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Infill Landscape Codes

By Buck Abbey, ASLA, The Green Laws Organization, New Orleans, Louisiana

"Infill landscape codes," or simply "urban landscape standards," specifically define landscape design components and standards appropriate for tightly compact city environments.This one was developed for Camden, N.J.

Big City Landscaping
What is lacking in most infill landscape codes, i.e., rededication of land in an urban environment, is specific design standards for urban landscaping. These codes essentially are undefined, since appropriate landscape design standards have not been codified for big cities. This is a big problem for cities like New Orleans, Miami and Houston to solve.

A new style of codes is needed. They might be referred to as "infill landscape codes," or simply" urban landscape standards," which specifically define landscape design components and standards appropriate for tightly compact city environments.

The geography of inner-city development sites often consists of small lots or cobbled together properties with irregular lot lines, intrusive utility systems, servitudes and interconnected lots. Flag lots and even isolated parcels connected by pass-through walks (paseos or passages) are more common than most people realize.

Most inner-city sites have excessive paving, total stormwater site runoff and irregular shade-sun patterns. Even circulation and approach can be trying. Security is a big concern in the middle of many cities. Add in large populations of pedestrians moving here and there and urban landscape design becomes very challenging.

Since most inner-city sites, including some redevelopment sites, are small and tight, wide expansive planted buffers and multiple tree plantings producing a high percentage of canopy cover is not possible. Also, lawns, a large part of suburban building sites, are seldom used in the built-up city. What open space that does occur in the large built-out city is often parking lots, and they are often small and worked into the city fabric where possible. Where urban plazas or neighborhood parks occur, they are often overused and do not seem to fit into their surroundings.


Landscape on any lot or development site must be designed to link to the streetscape, functionally, aesthetically and artistically. This public streetscape is in San Antonio.

Design Components for Infill Landscapes
The drawing (above) in this column was developed for a new landscape code being written for Camden, New Jersey. It sets forth the type of landscape design components that can be defined for a large built-out space. Infill landscape codes need to express ecological urbanism values in the drafting of the landscape design components.

What follows is not a complete description of what ought to be contained within an infill landscape code, but does set forth a list of basic landscape design components that should to be contained within a big city landscape code.

1.The public streetscape is the landscape core of the city. Landscape on any lot or development site must be designed to link to the streetscape, functionally, aesthetically and artistically.

2. Buffers are replaced by walls within a built-out city. Walls might be six or eight feet tall masonry structures, or perhaps green walls that are covered with close clinging vines or other small plants.

3. Green roofs substitute for lawns.

4. The primary shade trees are in a street tree planting area. The primary purpose of street trees is to provide sidewalk shade, separate auto traffic from pedestrians and link all private landscape to the public streetscape.

5. The street garden replaces the street yard buffer and becomes ancillary to the public streetscape. The street garden may be composed of plantings, paving, exterior lighting, building entry and or porch, along with seating, dining or outside terrace features.

6. Parking areas are repaved with porous paving, planted and serve multiple uses as open space for neighborhood activity when not storing automobiles.

7. Artwork on walls and on paving replace traditional garden ornamentation.

8. Walls are generally used to screen parking lots from the public street and neighboring property.

9. Walkway pass-through servitudes over private land are used to connect the public streetscape to inside alleys, or private courtyards or paved rear parking.

10. Courtyards include the front street garden, as well as rear private courtyards.

11. The front setback area for build-to-lines (setback lines) should vary to allow various sized street gardens.

12. Public sidewalks. Street garden design and paving can extend into the public right-of-way so that the public walkway can vary from one end of the block to the other. Property owners must receive permits allowing them to build and plant on the public right-of-way.

13. Private landscape must connect to a public pocket park or other civic open space within a 1/2 mile walk.

14. Bikeways must be part of the public walkways, or beyond the street tree planting area next to the street curb.

15. Driveways, short, narrow and paved, must be planted and walled pedestrian environments.

16. Play areas for children or pets must be placed in quiet, rear, private-gated courtyards.

17. Trash and service areas must be hidden by landscaping, walls or placed within underground vaults at street side.

Design options must be provided for infill landscape codes, since site conditions vary widely. Prescriptive technical standards that are common for suburban codes must give way to site plan review for inner-city development projects. The Dallas Landscape Code, Art. X, Div, 51A-10.120, Sec. 51A-10.126, Ord. 22053 provides optional design standards that offer flexibility to the designer. This is important since infill-building sites are not as uniform as found within typical uniform suburban zoned parcels of land.

A palette of options, perhaps built around the emerging Harvard GSD ideology known as "ecological urbanism," may be the best philosophical choice for big city infill landscape codes.

Should readers care to contact the author, get in touch by email at You may call Abbey Associates Landscape Architecture at 225.766.0922.


LASN associate editor for ordinances, "Buck" Abbey, ASLA, The Green Laws Organization New Orleans, Louisiana


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June 26, 2019, 11:54 am PDT

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