elements such as curves, on-street parking, raised crosswalks, narrow streets and other traffic calming techniques can discourage cut-through traffic and slow all vehicular traffic.

Using these techniques, while still increasing connectivity, encourages non-commuter, local travel to and through the site. This allows residents and neighbors to feel the development is an extension of the larger neighborhood, not an impassable dead-end.

Bike lanes and sidewalks that connect the development with the larger local system create active and interesting local streets that people will be more inclined to utilize.


Street Connectivity

The streets should be part of the city street network. Their continuity should contribute to the overall city goals and standards for connectivity. Street connectivity standards can help achieve this goal.

Street connectivity depends on two key components:

-- All streets must connect to adjacent street systems and stub-outs.

-- All buildings must face a public street.

All buildings must access a public street by code in Huntersville, NC. (See the Code Appendix for more information regarding this code.) This code enables neighboring developments to be linked directly by a common public realm. It immediately provides a more active street realm for the community.


Access Points

Creating Connections

Access points connect a development with the areas around it [commercial developments, residential, arterial roads, etc]. Any egress point from the site is considered an access point. They may take the form of a street, sidewalk, or informal pathway. Having an adequate number and distribution of access points is essential to promoting interaction with the outside community and allowing residents to travel to nearby residential or commercial areas on foot or bicycle.

What is an Access Point?

Existing Conditions & Challenges

Limited Number of Access Points

Developments are often designed with only one or two points of entry. Given this limited number, these access points are usually designed with cars as the primary user. Limiting the number of access points forces residents to use longer, indirect routes to go to neighboring residential or commercial developments.

Gated Access

Gated communities control access to the development by blocking free entry and exiting. Often residents can only enter the development in a vehicle. Gated developments create exclusive and inwardly focused communities, limiting interaction with outside neighbors.

Poorly Distributed Access Points

When access points are present they are often poorly distributed around the perimeter of the development. Access points may be located on only one or two sides of the development, preventing travel to adjacent destinations or travel through the site.

No Local or Continuous Travel with Adjacent Developments

Residential and commercial developments and planned open spaces can often be internally focused and have only one point of entry, preventing linking of access points to other multifamily housing. Sidewalks and streets are often disconnected, reducing continuation and consistency, which are needed to create a linked network throughout the community. This condition limits pass through opportunities and increases the distance pedestrians must travel.


Excerpted from Site Design for Multifamily Housing by Nico Larco, Kristin Kelsey, Amanda West. Copyright © 2014 Nico Larco. Excerpted by permission of ISLAND PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

The Handbook's Purpose
Site Design Criteria 
Chapter 1. Pedestrian Network 
Chapter 2. Street Network 
Chapter 3. Access Points  
Chapter 4. Edges 
Chapter 5. Automobile Parking 
Chapter 6. Street Design 
Chapter 7. Building Massing & Orientation 
Chapter 8. Open Space and Landscape Design 
Chapter 9. Bicycle Facilities 
Chapter 10. Relationships
Project Profiles 
-Heron Meadows, Eugene, Oregon
-Cherry Orchard, Sunnyvale, California
-Colonial Grand, Huntersville, North Carolina
-Sheldon Village, Eugene, Oregon 
Project Retrofits
-Riviera Village, Oregon
-Villas at Union Hills, Arizona
Project Checklist
Code Guide
Code Guide Appendix
-Arlington, Virginia
-San Jose, California
-Eugene, Oregon
-Huntersville, North Carolina
-Asheville, North Carolina

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