Credit: DPZ Partners

The Transect: A diagram of diversity

The inspiration for this iconic drawing was a walk from the beach over the dunes and into the scrub woodlands in the early days of Seaside, Florida. Douglas Duany, landscape architect, explained the natural transect to architect Andres Duany, who made a connection between nature and urban form. Andres Duany divided the urban/natural world into six Transect zones, because, he explained, six parts is the maximum number that humans can easily remember. This image was first presented in 1997 by Duany at CNU in Toronto as part of the Lexicon of the New Urbanism.

The Lexicon was published and I wrote the first published article on The Transect in New Urban News in 1999. The Transect first appeared in a code in the Onondaga Settlement Plan, completed from 1999-2001, in Syracuse, New York. It quickly became adopted by many new urbanists in plans and codes in the early 2000s. Now it is the principle that lays a foundation for hundreds of form-based codes and countless urban plans.

The Transect shows how diverse urban elements can be organized in urban environments. "The transect is a natural ordering system, as every urban element easily finds a place within its continuum. For example, a street is more urban than a road, a curb more urban than a swale, a brick wall more urban than a wooden one, an allee of trees more urban than a cluster. This gradient when rationalized and subdivided, becomes the urban Transect, the basis of a common zoning system," according to a note accompanying the diagram. Natural environments are diverse, but diverse in an organized way. The Transect explains how cities and towns are organized in a similar way.