Planning Principle # 2: Small Blocks

Planning Principle # 2: Small Blocks

By: Jack Bialosky, Jr., AIA, LEED AP   |   @bialosky_arch

Over the last 60 years, the biggest impediments to human scaled urban environments and a sense of place have been the preeminence of the automobile, with a need for vast areas of parking, and large blocks with uninterrupted expanses of blank walls. With the return to the concepts of Traditional Neighborhood Design the automobile is no longer preeminent and pedestrian environments seek to prevail. The second in our series of 7 Planning Principles for Community Design addresses block size. Once the network of streets and pathways is established, how is it best to define the size and scale of the individual blocks?

Main St. | Mt. Victory, OH
Mt. Victory, Ohio Main Street

2. Small Blocks: Individual and collective spaces should be scaled down in such a way as to allow the most convenient access. With a priority always to the pedestrian – the distance between entries and pathways should be limited to encourage maximum circulation with minimum effort.

In prioritizing the pedestrian, walkability naturally becomes a way to set the bounds for small, accessible blocks. A ten minute walk covers about 1200 feet, which is about the right length for a district or a neighborhood. With at least one dimension of a block being no more than 300 feet, ease of access is provided for traversing between and across blocks and furthermore, provides for corners, adding interest to the architecture. Which are the cities and towns that feel best to us as pedestrian environments? Portland Oregon has square blocks of 200’ which provide many corners. Seattle’s blocks are similarly scaled at 240’ by 320’. Melbourne’s are 300’ by 600’ and Manhattan’s blocks are 264’ by 600-900’. Chicago 660’ by 330’. Savannah is divided into wards of 600’ by 600’ with a square at the center, describing the primary grid pattern of the city and then each subdivided into smaller blocks.

Strip Center | Jacksonville, FL
Strip Center | Jacksonville, FL

The right size block is also dependent on the width of the streets and the height of the buildings as well. Is it a big city or a small town? Permeability of the blocks not only enhances accessibility, but allows for pedestrians to explore and take different routes. Cities with small blocks are the ones that are designed to let pedestrians infuse their neighborhoods and districts, and continue to be the ones that attract and excite locals and visitors alike.


We asked Jack Bialosky, Jr., AIA, LEED AP, Senior Principal of Bialosky Cleveland to discuss the Seven Planning Principles his firm uses for community design. This is a closer look at Principle #2: Small Blocks.

Want to dig deeper? Join us on Wednesday, July 20 at 2 p.m. EST for a free webinar featuring Jack and his colleague David W. Craun, AIA, LEED AP. Principal and Director of Design at Bialosky Cleveland.


About the Firm:

Bialosky ClevelandWe asked Jack Bialosky, Jr., AIA, LEED AP, Senior Principal of Bialosky Cleveland to discuss the Seven Planning Principles his firm uses for successful community design. Want to dig deeper? Join us on Wednesday, July 20 at 2 p.m. EST for a free webinar featuring Jack and his colleague David W. Craun, AIA, LEED AP. Principal and Director of Design at Bialosky Cleveland.

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