Urban Grain

In most towns, the pattern of streets and paths (how people move between places) has evolved over a very long period of time. Even for newer urban areas in Essex, the layout of routes and public spaces and the disposition of uses was conceived for the convenience and accessibility of pedestrians and cyclists.

Redevelopment and roadbuilding has invariably altered this pattern, to the point that some places are now severed from their surroundings. Commercial and service uses have been placed away from where people live and the quality of public space has been compromised by the need to accommodate the car.

This has altered what once may have been a fine-grained pattern of streets and paths into a coarse-grained pattern. Despite these changes, the urban grain is likely to be (and needs to be) finest near the centre of a town or neighbourhood. This is where the greatest intensity of movement occurs and where the richest pattern of uses can usually be found. Away from the commercial heart of the town or neighbourhood the grain can be coarser, which reflects the less intense demands on movement and agglomeration.     

It is vital that new, more compact development occurs in such a way that its introduction does not alter the fine urban grain of these central locations. In these areas, new development should be designed to imitate the existing pattern. As a minimum, the main streets should be connected to their hinterlands by side streets that occur at approximately 90m intervals. More frequent connections are often desirable and should be accommodated if at all possible.

In those rare circumstances where a town centre or neighbourhood environment is coarse-grained (either by original design or because of alteration), new development built in accordance with the principles laid out in this guide will introduce a finer pattern that produces enhanced environmental sustainability.

An overriding objective will be to create patterns of movement to form a connected grid. This can have either a regular or a deformed shape but, importantly, each end of a street or path must be connected to others. Systems that lead nowhere else are not appropriate.

Garden communities

Garden communities or sustainable urban extensions with an area of at least 50 hectares provide an opportunity to create a cohesive yet varied urban pattern. It may be considered desirable, for instance, to develop a fine-grained orthogonal grid close to the centre and a less formal, deformed grid towards the edge. However, influences on the structure of the development may depend on factors such as the existing landscape character and site topography.

Page updated: 31/01/2018

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