Better Neighborhoods


Conventional Subdivision (above left with 2 acre house lots) vs. Conservation Subdivision (above right with just under 3/4 of an acre, 30,000 sq. ft., house lots) with the SAME number of home sites (55) on a 130 acre site. The conservation subdivision preserves almost two-thirds of the site, 62%, 81 acres. Click on images to enlarge. (images courtesy Randall Arendt)


“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them”
— Albert Einstein

Benefits of Conservation Neighborhoods

  • Proven MORE profitable, LESS costly and FASTER selling than conventional subdivisions.
  • The SAME number of homes can be built as allowed in conventional “cookie-cutter” subdivisions.
  • 50% – 70% or more of the buildable land, plus unbuildable wetlands, steep slopes and floodplains, is preserved for wildlife and for neighborhood residents to enjoy through the use of nature trails.
    Note: Percentage of Land Preserved. In urban, sewered, high density areas zoned at 2-3-4 units per acre, preserving 40% open space, in addition to the unbuildable wetlands, floodplains, and steep slopes, is the norm. In rural, suburban edge areas at densities of 5 and 10 acres per dwelling, easily 70% or more of the land can be preserved.
  • Provides million dollar views and privacy.
  • Savings in development costs due to less road surface, shorter utility runs, less grading and other site preparation costs. Municipalities also experience lower long-term maintenance costs for the same reasons.
  • Greatly reduce or eliminate storm water run-off due to large tracts of natural areas that absorb and filter water to keep area lakes and rivers clean.
  • Narrower, shorter streets reduce impervious areas (they slow traffic also). The use of swales instead of curb and gutter absorb stormwater instead of having it run off and pollute lakes, rivers and streams.

“The golf course development without the golf course.”
-Randall Arendt

The neighborhood in the top right image, designed by landscape planner Randall Arendt, considered our nation’s foremost authority on conservation design, offers many benefits over the typical subdivision we see all across America in the image in the top left. These conservation neighborhoods can be 10 acres like Trim’s Ridge (once on page scroll down half way to see Trim’s Ridge), 177 acres like Sugar Creek Preserve or 2,300 acres like Bundoran Farm.


Tryon Farm, a conservation neighborhood in Michigan City, IN that sets aside 120 of the 170-acres as open space. Development doesn’t have to mean “destroy”.

jackson meadow hockey

Jackson Meadow, a conservation neighborhood in MN.

Once upon a time trees and meadows in charming towns were cleared and mass graded for subdivisions. Every day people saw their favorite lands destroyed. One day citizens learned about a better way to create neighborhoods.

Because of that, people in these towns preserved home values and economic prosperity by protecting natural resources. Because of that, town leaders learned this new design method. Until finally they realized that this better way of creating neighborhoods became so amazing that the citizens wondered why they had waited so long.

“Leaving land in its natural state or building trails through it is cheaper than building infrastructure or golf courses.”
— Big Builder Magazine

GG Fields of St. Croix Prairie 11 - reduced

Fields of St. Croix, a conservation neighborhood in MN.

jackson meadow biking

Jackson Meadow, a conservation neighborhood in MN. Annual CX Race.


4-STEPRandall Arendt’s Simple 4-Step Design Process
Creating better neighborhoods is simple and easy.
1. Identify Conservation Areas (land you want protected)
2. Locate House Lots
3. Align Streets and Trails
4. Draw in Lot Lines


Conventional Subdivision Design
The trouble with conventional subdivision design is that it is exactly the opposite of the 4-step design process:
1. Clear Site of Trees and Grade Land Flat
2. Put in Streets
3. Locate House Lots
4. Well, there is no step four. There is nothing left to protect beyond unbuildable wetlands, steep slopes and floodplains. Maybe step four could be, “Put up subdivision entrance sign and name development after the natural resources you just wiped out.” 🙂

historic home con sub

Saving the Family Farm
Learn how one family preserved the integrity of their 123-acre family farm property while simultaneously maximizing its value using conservation subdivision design in the article Paternal Gift Farm (pdf).

Suggested Reading
Flawed Processes, Flawed Results, and a Potential Solution: A Constructive Critique of Outmoded Subdivision Ordinance Provisions (PDF)

Books that Rock
These books should be read by every planner, planning commission member, and resident who cares about the value of their community. Sadly, most planning commission members have never read or even heard of these.


Table of Contents for Rural by Design (above) (PDF)

Review Comments for Rural by Design (PDF)

con sub book


More books by author Randall Arendt


Ed McMahon

Better neighborhoods. Better quality of life. Better home values.


“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”