The Civic By Design Forum was launched in 2005, when architect and planner Tom Low and the Levine Museum of the New South’s staff historian Tom Hanchett collaborated on an exhibit about John Nolen, planner of Myers Park.  Tom Low realized there needed to be a place in Charlotte where we can get people talking to each other about civic design issues that are shaping our city’s history today.  Tom Hanchett agreed and offered the Levine Museum of the New South as a neutral ground venue.   Since 2005 Civic By Design, directed by Tom Low, has hosted over 120 Forums, organized symposiums, conducted hands-on design workshops, launched initiatives on Learning Cottages, Civic Gardens, Pop-Up Porches, Light Imprint Green Infrastructure, and proposals for Sprawl Repair and Urban Triage across the city and region.

The mission of Civic By Design is to elevate the quality of our built environment and to promote public participation in the creation of a more beautiful and functional region for all.

We achieve our mission by engaging and uniting businesses, non-profits, academic institutions, municipal governments, and citizens through promotion of civic design including our monthly Forum

• The Forum is free and open to the public continually active since 2005.  The Forum is presented with the Levine Museum of the New South, and is sponsored through partnerships with the Foundation for the Carolinas, Crossroads Charlotte, American Institute of Architects Charlotte, the Congress for the New Urbanism Carolinas, the Charlotte Sierra Club, the US Green Building Council Charlotte, the City of Belmont, the Charlotte Area Bicycle Alliance, the Charlotte Mixed-Income Housing Coalition, CORA Architecture Charlotte, the Institute of Classical Architecture and Classical America Charlotte, American Planning Association - North Carolina, the Public Art Program of Charlotte’s Arts & Science Council, City of Charlotte Transportation and Planning, Charlotte Center City Partners, Sustain Charlotte, TreesCharlotte, Plan Charlotte, the Charlotte Film Society, 100 Gardens, Better Cities & Towns, Art in Transit, School of Architecture, Master of Urban Design Program, University of North Carolina @ Charlotte, and participants like you.  Thomas E. Low AIA CNU LEED AICP NCARB, Director, Civic By Design, © 2018

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In The News:

As part of CNU26 Civic By Design is making available the case study section on The Village of Habersham from the Light Imprint Handbook - this document emphasizes the following lesson focus areas:


•  HISTORIC CONTINUITY  - The history of the region and site;

•  SPRAWL vs. TND - A comparison of the original suburban sprawl master plan with the Traditional Neighborhood Development master plan;

•  A FULL TRANSECT EXPERIENCE - A 10-minute walk from edge to center demonstrates a full range of the T1 - T5 transect zoning;

•  LYING LIGHTLY ON THE LAND - An overview of the Light Imprint tools embedded in the master plan design with this overall theme; and

  1.  BEAUTY & DESIGN - Using artistry to help carefully design streets around existing trees and create beautiful outdoor spaces that enhance the incredible natural beauty and elegant architecture.


Congratulations to Habersham South Carolina for making the Coastal Living top 20 Best Places to Live - up there with Newport and Annapolis wow! It been a pleasure collaboration on this master plan.

Nice to see our #PocketCourtProject as one of the Best Trad Buildings of 2017

“Lovely as they may be, nice houses for the wealthy are the one realm where traditional architecture needs no assistance. People, and especially rich people, are able to choose house designs as they please. Here is a group of more modest homes completed this year, the first phase of a new village near Asheville, N.C., which architect Tom Low calls his Pocket Court Project. I first got wind of it late in 2016, after writing about a village in the Dordogne region of France. “Is this possible anymore?” The answer, says Low, is yes.”

FYI - this is nice story with great photos - Tom Low has been collaborating on this for a few years - nice to see it maturing and turning out well.

Tom Low presented at the Fall Roundtable of the National Town Builders Association (NTBA) on on how visionary planner John Nolen (1869-1937) produced groundbreaking, masterful town designs.  These livable communities, know for their high quality of life, are models for today’s most innovative town planning. 

Tom Low was invited to exhibit his watercolor designs in the September 22, 2017 exhibition of North Carolina's leading architects, artists (painters), builders, craftspeople, furniture makers and interior designers continuing the practice of the classical and traditional visual and building arts sponsored by


The results of the WALK-TEST for the Bearden Park District are available here.


new version with a binding that lays flat while working

We launched the Light Imprint Initiative in 2007 to help folks achieve better design on green infrastructure new urbanism (one of CNU's 25 Great Ideas) and traditional neighborhood projects.  Examples include infill pocket neighborhoods and address technical issues such as EMS 20' access requirements.

These pages are from the Light Imprint Handbook as one of the examples of how to use Light Imprint tools to create design solutions. In this example the 20' clear EMS roadway is incorporeal into a green street cascading Pocket Court.

In the LI Handbook there are over 60 more tools with many designs as well as a few neighborhood case studies. The photo is a pocket court green for Jacobs which as most know here, I have posted frequently as the #PocketCourtProject.

We just completed a re-printing of the Light Imprint Handbook which is now available with a binding that allows it to lay flat while working from it — which we have heard requests for years. The NEW edition with the flat binding can be acquired here:…/…/1931871094

This is a good reference tool and other folks that have benefited over the years please share your support.


more here

For our June Forum we toured Waverley - promoted as a new walkable mixed-use project

As part of the forum we put together a "walkability scorecard" matrix we will be testing which is similar to "walk score" for places but in this case it's about what the walking experience when you are actually there as opposed to just the distance between two different uses which has been a criticism of "walkscore" since created. Our hope is this will help influence future projects to continue to raise the bar. 

more here


Here is a project I have worked on for a very long time - the pioneering project Vermillion, Huntersville, NC started in 1996 on a DPZ charrette - and just now organically matured enough to accommodate a full size grocery store.  Huntersville adopted a form-based code in parallel to approving this catalyst new urbanism project.

As you can see the key to this project addition is fitting in a full-size grocery store in a way that would create and extend a walkable village.  So while the grocery store is a one-story pancake building with large parking areas, you can see that the superblock urbanism has liner buildings around the perimeter and is connected with walkable/bikable streets to Vermillion and the town core of Huntersville..

This creates a village main street along one edge and walkable strolling district of streets around the perimeter.  This is a urban design technique with a conventional ginormous grocery store as anchor.  Surrounding residents will not see the parking lot unless they want to drive to the grocery store. 


So honored to see the Light Imprint initiative featured here:

 Great idea: Light Imprint for walkable green infrastructure

A leaner, lighter approach to infrastucture is more cost-effective, sustainable, and livable—an idea worth considering for America in National Infrastructure Week.

Time for CIVIC DESIGN 101 ?

Steps to Rural Sprawl

Where did all the rural sprawl come from?  

This explains this historical evolutionary pattern in a set of graphic diagrams.

Still in the mood to vote?



Wall Street Journal: New Small Towns: Housing Developments That Recreate Village Life A MANSION Section cover article and 2-page feature in the Wall Street Journal America’s With quaint shops, wraparound porches and pedestrian-friendly streets, these new communities appeal to homebuyers’ desires for a strong sense of place - excerpt: "Habersham, a 282-acre coastal community outside Beaufort, S.C., is set on a former plantation shaded by canopies of centuries-old live oaks; its layout was inspired by historic Low Country villages, where irregular roads evolved from animal paths, according to Tom Low, architect and director of town planning."

Public Square:  Out-performing golf course communities: "The definition of the suburbs will change and they will take on new urban qualities. Everywhere you see infill opportunities in the suburbs. Shopping malls are being converted. Transit stops are being converted to TOD. City life is only for so many people. There are people who want a little more room—a little more green. I’m still talking about small lots, but nothing like living in a multistory building in the city. The millennials are downtown now because they don’t have kids. And it's fun, it's cool, but when the time comes for some of them to move to the suburbs, I hope these [new urban] kinds of developments will be the future." — Founder and Developer Robert Turner

Best in America Living:   Demonstrating a viable "missing middle" density for community making - excerpt:  "Most important, Missing Middle housing must provide a similar experience and curb appeal of single-family homes. Thus making them more marketable. In the best examples, they face onto a neighborhood scale, tree-lined street, the buildings are a similar scale to single-family homes, and owners enter their home directly from a front porch, stoop, or small courtyard, rather than down a long corridor to their unit."

A Civic By Design review of Charlotte's proposed new grand central station design.

We took the Civic By Design program on the road with an invitation by Historic Denver and CARTA on the theme of: Is There a There There? We are collaborating on elevating the quality of design and development for both cities. Here is a draft report: Principles for An Enduring City

Listen here for WFAE CHARLOTTE TALKS with Tom Low on Ugly Buildings in Charlotte

As the second fastest growing city in the country, Charlotte’s population is exploding and developers are trying to keep up. Hence, all those apartments cropping up around town. But some architects feel those building are too similar, too bland and because there are so many of them, they are beginning to negatively impact the look of the city. Those architects are suggesting stronger design standards need to be adopted and we’ll hear their ideas.

Fighting Back Against

Ugly Buildings

Ten Acres That Transformed A City

Design Forum Asks:  Which Neighborhood Would You Rather Walk In?

How Should We Design Buildings to Protect Charlotte's Public Realm:

Agenda: What (Made) the Common Market’s Courtyard So Great?

MIXOPOLY training workshops:

CASQA Monterey, California

Imagine training stormwater engineers to become creative placemakers!  Here are some action shots of Making Neighborhoods with Green Infrastructure training in full swing.

Is your group interested in creating neighborhoods with green infrastructure? Check out Light Imprint Mixopoly workshops at this year's CASQA annual conference.

Sterilizing Development is an issue in our historic neighborhoods. Is it possible to grow “the right way,” in a way that protects and even enhances what came before?  Listen on WFAE for the Charlotte Talks episode.

Charlotte Sprawl Repair is a hot topic. Follow the link for a full report!  Listen on WFAE for the Charlotte Talks episode.

Seven Steps to a Great Transit Stop: Observer Article

We now have available our popular presentation on the POLARIZED PUBLIC REALM available here.

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