The street network should focus on a core area of greatest pedestrian concentration. Large developments may need to provide this core on-site through ‘hub’ locations which bring together in a single location services, transport networks, transport facilities and employment. Smaller developments may focus on the existing core of a neighbouring site.

It is in the core that any non-residential uses should be located – for example, primary schools, flexible community spaces used for a range of purposes (including workspaces or healthcare infrastructure) local shops, pubs and bus stops.   densities should be higher in this vicinity. Effective design can enable streets and other public spaces to support a range of civic, cultural and community functions such as markets, public art and open-air performances. Supplying a multi-functional open space provides ever-changing reasons for people to come together and be active within their community, which is increasingly important in our culture, where people can become isolated. When a streetscape is well-designed, ‘people don’t leave work and hurry home – they leave work, walk slowly and socialise with others. They stop and talk to people and as a result they improve their wellbeing’ (Building for Health in South Essex, South Essex Health, Wellbeing and Planning Summit, 2016).

Social interaction is proven to have significant health benefits both physically and mentally. Creating a sense of community can help to combat loneliness as well as increasing consumer spending. The immediate local environment can therefore be a fundamental factor contributing in particular to the quality of life of older people. It can be enabling or disabling, and therefore promote or reduce loneliness and isolation.

The core area should be characterised by a high concentration of entrances to buildings opening directly off the street. Buildings should not be located in an isolated fashion, separated by car parks or access roads, and residential and non-residential land uses should merge into each other.

The street system should radiate from the core area, with radial routes being more direct and minor linking routes being more tortuous. These relationships of core to periphery have been found to generate greater levels of pedestrian activity. The core should also be laid out so as to accommodate flexibility through future adaptation, whether in the form of changing land uses, modes of access to the core or the use of spaces for mobility.

The future will see growing levels of integration, with services increasingly combined or shared in one location. It is therefore important to consider how the layout and legibility of a block and its buildings may change, and how this will relate to the wider street, local access points and the broader development context.

Nodal points

A residential area should be structured around a series of nodal points. These are irregularly or regularly shaped urban spaces formed at the junctions of routes, and may be emphasised by key buildings or groups of buildings.

Residential densities may be higher in the vicinity of such nodal points, forming a ‘village’ cluster, with lower density areas between one cluster and the next. If there is a sufficient concentration of non-residential uses and community facilities in the associated core area, it may be appropriate to locate other community facilities – such as a convenience shop, childcare nursery or pub – at nodal points. These will then act as focal points, generating pedestrian movement. Nodal points can also provide opportunities to complement the core – for example, offering local pick-up and drop-off locations for online orders stored in electronic lockers, shops or community facilities. Layouts partially built around nodal points also help to limit social isolation, offering groups and individuals from every part of society the chance to access services and facilities, and to interact with each other in proximity to the home.

Character areas

A large residential area should vary in character between its different parts. This variation should not be based on development density or artificial creation of social differences, but on different types of space, building forms and materials. While it is certainly important to build a sense of place and identity into all parts of a development, the creation of a particular identity in a particular part of the development will do much to define the special character of each area. In addition, the creation of such areas avoids repetition and allows for a clear sense of direction and place – something that is particularly important to older people and those with dementia.


Edges occur where one type of place or space meets another – for example, where an urban space meets the countryside; where houses meet a major road; where a development meets an open space; or where two developments of different characters meet.

Edges should be treated in different ways according to their importance. For example, public open spaces should be treated as focal points onto which houses front, rather than being tucked away behind residences.

In order to avoid rear fences dominating the view, edges where houses sit beside major roads or open countryside should be treated similarly. Houses should front such edges even where it is not possible to provide vehicular access direct from the major road, and where access must instead be taken from service roads or private drives running parallel to or behind the road.

Such edges should be clearly defined in terms of both purpose and status (i.e. public or private). Clear distinctions allow people to understand such spaces, and are particularly important for the partially sighted or people with dementia, who might otherwise become confused or disorientated.

Urban grain

When it is decided to perpetuate the pattern of a surrounding area, attention should be paid to repeating the urban grain determined by the pattern of plot subdivision and building form.

For example, where terraces of houses are the norm, a new development should also consist largely of terraces. Where houses are set forward up to the street line, a new development should do the same. Where the existing pattern is irregular, irregularity should also be characteristic of the new scheme. The designer should be wary of laying out a new development in a pattern generated more by abstract design principles or the internal logic of the site than by the surrounding urban grain, as this may result in a ragged, unconsidered edge where the new layout meets existing developments. Care should also be taken to resolve any ‘mismatch’ of orientation within the site, as this will generally provide a better built relationship with adjoining areas while creating more interesting spaces within the new site.


Landmarks include distinctive buildings, spaces, sculptures and similar recognisable structures. They should be placed at points in the network where they can aid orientation and navigation. They can be particularly useful in areas away from nodal points or other distinctive places; they may also fulfil a useful function in aiding orientation when viewed from a major road.

A landmark may take the form of a distinctive building or simply a taller one, designed to be visible from a wider area. Landmarks do not always need to be new features: the retention, integration and enhancement of existing features into new developments can serve the same purpose, and aids in retaining local distinctiveness and familiarity. The familiar nature of landmarks and their propensity to aid in orientation also helps to promote independence, a recognised mental health benefit.

External image

A development should have a clear and well-defined image when viewed from the surrounding area. This can be achieved via:

  • A clear design treatment of the urban edge.
  • Clear and defined entrances to the development (for example, pinch points).
  • A well-designed skyline and roofscape, made up of a texture of roof-forms generated by the forms of individual houses.
  • The location and roof treatment of key buildings within the development so as to aid orientation.
  • Taller buildings and blocks of trees that structure the external view.

Such features are once again particularly important to the ageing population and people with dementia.

Page updated: 7/02/2018

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