Design Guidelines in American Cities

BookDesign Guidelines in American Cities

Design Guidelines in American Cities

A Review of Design Policies and Guidance in Five West-Coast Cities

TPR [Town Planning Review] Special Studies, 2


February 1st, 1999

Access Token




This book is a study of design initiatives and policies in five US West Coast cities — Seattle (including Bellevue), Portland, San Francisco, Irvine and San Diego—all of which have had particularly interesting urban design experience of relevance to practice in Britain and other countries. Although these cities are not a representative sample of all American design practice, they provide a rich vein of ideas about recent policy development and current initiatives which will stimulate thought about the formulation of effective design controls. The presentation of substantial extracts from key documents that underpin design controls in the five cities will be of interest, inspiration and practical use to academics and practitioners who want to know more about American practice and who want to contribute to improvements in the standards and quality of urban design policies and design control. The opening chapter provides a national context and a comparative framework for the study, with a focus on international perspectives, American planning systems and the development of criteria for comparison and evaluation. The five subsequent chapters take each city in turn, briefly reviewing the salient characteristics of each one before presenting an account of how planning and design policy have evolved in the last twenty-five years; key features of the contemporary systems of design control are highlighted and a summary evaluation is made. The focus in the case studies is on how policy and guidance have been formulated, structured and presented in the various documents that make up the policy framework, how the process of control operates, and how both respond to the criticisms commonly made of design and control. This final chapter draws general conclusions about the experience of the studied cities of wider relevance to American design review practice, but which are of interest to those engaged in design review and policy formulation everywhere.

Author Information

John Punter is Professor of Urban Design in the Department of City and Regional Planning at Cardiff University, Wales.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Section TitlePagePrice
Title Page3
List of Figures13
1: National Context and a Comparative Framework17
International perspectives on contemporary design review17
Understanding American planning systems21
Examples of the control process—Portland and Seattle31
Key criticisms of planning and design review33
Developing criteria for comparison and evaluation39
2: Seattle47
Design and development in downtown Seattle48
Seattle’s urban villages growth strategy54
City of Bellevue73
The pressure for planning and design regulation74
The downtown design regulations and review process76
3: Portland82
State legislation and the policy basis for planning decisions85
The Central City Design Guidelines90
The 1988 Central City Plan96
The Albina Community Plan108
City-wide planning, urban growth boundaries, housing density and affordability118
4: San Francisco122
The 1972 Master Plan and its urban design policies123
The 1985 Downtown Plan127
The Residential Design Guidelines144
5: Irvine160
Company-controlled design162
Irvine’s ‘village’ structure and layouts164
Community conformity and claustrophobia or democratic control?172
6: San Diego177
The General Plan177
Rationalising the zoning code186
Community Plans188
7: Conclusions210
A framework for synthesis211
The politics of urban design211
Public participation in formulating design policy213
The process of design review214
The policy hierarchy and the writing of guidelines215
A comprehensive co-ordinated effort223
The lessons from west coast cities225
I: The Secretary of the Interior’s ‘Standards for Rehabilitation of Historic Buildings 1983’232
II: Persons Contacted234
(i) General Sources235
(ii) Plans and Guidance239
(iii) City Studies243