The Complete Illustrated Book of Development Definitions (4th Edition)

by Candace H. Stowell, AICP, Carson City, Nevada

The latest edition of The Illustrated Book of Development Definitions is a great resource for professional planners, citizen planners, and design professionals alike. When first published in 1981, the book contained 263 pages. This latest edition is 643 pages long and contains 2,198 definitions. It starts with abandoned vehicle and ends with zoo. In addition to Carl Lindbloom, Dwight Merriam, FAICP, and Harvey Moskowitz, this latest edition includes two new authors: David Listokin, Ph.D., and Richard Preiss.

The book starts off with some basic, but very important, information about the purpose of definitions in a development code and guidelines about how to use definitions. In their introduction, the authors include a section called “What Definitions Are Not.” Every planner should read this section. The five authors emphasize that definitions should not include any regulatory language. Repeat. Definitions should not include any regulatory language. Regulation creep in your definitions section may be an easy (backdoor) way to add some new criteria for a specific land use, but doing so breaks down the organizational discipline of your development code. Making your development code more confusing and less user-friendly should be avoided at all costs. Pity the next planner who joins your department or the private sector planner attempting to understand the local zoning and subdivision regulations.

As many of us know but may often forget, all terms used in a development code require a definition, no matter how obvious the definition. Interestingly, the authors state that they do not support including definitions that do not relate to any terms in your development code. They recognize this is a debatable point, but it is helpful to understand their viewpoint. The authors no doubt assume that all of the definitions are in one chapter or else in an appendix of a development code. This is not always the case, unfortunately. Public sector planners should make sure that all the definitions are in one location. Please don’t put your floodplain definitions in your floodplain management chapter: these terms belong side by side (zone by zone!) with your non-floodplain definitions.

The Illustrated Development Definitions Book is enhanced by 109 original illustrations by Carl Lindbloom.  Illustrations are used for different historic building types as well as different roof types, which is greatly appreciated for those of us who are architecturally challenged. The book is much richer than previous editions due to the additions of legal annotations for many of the definitions in the book (thanks largely to Dwight Merriam, FAICP, and the attorneys at Robinson Cole). The book also contains a list of abbreviations and acronyms, a reference section, as well as a brief list of commonly used land measures.

It’s fair to ask if The Illustrated Book of Development Definitions is limited by the fact that most of the authors work in the East and may not be up to speed on Western planning issues. This does not seem to be a concern, particularly since the book contains more than 2,000 definitions. In addition, Dwight Merriam, FAICP, is on the National Board of the Rocky Mountain Land Institute in Denver. Richard Preiss earned his Masters in planning at the University of Oregon and helped to draft a Model Zoning Ordinance for Oregon cities and counties.

The authors have tried to update many definitions based on legal developments in the last decade.  Nevertheless, it would be wonderful if the authors could consider creating a web-based comment page to allow planners from around the country to provide additional suggestions for the next edition. Also, it would have been helpful to include an index for all of the definitions since many are cross-referenced to other locations (e.g., “Fracking” is cross-referenced to “Hydraulic Fracturing”).

The 4th edition of The Illustrated Book of Development Definitions is enjoyable to read and gives all planners and non-planners a deeper understanding of many development terms. Moreover, the book should inspire public sector planners to take a fresh look at the definitions in their own development code.


Candace H. Stowell, AICP, is an urban planning consultant in Carson City, Nevada and represents the Nevada APA Chapter on the Western Planner Resources Board and is the chair of The Western Planner Journal Editorial Board.


Published in the October/November 2015 Issue of the Western Planner

Print Friendly and PDF Email this page