Office of State Planning Coordination >> Delaware By Design


What makes a neighborhood great? What are the characteristics that make people want to live there? Why do some neighborhoods stand out against all the rest? It starts with design. Traditional Neighborhood Design, New Urbanism and Smart Growth are design theories that have experienced a surge in appeal to planners, elected officials and consumers as alternatives to suburban development patterns.  While there are subtle differences in these theories, they all share the core philosophy of creating sustainable and livable communities.  These concepts date back centuries to the ‘old-town’ pattern of development when the primary mode of transportation was walking.  Town designs were purposeful and deliberate, intending to create compact communities where residents could easily get to schools, churches, shopping and other homes.

Good Neighborhood Design
Traditional neighborhood design, New Urbanism, and Smart Growth are all planning theories that have experienced a surge in appeal by planners, elected officials and local residents as an alternative to our current suburban development patterns. Although there may be subtle difference amongst these movements, they all share the core philosophy of creating sustainable and livable communities. These concepts are not new; rather they date back centuries ago to the ‘old-town’ style. Such towns were developed pre-automobile, when the primary mode of transportation was walking. Their design was purposeful and deliberate; it was intended to be a compact community so that residents could easily get to school, church, stores, friends and families’ homes.


Good Design Characteristics

America’s best communities have characteristics that set them apart from sprawling suburbs, as noted by the Smart Growth Network and the Congress for New Urbanism:

Wawaset Park, Wilmington, DE
Wawaset Park, Wilmington
  • Discernible center, such as a main street or public square with government buildings, shops and homes surrounding
  • Noticeable boundaries
  • Compact in nature so residents may walk
  • Variety of housing types
  • Public and commercial activities in close proximity
  • Children can walk to school
  • Parks and open space
  • Connected grid enables multiple routes
  • Streets smaller, sidewalks larger, tree-lined streets, landscaping
  • Reduced set backs
  • Street parking instead of large lots or garages
  • Community monuments and civic buildings
  • Variety of public transportation choices;
  • Quality architecture Strong sense of community among residents


Variety of Housing Types

Lexington Glen, Dover, DE
Lexington Glen, Dover

One of the most prevalent themes shared among different planning theories is the appeal of a variety of housing types. People of all income levels should be able to afford quality housing without being segregated within the community. A range of housing choices allows all households to find a niche in a smart growth community-whether it is a garden apartment, a row house, or a traditional suburban home-and accommodate growth at the same time.  (   A variety of housing alternatives reduces environmental tolls, infrastructure costs, allows for jobs in close proximity, and helps create a strong sense of community among residents.


Cannery Village, Milton, DE
Cannery Village, Milton


Traditional neighborhoods are laid out on an interconnected grid pattern where speed limits average 15 to 20 mph.  The intent is for residents to confront the least amount of traffic possible and for drivers to travel at slower speeds than in standard suburban neighborhoods.  Street widths average 28 to 30 feet wide, 12 feet for each lane and parking on one side of the street. Narrow streets compel people to drive slowly and reduce traffic accidents.



Jutison Landing, Wilmington, DE Justison Landing, Wilmington

On street parking is encouraged because it slows drivers down. Large scale parking garages and lots take up space and are unpleasant to the eye (Local Development Commission, 2003). Alleys are also encouraged because they allow for garages behind homes, reduce traffic on main roads and hide unsightly utilities and vehicles. Curb radii are reduced in traditional neighborhoods to more appropriately accommodate the average neighborhood driver (Federal Highway Association, n.d.).


More Characteristics

Spring Meadow, Smyrna, DE
Spring Meadow, Smyrna
Sidewalks in traditional neighborhoods average a foot wider than other neighborhoods and are typically placed parallel to the street. The purpose of the sidewalk is to provide a pleasant walking experience along a route to a destination. Traditional street lights are shorter and closer together to help add to the small-town feel and sense of community while increasing safety. There may be no minimum building setbacks; rather, buildings are placed close to streets. The lack of building setbacks fosters a sense of community by assimilating residential and pedestrian activity



Next: Density Types



Last Updated: Friday, 07-Nov-2014 09:22:02 EST
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