First you need good rules, then you need to enforce them.

Next American City recently interviewed professor and author Emily Talen about her latest effort, “City Rules: How Regulations Affect Urban Form.” The Q&A touches on strategies for facilitating diversity, how bad design discourages mixed-use development, the “American fixation” on controlling use over form and the emergence of form-based codes. Read it here.

How does Omaha rate on these topics? Post your thoughts here.


Are you involved in a project that’s helping strengthen Omaha’s urban core? We want to hear from you. The Density Project is seeking Omaha case studies that illustrate how density helps create walkable neighborhoods, support housing choice and affordability, expand transportation choices, support community fiscal health, improve security and protect the environment. Below is an example from Portland, Oregon. Questions? Call 402.554.4010.

Belmont Dairy, Portland

The Belmont Dairy, located roughly 1.5 miles from downtown Portland, abandoned its 2.5 acre site after 70 years in business. In 1996-97, the site was cleaned up and redeveloped into a mixed-use complex with 26,000 square feet of retail space and 115 residential units – 66 affordable apartments, 19 market rate lofts and 30 rowhouses.

Today, Belmont Dairy has a net residential density of about 54 units per acre, twice that of surrounding developments.

Developers used the local architectural vernacular, pedestrian amenities, innovative parking strategies and neighborhood retail to integrate Belmont Dairy into its surroundings, adding value and spurring reinvestment in the Sunnyside neighborhood.

From PlaceShakers and NewsMakers

How do you get folks to visualize and embrace density? Susan Henderson suggests thinking about building typology in “The Dreaded Density Issue.”

“Instead of debating the number of units per acres, planners and city staff should consider addressing types of buildings that are permitted within different zoning categories,” she writes. “Not only is this the most understandable approach for the lay person, it’s the most predictable for the building and the city.”

Give it a read – the visuals really hammer the point home.

The University of Nebraska Medical Center is included in the Central Omaha Transit Alternatives Analysis.

What would you do to improve moving in and around Omaha’s urban core?

Metro and the City of Omaha want to know. The partnership has launched the Central Omaha Transit Alternatives Analysis to develop and evaluate potential transit alternatives in the corridor between downtown Omaha, midtown Omaha, the University of Nebraska Medical Center, the University of Nebraska at Omaha, and the Crossroads and Aksarben Village areas. The study, projected to take the next 18 months, will:

  • Analyze the mobility needs in the area
  • Identify and compare the costs, benefits and impacts of various transit alternatives

At its conclusion, locally preferred transit alternatives will be recommended for future evaluation.

So if you live, work or spend time in any of these areas, here’s a suggestion – give Metro and the city your feedback. If you’ve never ridden a city bus in your life, tell them why. Better yet, hop aboard one and then document your experience. Take a few moments to learn the difference between enhanced bus service and bus rapid transit and the modern street car.

Yes, it’s another study, but it’s also another chance to express your point of view and lobby for the options you’d be willing to support. You might learn something in the process – something that changes the way you commute, get downtown for dinner or take in a movie at Aksarben Village. It might even make you rethink where you live in the city.

Your first opportunity is an open house set for tonight, May 30, from 5:00 to 7:00pm at the Thompson Alumni Center at UNO. You can also leave your ideas – and vote on others – at, follow them on Facebook, join their email list, email the partnership at, or call them at 888.692.2678.

Trugs in production from Emerging Terrain and partners.

Omahans are starting to get the hang of this density thing. Two projects, each led by different groups, signal the beginning of this shift in thinking – Omaha B-cycle and Trug: Leavenworth.

Last week, Omaha by Design presented its 2012 Civic Leaf to the two groups responsible for introducing Omaha B-cycle to the community – Live Well Omaha and the Community Bike Project Omaha. The city’s first large-scale municipal bike-sharing system has become part of the midtown area’s civic fabric.

Five stations connect Aksarben Village, one of Omaha’s new mixed use developments, with the University of Nebraska at Omaha, its neighbor to the north. During its first seven months of operation, 426 members took a total of 1,437 trips while burning 288,228 calories and resulting in a 6,845 lb. carbon offset. The two groups intend to add 100 additional bikes and 20 stations to Omaha’s system within the next year.

On May 24 from 4:00 to 6:00pm, the Greater Omaha Chamber, Emerging Terrain, the City of Omaha and stakeholders from the Park East and Columbus Park neighborhoods will host a kickoff party for Trug: Leavenworth. The seasonal project, which is bringing uniquely designed planters and seating units to Leavenworth Street, is designed to calm traffic and create lively, welcoming spaces for local businesses and residents.

Throughout the summer, businesses and community organizations will be teaming up to provide weekly activities in and around the trugs. A trug, if you’re wondering, is defined as a shallow, usually oval gardening basket made with wide strips of wood.

Try them both in the coming months, and take a few moments to examine the effect they’re having on the local neighborhood.

Belleview Station in Denver, a transit-oriented community in the making.

Ken Mayer pens a monthly column for Omaha by Design titled “The Public Space.” This month, he looks at a number of studies and makes some interesting observations about the Millenials, their thoughts on homes and autos, and their potential to influence the ways cities are built in the future.

“It looks like the generation sometimes referred to as the Millenials (those born after about 1980) may not share their Baby Boomer parents’ love of the big house and car,” he writes. “Maybe this is just youthful rebellion. Maybe it’s an effort to identify with grandpa and grandma. After all, grandparents and grandchildren tend to bond, it’s said, because they share a common enemy.”

Give it a read. Thoughts? Post ’em here.

Mode Shift Omaha threw a party on May 1 this year, and everyone was invited.

The grassroots group, which supports choice in transportation for everyone, hosted an event at 25th and Harney that also doubled as the final open house for the City of Omaha’s Transportation Master Plan. The goal – to solicit feedback on the plan prior to its consideration by the Omaha Planning Board and Omaha City Council, and to get attendees to begin to imagine what that area could be like.

Omaha by Design signed on to help with the latter. We conducted a mini Place Game exercise and asked those in attendance to do two things:

  • Evaluate Harney Street between 24th and 26th according to four criteria, which rank responses on a scale of 1 to 5 (1 being “strongly disagree” and 5 being “strongly agree”);
  • Suggest potential improvements that could be made in both the short- and long-term.

Seventy-one attendees completed the exercise, and here’s what they thought:

  • They ranked the area’s access and linkage (identifiable from a distance, walkable, bikeable, accessible by mass transit, clean information/signage) as its highest asset with an average score of 2.9.
  • They ranked the area’s comfort and image (attractive, feels safe, clean/well maintained, comfortable places to sit) and sociability (people in groups, evidence of volunteerism, sense of pride and ownership, children and seniors present) in the middle with average scores of 2.2.
  • They ranked the area’s uses and activities (good mix of activities, frequent community events, area is busy, encourages physical activity, area is vital economically) in last place with an average score of 2.1.

Suggestions for improvements ranged from adding trash and recycle bins to turning empty lots into pocket parks to creating walking and biking paths that connect Midtown Crossing with the Old Market. Many of the ideas focused on transportation choice.

Transportation choices give people the freedom to walk and take a bus, trail or bicycle for all or part of their daily travel. Density helps create choice by providing the ridership needed to make bus and rail transit a viable and competitive transportation option.

Thoughts? Post ’em here.

In 1950, Omaha’s population density (the number of people per unit of area) was about 6,000 people per square mile. Today, it’s substantially lower – about 3,490 people per square mile. What are we doing, or not doing, with all that space? Are we hampering our city’s ability to provide the services we all need and want?

Welcome to The Density Project, an Omaha by Design blog dedicated to helping Omahans understand this important issue. Our goal is to encourage the development of a city form that reduces the per capita cost of providing city services and establishes the density necessary to support more energy-efficient forms of transportation.

The Urban Form and Transportation section of the city’s Environmental Element calls for growing Omaha’s population density to 4,500 people per square mile by 2030.

We’ve got some work to do, so let’s get going.