Urban Villages

This is a summary of the book  Urban Villages - A concept for creating mixed-use urban developments on a sustainable scale – originally published in 1988 by, and available at the time, from the Urban Villages Forum, price £30. 

The Urban Villages Forum was founded in 1992 and dissolved just over a decade later.

The Urban Villages Forum logo.



An urban village is a settlement created on greenfield or brownfield site, or out of an existing development.  Its features are:

  • high density
  • mixed use
  • mixed tenure
  • high quality
  • based on walking.

Population 3,000-5,000 people

Size - up to 900 metres across (10 minute walk)

Facilities - wide range, including access to open space,

Coordinated and planned by a master plan and a series of codes

Human community - an involved and interlocked community with its own identity.

Government Policy

The Government’s 1998 policy statement on housing refered to urban villages as an option for the future, specifically mentioning the millennium village at Greenwich, in inner London.


Where do our Existing towns fall down?

Urban monoculture - single use developments  - eg large housing estates create problems:

  • unfriendly external environment
  • creates work, leisure, home communities all in different places, none of which reinforce each other. (leading to weak communities)
  • creates dependence on car use (leading to pollution and congestion)

Absence of variety in architectural styles or land uses, similarity between new development right across the country - erosion of local character and distinctiveness.

Yet there are examples of desirable and successful communities with a strong identity. 


What is an urban village?

An urban village is a concept of a settlement which is small enough to create a community in the truest sense of the word - a group of people who support each other, but big enough to maintain a reasonable cross section of facilities.  Walking determines the size - a 10 minute walk from one side to the other.  To provide a sufficiently large population to maintain a range of community facilities all within a walkable distance means the density of development must be high. An urban village is densely developed in the centre, with town squares and key community focal points, density eases away from the centre, and the boundary of the village is marked by greenspace.


Creating an Urban Village

Urban villages can be created:

  • on greenfield or derelict land where no communities currently exist or
  • within existing developments, by incremental change and progressive redevelopment.

An example might be a 1930s single land use housing estate, wholly dependent on car use: work would involve demolishing existing housing and creating woods, or copses, higher density housing, town squares and so on - radical moves, but necessary to re-engineer communities that have been designed around car use.

Involving people is a key. - See the section below on Public Involvement.


Urban Village - Key Characteristics

  • mixed use development
  • 1:1 ratio between jobs and residents
  • acre size - 40 hectare - say 600m by 600m
  • all within under 10 minutes walk
  • population 3,000 - 5,000 - large enough to support range of activities and facilities
  • small enough to enable people to recognise each other and to encourage neighbourliness.
  • pedestrian friendly environment
  • catering for the car without encouraging car use


Full range of types and sizes of buildings

Higher density towards the centre of the village

mixed use within buildings eg shops below, residential above

Housing - full range of types, flats, retirements homes, buildings suitable for work from home, student housing etc;

Mixed tenure for both residential and business accommodation.


  • daily shopping
  • basic health
  • primary schools
  • some recreation and cultural facilities
  • employment
  • greenspace - increasing towards  periphery of village

Central square/community area

  • focus for community
  • showpiece for the village
  • buildings higher than others in village - but using smaller plots
  • buildings of architectural distinction and variety
  • surrounding street grid - fine grained - small street blocks, with numerous alleyways and providing excellent pedestrian access to the central square

Away from the urban village centre

Walking encouraged - through layout of streets and buildings.

Taller buildings sited prominently to emphasise the features of the terrain - eg tallish building on a rise - greater impact and interest.

Large/Important buildings -locate on key sites to create visual focus

Traffic generating development - should be located towards the edge of the village, where they can be served by landscaped boulevards, or worked into the greenspace separating the urban village from others.

Parks, gardens, green open spaces - small and numerous within the village - large open spaces and wildlife areas on the periphery


Beyond the urban village boundary

Nearby urban villages can provide complementary local facilities, plus facilities to cater for several groups of villages eg secondary school, etc. 


Planning the Urban Village

Each Urban Village is planned and developed through a Master Plan, backed by a series of codes, and an environment action plan covering how the environmental impact of the village is to be managed and minimised.

  • Master plan
  • Infrastructure Code - (covering relationship  with roads and services of adjoining areas)
  • Urban Code - (covering urban form: size and layout of streets, grid pattern, relationship of streets, buildings)
  • Architecture Code -(materials, shape of roofs, size and proportion of doors and windows)
  • Public Spaces Code - (how the public realm is to be laid out, paved and furnished)

Master Plan

Describing the whole project from initial concept through to detailed implementation. Includes business plan, the balance between land uses and their location, mix of tenure, environmental impact, plus the codes.

Infrastructure Code


  • details of connections
  • standards of construction, surfacing materials, kerb (where used)


  • services by statutory undertakers - standard of service and appearance
  • treatment of visible service and drainage infrastructure eg grilles, grids, gullies, inspection covers, gullies, cables, pipes etc

Landscape and Land form

  • changes to land contours
  • existing tree groups and other landscape features
  • provision of structural landscape

Urban Form Code

An urban village should have its own unifying identity but should nonetheless be varied

  • “village footprint”  should be rounded - ideally no more than 900 metres across
  • Street layout should reflect existing natural features, contours and existing buildings of significance.
  • Avoid culs de sac - provide linkages
  • Public spaces 25-35% of total area
  • Parks, sports and recreation fields etc should form the boundaries of the village
  • Facilities which will be used by other communities should be sited on squares, boulevards or on the edge of the urban village.


  • Blocks should have their short sides along principal streets and their long sides leading off the principal streets.
  • Blocks should decrease in size nearer the centre - to improve pedestrian permeability.
  • Footpaths should cut across blocks to encourage walking
  • Urban public spaces should be planned as a whole - viz.: the buildings and the space should be planned together.

Location of Buildings

Civic Buildings should be dispersed rather than grouped together

Reserve higher buildings for key sites

Car parking

Central parking where required should be basement or semi-basement underneath central courtyards

Multi-story car parks should be small, dispersed and well screened - eg by being behind other buildings.

Architecture Code

A code to set the character of buildings covering:

  • materials
  • shapes of roofs
  • details of windows, doors, boundaries, paths and drives, conservatories and extensions visible from public open space.

Public Spaces Code

Covering design and finishes used in the public realm - and their maintenance

  • street furniture
  • central square, and other squares,
  • streets, footpaths, mews courtyards
  • parks, gardens,
  • planting - general character and quality

Environment Action Plan

  • air, water and soil pollution; noise
  • waste management and recycling
  • energy efficiency
  • sewage treatment and disposal
  • street cleansing
  • wildlife and habitats


Public Involvement

Residents and users need to be supportive of their urban village. 

Their opinion is invaluable on

  • mix of uses
  • layout of the village
  • conservation of existing features
  • facilities/amenities to be provided
  • how the village will relate to the surrounding area

Responsibility for design rests with the promoter of the development and their professional advisers.


For proposed brownfield developments

  • public meetings
  • market research
  • interviews in respondents’ homes
  • “Planning for Real or planning workshop sessions
  • advice from special interest groups

For greenfield sites it may be possible to form a group of individuals and businesses who are genuinely interested in moving to the development.

Promoters Checklist

  • involve as many groups as possible
  • allow adequate time for process

Consultation must be

  • genuine and credible
  • proposals open to amendment
  • public must be kept informed
  • inform
  • provide a clear contact point for the public
  • share problems with the community when they arise
  • keep personal issues private
  • establish a community development trust
  • provide training and job opportunities for local people during development
  • encourage a community to develop - voluntary service

Involvement must be a long term, continuing process.

Urban Villages in the making


Hulme, Manchester

Crown Street, Glasgow

West Silvertown, London

Poundbury, Dorset


New schemes:

Ancoats, Manchester

Millennium Village, Greenwich


Robert Huxford