Urban Planning

Traditional Neighborhood Design v. Sprawl
Diagram depicting the differences between traditional neighborhood patterns (top) and suburban sprawl (bottom).

Planning and Urban Design

Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company has been a leader in the practice of planning and urban design for over 30 years. Our philosophy is the platform of New Urbanism, a movement promoting mixed-use, traditional neighborhood planning over the segregated-use suburban sprawl seen worldwide. Co-founders of the Congress for New Urbanism (CNU), DPZ's principals have been longtime advocates of urban growth through compact, pedestrian-oriented, transit-friendly communities that continue to shape policy and have recently influenced new sustainability codes.

DPZ's wide range of planning services fall into three basic categories: urban revitalization, new towns, and design initiatives. Urban infill plans comprise the majority of our projects, often accompanied by form-based codes or other regulations to ease their long-term implementation. New town projects come with regulatory documents and phasing strategies, in which value is incrementally added over time. Our design initiatives, including Sprawl Repair, Agrarian Urbanism, and Light Imprint strategies, relate to both under-served sectors and intrinsic environmental resilience.

Our individualized approach to each project, usually designed in the company of community stakeholders and tailored to the environmental constraints of each site, has produced over 500 master plans that have been featured in numerous publications as well as in both mainstream and industry periodicals.

Approach to Planning and Urban Design

DPZ has found that our successful planning and urban design efforts in the past several decades have grown from an understanding of the following concepts and ideas:

  • Authenticity of Design
  • Community, Connectivity and the Public Realm
  • Contextual Standards and Guidelines
  • Sustainability
  • Market-Real Plans and Strategies
  • Implementation Readiness
Interconnected Neighborhoods
Diagram of Stanboroughbury illustrating interconnected neighborhoods with defined centers and edges.

Authenticity of Design

A DPZ master plan carefully examines a project's context and focusses on developing an appropriate balance of uses, organizing the site into an identifiable structure, including a center and neighborhood edge. Often these boundaries are guided by existing features, including natural vistas or environmentally significant areas, as well as other neighborhoods and places of interest in the area.

Our designs and regulatory documents allow the physical, functional, economic and social realities of a project's context to meet our clients' goals and aspirations. Every member of a design team, including traffic engineers, economists, retail consultants, architects and others, becomes iteratively familiar with the project site and its surrounding culture, history, landscape, ecology and neighboring areas during the design process. We tailor the design to the site, our client's goals, and the community's needs through this local immersion.

The codes and regulatory documents that accompany the master plan remain as guides for development over time, creating a future development framework that allows places to adapt, grow and evolve as needed - creating an authenticity that could not be prescribed from afar and a predictability that fosters secure investment.

Pedestrian Shed Diagram
Yellow circles overlaid on this transit map indicate a 5-minute walking radius (approximately ¼ mile or 400 meters) around neighborhood centers. Part of DPZ’s Lifelong Neighborhoods Initiative, everyone within the community will have equitable access to their daily needs without the need of an automobile.

Community, Connectivity and the Public Realm

In the compact, mixed-use developments we design, usually daily necessities are within a 5 minute walking distance, the distance observational study has shown a typical person will choose to walk rather than drive. We call this distance, typically a quarter mile, the "pedestrian shed”. With the pedestrian shed as one of our standard design tools, we can naturally mitigate the inclination towards vehicular trips over walking, bringing health and environmental benefits. Pedestrian sheds are usually tied to a mixed-use main street or town center where there are restaurants, workplaces, cultural centers, recreational opportunities, community facilities, common spaces, and places to live above shops.

Circulation corridors, in particular streets, sidewalks and paths for pedestrians and bicycles receive considerable attention in DPZ's design process, making the public realm a primary rather than a residual component of the plan. Over the past years, DPZ has developed a catalogue of such thoroughfare types. These thoroughfare types can be quickly vetted and coordinated with local engineers for landscape and civil requirements, and modified as part of the design process. We are accustomed to working closely with traffic engineers to provide safe and convenient circulation routes that accommodate parking between places of interest, while maintaining the continuity of the community and the safety of its residents.

DPZ has also developed another tool: a catalogue of highly efficient housing types that support the compact development and mixed uses our designs promote, yet that are specifically designed to accommodate today's parking requirements. This repertoire of approximately 300 building designs responds to a variety of market conditions and can be coded to meet a range of architectural syntaxes, from traditional to high modern.

Public space design, as supported by each of these design tools, plays a key role in the success of our projects. A DPZ master plan carefully works with significant structures, so that even private buildings may contribute positively to the public realm. The mix of uses, connected by appropriate circulation corridors and housing types, all combine to support active "third places," such as coffee shops or bars, where people may meet between work or home. As DPZ revisits our built projects, we are consistently shown that, if provided by the market, people will inhabit neighborhoods instead of suburban enclaves, not because doing so is environmentally responsible, but because neighborhoods engender greater fulfillment.

Page from the SmartCode
Building height and setback standards are represented graphically to simplify communication in the form-based code. Source: The SmartCode 9.2 by DPZ.

Contextual Standards and Guidelines

A significant aspect of DPZ's work is our development and use of planning regulations and architectural guidelines. These allow a confidence that the future build out of a project is predicable and enforceable, historically resulting in significant added value to projects phased and developed over many years.

While the shapes and sizes of lots and open spaces are drawn into the master plan, the development of forms and the use of materials used to create the buildings on the lots is guided by the use of a code or set of design guidelines. Sometimes a project requires that the development disposition and architectural design respond to a local historical precedent. Other times, such as in cities, the regulatory documents address modern urban concerns like building height restrictions or open space requirements.

DPZ encourages the participation of multiple architects and often works with local firms and professionals. The syntax, or style, of building design is place- and client-specific, and can range from modern to traditional. In our experience, working with a variety of architects adds exponentially to the richness, character and value of a place.


DPZ's planning and design philosophy is locale-specific, and considers site development impact, stormwater management techniques, building location, and the architecture of the buildings themselves. A historical review of vernacular design and construction techniques often leads to the most adaptive solutions to local conditions, often resulting in smart low-tech building solutions that work with the natural conditions of the land and climate.

This approach to planning also yields places where residents have many transit choices such as walking, biking or public transportation, instead of only driving to satisfy their daily needs. Along their commute, people can enjoy ample open space and green networks that welcome both humans and nature.

Memorial Regional Plan Phasing Animation
The phasing strategy DPZ recommended for the Bon Secours Memorial Regional Medical Center allows the hospital to expand realistically over time.

Market-Real Plans and Strategies

DPZ has significant experience guiding communities through economic and market uncertainties, collaborating with economics feasibility experts who conduct focused marketing strategies, test the market for a range of uses, measure economic incentives, and the examine the potential for private-public partnerships.

Alys Beach Construction Phasing
Construction phasing of Alys Beach shown via satellite imagery from design in 2002 to present.

For new master plans, phasing has proven to be an important strategy in both creating the highest value place and the highest investment returns. By appropriately determining the order of a project's build-out, similar lots appreciate exponentially. In some projects, the plan is specifically designed to support such a phased approach. For DPZ's Alys Beach, phasing was done in broad "lateral slices", with each phase - specifically the first phase - being almost a complete cross-section or Transect through the project, extending from the urban core to the more rural portions of the community and including as many product types as possible . In this manner, the developer was able to test the market ‘in real-time’, and adjust the product mix as needed in the subsequent phases without severely altering the master plan.

Ready for Implementation

Easy-to-interpret regulating plans, standards and graphic guidelines assure that the vision for new development is what is actually is constructed. These are particularly useful tools in creating a predictable investment environment. A well-organized, clearly presented implementation plan that includes user-friendly standards and guidelines can therefore be the most important product of any planning and design effort.

Codes and regulating plans are legally binding documents that are often used by local municipalities, future designers, and builders to ensure the specific vision of a community or developer is met. DPZ codes and regulating plans are keyed with both drawings and text, so that they can be easily understood.

Call us

Miami, FL: 305-644-1023
Washington, DC: 301-948-6223
Portland, OR: 305-644-1023
Berlin, Germany: 49 30 2693293