In the past 35 years, planning theory for open space in both urban and suburban developments has begun to focus not only on recreation, but on the creation of multifunctional landscapes. The flight of homeowners out of cities to relatively inexpensive land and housing in the suburban fringe during the latter part of the last century, placed tremendous pressure on ecosystems, water quality, visual quality, agricultural land and also recreation opportunities. For these reasons, the goals for open space in many suburban developments over the past three decades have expanded to provide active and passive recreational areas, to serve as stormwater quality enhancements, wildlife habitat, act as a visual buffer to the hard surfaces of urban areas, and finally to accommodate urban agriculture. This was certainly the case with neotraditional and conservation developments of the late 1980´s and 90´s which were simultaneously seen as an antidote to the placeless sprawling suburbs and the environmental degradation that ensued.
Three major approaches for effective suburban development that promised a more sustainable outcome than conventional post-World War II subdivision design have emerged, each with its own solution for the provision of open space: conservation (cluster) development (Arendt 1996; Yaro, Arendt et al. 1988; Arendt, Dodson et al. 1994); transit oriented design (Calthorpe 1995); and neotraditional development (Duany 1995). While each approach has its strong advocates, with the exception of the literature on conservation development, the theory tends to treat open space and its provision of green infrastructure benefits as an afterthought in the design process.
Compounding the issue for the provision of green infrastructure services in the open space system is the fact that theoretical evaluations (Davis, Nelson et al. 1994; Frank 1999; Beatley 2000; Hayden 2001; Hopkins 2001) of the impact of new development and its attendant urbanization have been much more common than empirical studies. The existing empirical studies have largely focused on specific issues such as the effects of urbanization on bird populations (Geis 1974; Beissinger and Osborne 1982; Machtans, Villard et al. 1996; Odell, Theobald et al. 2003; Hostetler and Holling 2004), water quality and quantity (Carignan and Steedman 2000; Harbor 1994; Cifaldi, Allan et al. 2004; Goff and Gentry 2006) and habitat fragmentation (McDonnell and Pickett 1990; Fahrig 1997; Ehrenfeld 2000; Eppinka, Bergha et al. 2004). Comprehensive looks at the interaction of land use and broader ecosystem function have been few (Burke, Lauenroth et al. 1994; McDonnell 1997).
When case study analysis has looked at neotraditional and conservation subdivision developments, it has most often been to evaluate their overall design approach, without a comprehensive analysis of their green infrastructure systems (e.g. Francis 2003a; Francis 2003b). Alternatively, studies have focused on the other end of the spectrum, evaluating the success of one aspect of green infrastructure function (Galuzzi and Pflaum 1996), or one aspect of the impact of alternative design such as gross density (Gordon and Vipond 2005). Although there have been some post-occupancy assessments of the suburban forest and the open space system remaining after development these have focused on the social and psychological impacts of new urbanist developments (Brown and Cropper 2001; Kim and Kaplan 2004), the social importance of green spaces (Burgess, Harrison et al. 1988) and have related the existence of urban green to demographic variables (Emmanuel 1997). In addition, existing studies of specific aspects of the green infrastructure system have largely relied on remote sensing and available GIS data, focusing on area protected (and in some cases patch size) (Brabec 2001; Foresman, Pickett et al. 1997), rather than the functionality and condition of the protected area.
As a result, more than 20 years after neotraditional and conservation developments were brought into common use the question remains: How effective have they been, particularly in comparison with other more conventional development styles, in protecting functioning open space systems? This paper addresses that question with a comprehensive analysis of pre-development goals and codes, and a functional analysis of the open space system 10 to 20 years after development completion. Merging GIS data and on-site assessment of 16 sites across the United States, the project compared development outcomes with original development goals to assess the overall successes and failures. Using case studies from five regions across the country, neotraditional, conservation and conventional residential developments were analyzed and compared for their habitat, recreational, visual landscape quality and water quality goals. The insights gained can result in improvements both design and legislative best practices for community development codes.
"An Evaluation of Open Space Quality in Suburban Residential Communities: A Comparison of Neotraditional, Cluster, and Conventional Developments,"
Proceedings of the Fábos Conference on Landscape and Greenway Planning: Vol. 4
, Article 61.
Available at: https://scholarworks.umass.edu/fabos/vol4/iss1/61
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