Urban Design

Design Is the Foundation of Great Places

At its heart, urban design is about creating great places. The design of our community influences the way we interact with the space around us and with each other; it influences how we live. To build great places, we must consider all of the elements that make up a place –- from buildings, streets and public transportation to parks, walkways and open space. Arlington’s approach to urban design covers all of these aspects by focusing on architecture, landscape architecture, and planning and design.

What Is Good Design?

Urban design takes into account how people interact with the physical environment, including buildings, transportation and nature. Good urban design accomplishes the following:

  • Establishes a sense of place and identity for neighborhoods and communities.
  • Provides safe, easy and accessible choices for all people.
  • Engages and stimulates activity in the public realm.
  • Allows for adaptability of space.
  • Provides environmental, social and economic benefits.
  • Encourages sustainable development through alternative transportation methods.

Guidelines for Urban Design

Arlington has incorporated urban design concepts since early planning efforts of the 1970s focused on the Rosslyn-Ballston Metrorail corridor. Urban design and smart growth principles along with citizen involvement are integral components of our comprehensive planning process. Urban design guidelines are incorporated within most of our area plans, which are developed in collaboration with the community to guide future development in specific areas.

From specific sites to long-range plans, successful urban design influences how livable a city is and it’s a hallmark of Arlington. The relationship between buildings and sidewalks, streets, open space and people must be coordinated to create a high-quality and successful environment. The urban design process addresses many issues for a particular project, but generally Arlington considers the following:

  • Coordinated streetscape
  • Commercial facilities
  • Neighborhood preservation
  • Urban open space and plazas
  • Historic preservation

As part of the planning process, we develop urban design guidelines to help improve and maintain the character of specific spaces and neighborhoods. They are intended for use by residents, developers, business owners and County officials, as achieving a functional and attractive community will depend on a commitment to urban design by these groups.

One example of our leading with design is using form based codes in the Columbia Pike corridor to achieve the community’s vision for vibrant, mixed-use places. Form based codes guide development and revitalization through design regulations that shape the look and feel of buildings, link the corridor with public transit and walkable streets and create public gathering places.

Another example is influencing design through historic preservation. Our Historic Preservation Master Plan allows us to integrate preservation goals and design considerations into planning initiatives in a manner that respects both our heritage and our historic built environment. We also have created detailed design guidelines for our locally protected historic sites that help owners and their design teams maintain the defining historic characteristics of their properties.