The Patterns of a Conservation Economy
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Outdoor café in the Yamhill District of Portland.
Image by Katy Langstaff.

Human-Scale Neighborhoods

Neighborhoods dominated by the car, without a mix of uses and housing types, tend to lack both diversity and a sense of community. They consign those who drive to endless shuttle trips, and those who don't — the young and old — to dangerous and unpleasant attempts to cross busy streets. They create sprawl and inefficient forms of infrastructure.

In Human-Scale Neighborhoods, a wide mix of housing types is clustered around one or more well-defined neighborhood centers which support jobs, commercial activity, and a range of amenities. The neighborhood is scaled to the pedestrian, offering sufficient variety within a five to fifteen minute walk — a quarter to half mile — to sustain lively streets and gathering places. It offers a gradient of density, from open spaces to high-density commercial cores. The layout of pathways, streets, and transportation corridors minimizes conflict between walking, biking, and driving, and provides effective and affordable Transit Access to other neighborhoods and regional centers.

Neighborhoods are the most significant building blocks of Compact Towns and Cities. Their physical design can greatly enhance Community and Civic Society, and their spectrum of jobs and housing types can support Social Equity. Without vibrant neighborhoods, towns and cities are split into single-use zones — housing here, retail and office there, manufacturing at the margins — which each lose their character. Emerging Sustainable Materials Cycles and Green Building techniques make it possible to create neighborhoods with a vibrant mix of residential, retail, office, and light-industrial land-uses which are free of water, soil, or air contamination.

Such a mix of land-uses, combined with decentralized Renewable Energy production, pockets of Sustainable Agriculture, Resource Efficiency, and participation in the urban Ecological Infrastructure can help support diverse Local Economies.

As neighborhoods change, small parcels of land and old buildings constantly become available for new uses. These parcels and buildings can be used to repair and renew pieces of the urban fabric and provide a better mix of housing types for residents. This revitalizes neighborhoods; makes full use of existing infrastructure and services; increases density; and provides a sense of history, place, and cultural context. Using green building techniques to retrofit a building saves construction materials and preserves land, and can produce spaces which are healthy and vibrant. Infill, which can include small second units in backyards, duplexes, small rowhouses, and related types, offers similar advantages, but must be performed carefully, and in a way that respects the character of the neighborhood.

Adaptive re-use of brownfield sites can transform contaminated industrial sites — often posing significant health hazards — from wastelands into thriving new residential and commercial developments. Such sites are typically located in urban cores and have excellent infrastructure in place, giving them a pivotal role in the renewal of towns and cities. Successful borwnfield reclamation provides economic benefits through revitalization, new employment opportunities, an increase in the tax-base, and a decrease in environmental health risks. It decreases pressure for sprawl and Greenfield development.

Take the neighborhood as the central building block of towns and cities. Make each neighborhood safe for pedestrians, with a vibrant mix of activities within a five to fifteen minute walk. Provide a gradient of density, from parks to commercial centers. Ensure effective transit access, and create opportunities for informal gathering places. Continually recycle parcels and buildings that have become underutilized.

Examples of this pattern in action:

U.S Coast Guard Housing in Astoria, OR
The U.S. Coast Guard received an award for developing innovative and attractive family housing in Astoria. Building on a 45-acre site within the city limits, the development team surveyed Astoria's neighborhood characteristics and worked with the city and its residents to ensure it would be compatible with Astoria's existing community. The development emphasizes the connection between homes, schools, commercial services, and open spaces in the area.

Orenco Station in Hillsboro, OR
With a site designated as a town center in Metro's region 2040 plan, the developers of Orenco Station set out to realize the vision of living and workng in wakling distrance of transit, and Orenco Station is already demonstrating that mixed-use development near light rail can work — and sell. The plan was created to take advantage of the light rail's proximity as well as to support transit by providing a higher density of residential and commercial uses within walking distance. The project features a mix of housing types, parks and open spaces, a traditional neighborhood main street, and an adjacent community shopping center. The design includes pleasant sidewalks, narrow tree-lined streets and through connections to surrounding streets and businesses. And all of this is next to some of the area's largest high-tech employers.

Fairview Village in Portland, OR
Fairview Village is gaining National attention for its unique approach to neighborhood design. It is a mix of houses, rowhouses, & apartments built among retail, office, and other civic amenities. In short, a town designed the old-fashioned way — with all the comfort and community feel of a small town, and all one's daily necessities just a short stroll away. The homes are designed with timeless charm and grace and built with traditional craftsmanship — but using contemporary floorplans and amenities. These are not tract homes…we have an endless variety in the Village. We believe they are simply…the best-built homes in the Portland marketplace.

Organizations whose work incorporate this pattern:

Livable Oregon

Partners for Livable Communities


Calthorpe, Peter. The Next American Metropolis: Ecology, Community, and the American Dream. Princeton Architectural Press. Princeton, NJ. 1993.

Corbett, Judy and Michael Corbett. Designing Sustainable Communities: Learning from Village Homes. Island Press. Washtington, DC. 2000.

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Pattern Index

A Conservation Economy

Social Capital

Fundamental Needs

Subsistence Rights

Shelter For All


Access To Knowledge


Social Equity


Cultural Diversity

Cultural Preservation

Sense Of Place

Beauty And Play

Just Transitions

Civic Society

Natural Capital

Ecological Land-Use

Connected Wildlands

Core Reserves

Wildlife Corridors

Buffer Zones

Productive Rural Areas

Sustainable Agriculture

Sustainable Forestry

Sustainable Fisheries


Compact Towns And Cities

Human-Scale Neighborhoods

Green Building

Transit Access

Ecological Infrastructure

Urban Growth Boundaries

Ecosystem Services

Watershed Services

Soil Services

Climate Services


Economic Capital

Household Economies

Green Business

Long-Term Profitability

Community Benefit

Green Procurement

Renewable Energy

Sustainable Materials Cycles

Resource Efficiency

Waste As Resource

Product As Service

Local Economies

Value-Added Production

Rural-Urban Linkages

Local Assets

Bioregional Economies

Fair Trade

True Cost Pricing

Product Labeling