Town Extensions with Urbanism are a Great Idea

February 7, 2024

Robert Steuteville, Congress for the New Urbanism

This article is posted with permission from the Congress of the New Urbanism (CNU) and originally appeared in CNU's online journal, Public Square. It is posted for information purposes only. CNU is solely responsible for the article's content.

Plan for development of the 15-acre site west of Main Street in Belmont, by Historical Concepts.
Plan for development of the 15-acre site west of Main Street in Belmont, by Historical Concepts.

Towns and cities used to grow by extending their street grids. Sprawl makes it harder, but many opportunities still exist. Why don’t we have more of this kind of development?

I recently wrote about Belmont, North Carolina, where landowners and the city are planning a 15-acre extension of downtown. The plan carries the historic street grid through the property and offers a compelling vision for doubling the size of the small main street district.

Many of the most successful new urban projects have been extensions of a town or city. They take existing urbanism and build on it by expanding a walkable street network.

This is not a new idea; it is how cities and towns routinely grew for centuries before suburban sprawl—which gained momentum circa 1950 in the US. Most cities and towns are now surrounded by sprawl, cutting off opportunities for a walkable urban town extension.

Yet there are still many places where cities and towns can be extended with walkable urbanism—if you look carefully. The result generally works well when cities and towns act on opportunities to expand the street grid. New Urbanism is created that doesn’t displace anyone—and the development is location-efficient and sustainable. In short, town extensions are golden opportunities that typically succeed.

Here are 10 examples of new urban plans and developments—eight in the US and two in England—that extend the street grid of a city or town. 

Source: Downtown Woodstock.
Source: Downtown Woodstock.

Woodstock, Georgia

Until 2000, Woodstock, Georgia, was a small town with a population of about 10,000—but encroaching Atlanta sprawl threatened to engulf the community in cookie-cutter projects. The town needed a way to preserve and enhance its main street character. The 32-acre Woodstock Downtown seamlessly expands the historic main street, building an identity and a "living room" for the town—even as Woodstock has tripled in size since the turn of the millennium to a population of about 35,000.

Pearl District in Portland, Oregon

The area was formerly used for warehouses and a railroad yard, which took up two-thirds of the land, just northwest of downtown. In the 1980s, a vision took shape to preserve the warehouse district and extend the downtown street grid through the rail yard. Substantial affordable housing was included in the plan. The current Pearl District is about 120 small blocks, built at the same small scale—200-by-200 feet, as downtown blocks. A street car line substantially boosted development. The Pearl offers incredibly lively and diverse urbanism in one of the largest expansions of a street grid in a US city since 1950.

Poundbury, Dorchester, England

Poundbury was initiated in 1993 by Prince Charles, now King Charles, on Duchy of Cornwall land connecting to Dorchester, England. Charles hired noted classical architect Leon Krier as master planner. Since its launch, Poundbury has set the standard as a high-quality, successful new town designed according to New Urbanism. Today, Poundbury is home to nearly 4,000 people and more than 200 businesses. One of Poundbury’s best features is how it extends the historic town. This may be easier to accomplish in England, where the line between town and countryside is better maintained.

The plan for Frisco Square is connected to the historic downtown blocks, on the upper right. Source: Torti Gallas from David M. Schwartz plan.
The plan for Frisco Square is connected to the historic downtown blocks, on the upper right. Source: Torti Gallas from David M. Schwartz plan.

Frisco Square, Frisco, Texas

Through far-sighted leadership at the turn of the millennium, a pedestrian-oriented plan was created for 150 acres, with civic buildings anchoring a new downtown, adjacent to a historic main street area. The Frisco Square development plan established a street network with connections to the old downtown. This has allowed downtown Frisco to grow commensurate with its population, which has mushroomed since 1990 as a suburb north of Dallas. 

Addison Circle, Addison, Texas

Sometimes new urban projects are extended—that’s the case with Addison Circle, in Addison, Texas. Addison Circle was a pioneering new urban development in the 1990s—built on a neighborhood scale with mostly multifamily housing. A quarter century later, Addison Circle is getting a long-planned rail station. A half-million dollar transit-oriented development (TOD) will be built at the station, adding significantly to Addison Circle’s urbanism and providing a downtown for suburban Addison.

The Bastrop transportation plan extends the street grid from the old downtown at the center-right, with streets drawn in black. Source: Simplecity Design.
The Bastrop transportation plan extends the street grid from the old downtown at the center-right, with streets drawn in black. Source: Simplecity Design.

Bastrop, Texas 

The new Bastrop Building Block Code (B3) requires a street grid for new development in the small but growing Texas city, about 30 miles from Austin. Since B3’s adoption in November of 2019, multiple creative and innovative projects have used the code. The plan and code rank among the most ambitious plans to extend a historic street grid in the last 70 years. Construction recently began on a 65-acre plan based on the Bastrop Block. 

Kentlands and Lakelands, Gaithersburg, Maryland 

One of the nation’s first traditional neighborhood developments (TND), Kentlands, was planned by charrette on 350 acres in 1988, with the event receiving national media attention, including a spread in The New York Times. Eight years later, a similar-sized adjacent parcel was planned as the first extension of a new urban community, called Lakelands. Kentlands and Lakelands together comprise several neighborhoods of 3,500 homes and a town center. The two projects form a cohesive community that is stronger than two separate projects would be. Although Kentlands and Lakelands are suburban, the planning is walkable and mixed-use with a strong sense of community. There’s even a printed lifestyle magazine called Kentlands and Lakelands Living.

South Main in Buena Vista. Source: South Main.
South Main in Buena Vista. Source: South Main.

South Main, Buena Vista, Colorado

South Main has turned a former garbage dump into a new neighborhood for Buena Vista, Colorado. The mixed-use project carries the historic street grid of the town to a signature square on the Arkansas River, connecting the town to the water. I had high hopes for South Main when I heard about it nearly 20 years ago. Over the years, I have seen the development exceed expectations. It is a unique contribution to New Urbanism.

Tregunnel Hill, Cornwall, England

A new urban neighborhood was built as an extension of the Village of Newquay, applying the same principles as Poundbury. The town includes shops and 174 housing units, 28 percent of which are affordable.

Aerial of Belmon plan. Source: Historical Concepts.
Aerial of Belmon plan. Source: Historical Concepts.

Belmont, North Carolina

A 15-acre planned main street expansion would double the downtown of a 150-year-old former textile town near Charlotte, North Carolina. In one of the more compelling urban design ideas, the plan extends the street grid through what is planned as an expanded downtown neighborhood.

More examples could be cited. Expanding an existing connected street network nearly always works out well, which is unsurprising, considering that’s how communities grew throughout history. With that in mind, cities and towns should be more intentional about looking for places to extend urbanism.

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