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Greendale, Wisconsin: Sixty Years of a Greenbelt Town

Mar 5th, 2008

In 1938, as part of FDR’s New Deal Greenbelt Towns Program, Greendale, Wisconsin, was intentionally created with many of the design and planning principles that active-living advocates promote today, including:

  • compact, walkable neighborhoods with clearly defined edges;
  • a clearly defined town center with public spaces, civic buildings, transit stops, and retail businesses and services;
  • an interconnected street network, forming coherent blocks and lined with building fronts;
  • an interconnected, off-street foot trail system, connecting different neighborhoods to the town center, to public parks and to each other;
  • a diverse mix of activities and housing options; and,
  • open spaces in convenient locations throughout the neighborhoods.

Funded by the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation’s Active Living Program, this research profiled the processes behind sustaining these particular planning and design principles over time in light of economic and regional challenges that have faced not just Greendale, but most town centers over the last fifty years. Despite these challenges, the walkable and compact nature of Greendale remains strong today, in terms of activity, physical design, and community identity.

While many circumstances are specific to this particular town, useful lessons are drawn for older small towns in metropolitan areas and for those new urbanist (NU) communities being developed in greenfields and suburbs today, many of which are strikingly similar to Greendale – relatively small, low density, and located within metropolitan areas.

Undertaken by Sherry Ahrentzen, Ph.D., this research has been published in Planning Magazine, February 2007, 73/2. A more comprehensive article was published in Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law in 2008.

Ahrentzen, S. (2007). Sustaining Smart Growth and Active Living.