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What is Neighbourhood Unit Plan?

The Neighbourhood unit plan in in brief is the effort to create a residential neighbourhood to meet the needs of family life in a unit related to the

larger whole but possessing a distinct entity characterised by six factors :

  • 1. A child need not cross traffic streets on the way to school.

  • 2. A centrally located elementary school which will be within easy walking distance, no more than one and a half mile from the farthest dwelling.

  • 3. A housewife can walk to a shopping centre to obtain daily household gifts.

  • 4. Convenient transportation to and from the workplace.

  • 5. Scattered neighbourhood parks and playgrounds to comprise about 10% of the whole area.

  • 6. A residential environment with harmonious architecture, careful planting, centrally located community buildings, and special internal street system with deflection of all through traffic preferably on thoroughfares which bound and clearly set off neighbourhood.

The neighbourhood concept is arguably one of the major planning landmarks that shaped the urban form of the twentieth century city in many countries.

Coincidently, both the neighbourhood idea of Clarence Stein and

Henry Wright, exemplified in their plan for Radburn, and the Neighbourhood Unit idea of Clarence Perry were published in 1929.

The urban design principles of Stein and Wright included the idea of a superblock of residential units grouped around a central green, the separation of vehicles and pedestrians, and a road hierarchy with cul- de-sac for local access roads. A cluster of superblocks was to form a

self-contained neighbourhood. A group of neighbourhoods would

then comprise the city.

For Perry the physical arrangement of the elementary school, small

parks and playgrounds, and local shops was the basis of his

neighbourhood idea. Each neighbourhood was to be a unit of the city.

The Original Neighbourhood concepts


by Clarence Stein and Henry Wright

The design of the Radburn neighbourhood model was in essence a hierarchical one comprising four levels





RADBURN MODEL by Clarence Stein and Henry Wright The design of the Radburn neighbourhood model was
RADBURN MODEL by Clarence Stein and Henry Wright The design of the Radburn neighbourhood model was


The fundamental component was an enclave of twenty or so


These houses were arrayed in a U-formation about a short

vehicular street called a lane,really a cul de-sac court with access to individual


While the back of each house faced this court the front of the

house had a garden.

Cul-De-Sac meaning Dead End


Three or more of these enclaves were lined together to form a block. Enclaves within the block were separated from one another by a

pedestrian pathway that ran between the front gardens





The blocks, usually four in number, were arranged around the sides of a central parkway in such a manner so as to enclose the open green space


The clustered 5 blocks together with the central parkway comprised what Stein

and Wright termed a superblock.


Four to six superblocks commonly formed a neighbourhood that was bounded by major roads or natural features.

At one end of the parkway there could be a small school with community rooms. Roads in the neighbourhood were to be hierarchical - major through traffic roads to border each

neighbourhood, distributor roads to surround each superblock,

and culs-de-sac to provide access to individual property lots.

Stein emphasized that the prime goal was to design a town for the automobile age. In fact the title on the drawing of the town plan was A town for the motor age (Stein, 1928).


Although Stein and Wright considered neighbourhoods as

each being relatively self- contained they arranged them in an overlapping manner to support

joint use of facilities such as

hospitals, high schools, and theatres.

They visualized the neighbourhood as forming the building block of the city whereas

previously the lot and the city

were the basis for town design.


To their minds there should be a three level hierarchy consisting of neighbourhood, town, and region.

They believed, that future urban development

should be based on the regional city, a constellation of smaller-sized towns tied together by a parkway

or open highway.


Chicago-trained sociologist Clarence Arthur Perry (18721944) became one of the principal theorists of and advocates for the traditional neighbourhood as a basis for the planning of new towns and urban areas and for the redevelopment of blighted slums.

His advocacy of the “neighbourhood unit” as a principle element of planning was based not only on his academic interests, but also on his direct experience as sociologist-in-residence for the Russell Sage Foundation’s model garden suburb of Forest Hill Gardens in New York, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, and Grosvenor Atterbury .

Perry identified six neighbourhood unit design principles.

First, the unit was to be ideally a shape in which all sides were

fairly equidistant from the centre, and its size was to be fixed. Secondly, a central neighbourhood or community centre was to contain various institutional sites, including a school, grouped

round a central green space.

Thirdly, local shops or shops and apartments were to be located at the outer corners of the neighbourhood.

Fourthly, scattered small parks and open spaces, located in each quadrant of the neighbourhood, were to form 10 per cent of the total area.




neighbourhood while ,

were to bound each side of the

sixthly, the layout of the internal street was to be a combination of curvilinear and diagonal roads to discourage through traffic.

Vehicular and pedestrian traffic was to be segregated.

Perry’s concept of the neighbourhood was as a relatively self- contained building block of the city, hence the addition of the word unit to his concept.

He identified four urban locations where the idea could be applied new sites in the suburbs, vacant sites in the central area, predominantly apartment districts, and central areas that had suffered deterioration and required rebuilding .

He later recognized that land assemblage in the existing built-up areas of cities to create neighbourhoods was impractical and suggested a modified process of eminent domain (government

right to take private land for public benefit with just

compensation through the process of condemnation) be applied in the assemblage of neighbourhood unit sites.

Comparison of design principles

Stein and Wright, along with Perry, agreed that the neighbourhood was to have a limited or fixed size determined by the population needed to

support an elementary school.

Other similarities between their two models were defining the neighbourhood by 6 means of boundaries, the inclusion of a significant

amount of open space, a neighbourhood centre that would include the

school, and a road system that was safe for pedestrians and did not allow through traffic.

A critical distinction between the Radburn model of Stein and Wright and

Perry’s idea was the kind of neighbourhood boundary each envisaged.

Although Perry as well as Stein and Wright used arterial streets to form

the neighbourhood boundary, Stein and Wright preferred the use of

natural forms where possible.

Another difference between the two models was the maximum walking distances each proposed - 0.8 km in the Radburn neighbourhood and 0.4 km in the Neighbourhood Unit model.

Further distinctions were the superblock with its central green, the separation of streets and pedestrian paths, and the road hierarchy of the Radburn model.

Another difference was that Perry envisaged the neighbourhood as a separate urbanUnit. When a number of units were amalgamated they

would form the city. Stein and Wright, on the other hand, conceived

the Radburn neighbourhoods as overlapping one another and

grouped into districts to support large-scale facilities.

Neighborhood-unit principles

Size. A residential unit development should provide housing for that population for which one elementary school is



population density.




depending upon

Boundaries. The unit should be bounded on all sides by arterial streets, sufficiently wide to facilitate its bypassing by all through traffic.


spaces. A


of small parks and recreations

spaces should be provided, planned to meet the needs of the particular neighbourhood.

Institution sites. Sites for the school and other institutions having service spheres coinciding with the limits of the unit should be suitably grouped about a central point, or common area.

Internal street system. The unit should be provided with a special street system, each highway being proportioned to its probable traffic load, and the street net as a whole being designed to facilitate circulation within the unit and to

discourage its use by through traffic. To offer a clear picture of

each of these principles, the figures illustrate plans and diagrams in which the principles have been applied.

Local shops. One or more shopping districts, adequate for the

population to be served, should be laid out in the circumference of the unit, preferably at traffic junctions and

adjacent to similar districts of adjoining neighbourhoods.


Character of district. The plan shown in previous slide is based upon an actual tract of

Character of district. The plan shown in previous slide is based upon an actual tract of land in the outskirts of the Borough of Queens.

Population and housing. The lot subdivision provides 822 Single family houses, 236

double houses, 36 row houses and 147 apartment suites, accommodations for a total of 1,241 families. At the rate of 4.93 persons per family, this would mean a

population of 6,125 and a school enrollment of 1,021 pupils. For the whole tract

the average density would be 7.75 families per gross acre.

Open spaces. The parks, playgrounds, small greens and circles in the tract total 17 acres, or 10.6 percent of the total area.

Community center. The pivotal feature of the layout is the common, with the group of buildings that face upon it. These consist of the schoolhouse and two lateral structures facing a small central plaza. One

of these buildings might be devoted to a public library and the other to any suitable neighbourhood purpose. Sites are provided for two

churches, one adjoining the school playground and the other at a

prominent street intersection.

Shopping district. Small shopping districts are located at each of the four corners of the development. The streets furnishing access to the

stores are widened to provide for parking, and at the two more

important points there are small market squares, which afford additional parking space and more opportunity for unloading space in the rear of the stores. The total area devoted to business blocks and market plazas amounts to 7.7 acres.

Street system. In carrying out the unit principle, the boundary streets have been made sufficiently wide to serve as main traffic arteries. One of the bounding streets is 160 feet wide, and the other three have widths of 120 feet. Each of these arterial highways is provided with a central roadway for through traffic and two service roadways for local traffic separated by planting strips.


NEIGHBORHOOD UNIT FOR AN INDUSTRIAL SECTOR Plan on the right is a sketch of the kind

Plan on the right is a sketch of the kind of layout, which might be devised for a district in the vicinity of factories and


Functional dispositions. The above features dictated the employment of a tree-like design for the street system. Its trunk rests upon the elevated station, passes through the main business district, and terminates at the community center.

Housing density. is intended to suggest mainly an arrangement of the

various elements of a neighbourhood and is not offered as a finished plan. The street layout is based upon a housing scheme providing for 2,000 families, of which 68 percent are allotted to houses, some semi-detached

and some in rows; and 32 percent to apartments averaging 800 square

feet of ground area per suite. On the basis of 4.5 persons in houses and 4.2 in suites, the total population would be around 8,800 people.

Recreation spaces. These consist of a large schoolyard and two playgrounds suitable for the younger children, grounds accommodating nine tennis courts, and a playfield adapted either for baseball or soccer football.

Community center. The educational, religious and civic life of the community is provided for by a group of structures, centrally located and disposed so as to furnish an attractive vista for the trunk street and a pivotal point for the whole layout.

Shopping districts. The most important business area is, of course,around the main portal and along the southern arterial highway. For greater convenience and increased exposures a small market square has been introduced.



Population. On the basis of five-story and basement buildings and

allowing 1,320 square feet per suite, this plan would accommodate 2,381 families. Counting 4.2 persons per family, the total population would

number 10,000 individuals.

Environment. The general locality is that section where downtown business establishments and residences begin to merge. One side of the

unit faces on the principal street of the city and this would be devoted to

general business concerns. A theater and a business block,penetrated by

an arcade, would serve both the residents of the unit and the general public.

Street system. Wide streets bound the unit, while its interior systemis broken up into shorter highways that give easy circulation within the unit

but do not run uninterruptedly through it. Open spaces. The land devoted to parks and playgrounds averages over

one acre per 1,000 persons. If the space in apartment yards is also

counted, this average amounts to 3.17 acres per 1,000 persons.

Community center. Around a small common are grouped a school,two churches, and a public building. The last might be a branch public library, a museum, a “little theater,” or a fraternal building. In any case it should be devoted to a local community use.


Locality. The plan shown in previous slide is put forward as a suggestion of the type

Locality. The plan shown in previous slide is put forward as a suggestion of the type of treatment which might be given to central residential areas of high land values destined for rebuilding because of deterioration or the sweep of a real estate movement. The blocks chosen for the ground site are

200 feet wide and 670 feet long, a length that is found in several sections in


Ground Plan. The dimensions of the plot between the boundary streets are 650 feet by 1,200 feet, and the total area is approximately 16


Accommodations. The capacity of the buildings is about 1,000 families, with suites ranging from three to fourteen rooms in size, the majority of then suitable for family occupancy. In addition there would be room for a hotel for transients, an elementary school, an auditorium, a gymnasium, a swimming pool, handball courts, locker rooms and other athletic facilities.

The first floors of certain buildings on one or more sides of the unit could

be devoted to shops.

Height. The buildings range in height from two and three stories on the boundary streets to ten stories in the abutting ribs, fifteen stories in the

main central ribs, and thirty-three stories in the two towers.