Careful Planning Can Create Livable Communities

city From May 18–20, Madison, Wisconsin, hosted a conference to generate discussion on ways that citizens can become more involved in the “smart” growth of their communities. The event, titled “Nolen to Now: Neighborhood Design for a Sustainable Region,” honored landscape architect John Nolen, whose influential urban plans at the turn of the last century carefully blended businesses, homes, and natural features. Although Nolen died in 1937, his blueprints for Madison and other U.S. cities, including West Palm Beach and San Diego, remain an inspiration to those who ascribe to the “new urbanism” approach to development planning.

New urbanism is typically centered on a transportation hub and involves interconnected, pedestrian-friendly layouts, more-efficient use of space, and mixed-use buildings for businesses, offices, and residences. Cities and towns built on the new urbanism approach are typically people-centered instead of car-centered and have denser housing units, which tend to be more energy efficient and leave space for parks and other natural areas. With transportation accounting for a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions, and the United States the world’s largest emitter of these gases, the growing popularity of the design trend could ultimately play a role in slowing climate change.

The Madison conference emphasized the value of community planning “charettes,” meetings that involve local residents, urban design consultants, landscape architects, and other stakeholders. With a tangible blueprint of their future neighborhoods, residents have an alternative to the plans developers propose, and the two parties can engage in discourse with a better understanding of each other’s perspectives.

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To learn more about new urbanism and related events taking place around the world, visit

This story was produced by Eye on Earth, a joint project of the Worldwatch Institute and the blue moon fund. View the complete archive of Eye on Earth stories, or contact Staff Writer Alana Herro at aherro [AT] worldwatch [DOT] org with your questions, comments, and story ideas.