Housing developments patterns vary in ways that can make communities more or less dependent on cars. Some patterns make the most efficient use of the land. Others have large green areas, but they are isolated and increase road traffic. Google maps aerial views enables researchers to see what is happening to the land, and one architect has created a survey of various housing development patterns across the U.S.
John Hill published a pictorial survey and analysis of several housing development patterns at Geography Education Ideabooks. His survey includes an analysis of seventeen classic housing developments patterns. Hill used Google maps for aerial views that helped him to analyze the good and bad environmental impacts of each neighborhood.
Some housing developments provide walkable and transit friendly neighborhoods that make the best use of the land. Others make use of land that is not useful for anything else, as with hilly desert areas. Other neighborhoods sit near or on the water, or they are monotonous stretches of row houses built on strict geometric grids.
The three most environmentally friendly development patterns encourage more walking and less driving:
"Sustainable urbanism" and "New urbanism" neighborhoods include diverse, compact features like shops, parks and schools. High density housing complexes can encourage more walking and offer the latest green construction features.
"Transit oriented development" creates high density, mixed used neighborhoods that lie near major public transit hubs. This style is even more eco friendly when the hub is for light rail systems.
The two least environmentally friendly housing developments require extensive driving or encroach on forests and other protected lands:
"Greenfield housing" is controversial because the developments encroach on traditional croplands, wetlands or forests and are generally far away from the cities, public services or job centers. This type of housing supports homeowners who cannot afford to buy homes that are closer to urban centers.
"Fairway housing" has houses that connect with streets in the front while the backs overlook large golf fairways, artificial lakes or large greenbelts. These neighborhoods are often are more separated and isolated than others and they require the most driving to get to workplaces, businesses, schools or shopping.
In summary, John Hill's survey and other personalized Google maps searches are very useful. They can show how different housing development styles can encroach on natural lands, be transit friendly, or require more driving to get to work and shopping.