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The Ahwahnee Principles for Resource-Efficient Communities

The Ahwahnee Principles are an essential set of guidelines for land-use and community development. Here are the Principles in their entirety courtesy of the Local Government Commission:


Existing patterns of urban and suburban development seriously impair our quality of life. The symptoms are: more congestion and air pollution resulting from our increased dependence on automobiles, the loss of precious open space, the need for costly improvements to roads and public services, the inequitable distribution of economic resources, and the loss of a sense of community. By drawing upon the best from the past and the present, we can plan communities that will more successfully serve the needs of those who live and work within them. Such planning should adhere to certain fundamental principles.

Community Principles

1. All planning should be in the form of complete and integrated communities containing housing, shops, work places, schools, parks and civic facilities essential to the daily life of the residents.

2. Community size should be designed so that housing, jobs, daily needs and other activities are within easy walking distance of each other.

3. As many activities as possible should be located within easy walking distance of transit stops.

4. A community should contain a diversity of housing types to enable citizens from a wide range of economic levels and age groups to live within its boundaries.

5. Businesses within the community should provide a range of job types for the community’s residents.

6. The location and character of the community should be consistent with a larger transit network.

7. The community should have a center focus that combines commercial, civic, cultural and recreational uses.

8. The community should contain an ample supply of specialized open space in the form of squares, greens and parks whose frequent use is encouraged through placement and design.

9. Public spaces should be designed to encourage the attention and presence of people at all hours of the day and night.

10. Each community or cluster of communities should have a well-defined edge, such as agricultural greenbelts or wildlife corridors, permanently protected from development.

11. Streets, pedestrian paths and bike paths should contribute to a system of fully-connected and interesting routes to all destinations. Their design should encourage pedestrian and bicycle use by being small and spatially defined by buildings, trees and lighting; and by discouraging high speed traffic.

12. Wherever possible, the natural terrain, drainage and vegetation of the community should be preserved with superior examples contained within parks or greenbelts.

13. The community design should help conserve resources and minimize waste.

14. Communities should provide for the efficient use of water through the use of natural drainage, drought tolerant landscaping and recycling.

15. The street orientation, the placement of buildings and the use of shading should contribute to the energy efficiency of the community.

Regional Principles

1. The regional land-use planning structure should be integrated within a larger transportation network built around transit rather than freeways.

2. Regions should be bounded by and provide a continuous system of greenbelt/wildlife corridors to be determined by natural conditions.

3. Regional institutions and services (government, stadiums, museums, etc.) should be located in the urban core.

4. Materials and methods of construction should be specific to the region, exhibiting a continuity of history and culture and compatibility with the climate to encourage the development of local character and community identity.

Implementation Principles

1. The general plan should be updated to incorporate the above principles.

2. Rather than allowing developer-initiated, piecemeal development, local governments should take charge of the planning process. General plans should designate where new growth, infill or redevelopment will be allowed to occur.

3. Prior to any development, a specific plan should be prepared based on these planning principles.

4. Plans should be developed through an open process and participants in the process should be provided visual models of all planning proposals.

Authors: Peter Calthorpe, Michael Corbett, Andres Duany, Elizabeth Moule, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, and Stefanos Polyzoides

Editor: Peter Katz, Judy Corbett, and Steve Weissman

How this all originated:

In 1991, at the instigation of Local Government Commission staff-member Peter Katz, author of the New Urbanism, the commission brought together a group of architects who have been leaders in developing new notions of land use planning: Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, Stefanos Polyzoides and Elizabeth Moule, Peter Calthorpe, and Michael Corbett. These innovators were asked to come to agreement about what it is that the new planning ideas – from neotraditional planning to sustainable design- have in common and from there, to develop a set of community principles. They were then asked how each community should relate to the region, and to develop a set of regional principles. Finally, they were charged with defining how these ideas might be implemented by cities and counties. The architects’ ideas were drafted by attorney Steve Weissman into a form which would be useful to local elected officials and provide a vision for an alternative to urban sprawl. A preamble, topics of specific ideas, community principles, regional principles and implementation of the principles was presented in the fall of 1991 to about 100 local elected officials at a conference at the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite. There they received both a highly enthusiastic response and their title- the Ahwahnee Principles.

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