Kendig, Lane H., with Bret C. Keast. Community Character: Principles for Design and Planning.
Article Type: Book review
Subject: Books (Book reviews)
Author: Otto, Judith
Pub Date: 12/22/2011
Publication: Name: Canadian Journal of Urban Research Publisher: Institute of Urban Studies Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Social sciences Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2011 Institute of Urban Studies ISSN: 1188-3774
Issue: Date: Winter, 2011 Source Volume: 20 Source Issue: 2
Topic: NamedWork: Community Character: Principles for Design and Planning (Nonfiction work)
Persons: Reviewee: Kendig, Lane H.; Keast, Bret C.
Accession Number: 296951976
Full Text: Kendig, Lane H., with Bret C. Keast.

Community Character: Principles for Design and Planning.

Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 2010.

187 pp.

ISBN: 978-1-59726-696-3.

So often in public hearings on development proposals, citizens allude to impending loss of community character in their opposition to the projects. But what is community character? How can we measure it? This book presents quantitative methods for defining and measuring community character, using a system of four elements: the relationship of a community to its surroundings (referred to as community state); the size of the community (community scale); the functional relationships within a community and between communities (classes and types of character); and settlement morphologies (community forms).

In an introduction, the authors state that zoning--primarily through density controls and regulation of land uses--has failed to protect community character. Comprehensive plans are likewise limited because they cannot account for economic, environmental and cultural processes operating at regional scales rather than municipal scales. The method outlined in this book is meant to address these failings by enabling replicable measurements of community character through the analysis of form and function at scales ranging from the block to the metropolis.

After an extensive glossary chapter (Chapter 1, "The Designer's Lexicon") that provides specialized definitions of dozens of terms like human scale, texture, and landscape surface ratio, the next three chapters explain in detail the four elements of community character: community state and community scale (Chapter 2); community character classes and types (Chapter 3); and community and regional forms (Chapter 4).

Chapter 5 describes the three methods for measuring community character and assigning community type. The first uses a community character diagram with three axes (like a soil classification triangle) upon which are plotted the percentages of rural/open, urban, and suburban land cover respectively (generated from a GIS or areal measurements from aerial photos). The second method, volume ratios, compares the volumes of buildings and landscaped areas, which is particularly useful for small-scale community character analysis. The third method, D/H (distance to height) ratio, is most useful for measuring urban character. Ml three methods use quantitative measures of the spatial qualities of the built environment such as degree of enclosure, proportion of built versus "natural" areas, and spacing between built elements to assign a character type.

Given their multiple, overlapping typologies (two community states, six community scales, three classes, eight types, 25 functional attributes), one must admire this brave attempt to develop a system (however complicated) in which citizens could talk about what they value in their communities as a first step in figuring out how to preserve it. Kendig and Keast are particularly compelling in their examples of rural landscape character, with which they have had extensive professional experience.

However, community-scale analysis of visual quality has its limits. First, one might argue that community character also encompasses other intangible elements such as an involved citizenry, strong business leadership, or commitment to education, however difficult they may be to quantify. Next, although the system of four community elements allows for descriptions of the linkages between communities, it falls short of developing analytical frameworks for understanding how social, environmental, and economic networks transcend municipal boundaries. Economic networks are perhaps the most salient: while the authors are concerned about the lack of character of suburban sprawl and strip development, the community character system cannot account for the forces that shape land use patterns, such as auto-dependence, the structure of real estate markers and real estate financing, and changes in technology like the rise of e-commerce.

Those limitations aside, this book offers a useful set of analytical tools for planning students, especially for teaching them to lead community workshops. The layout of the book is well-suited for active reading, with wide margins for making sketches and notes. The photographs, although small and in black-and-white, are drawn from around the world and are excellent illustrations of the community character system. (A companion volume, A Guide to Planning for Community Character [same authors, publisher and publication date], is intended to assist citizens and urban planners in actually creating designs that will preserve community character).

Judith Otto, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor, Geography Department, Framingham State University.
Gale Copyright: Copyright 2011 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.