The Lexicon of Lean Urbanism defines the “terms of art” and other useful words and phrases that have emerged from extended discussions on the online Lean Urbanism discussion group and at Lean Councils. The first section is dedicated to these terms, and the second presents a selection of helpful quotations.

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Anti-Lean: anything that impedes Lean ethos and practice, or is bloated/lardy. (Syn: unlean)

Baroquery: the purely ornamental provision of regulation, because the regulations are too incomprehensible, self-contradictory, or voluminous to enforce. In other words, it is on the books, but unusable.

Big Asphalt: the ethos of the “pave more” forces, particularly paving companies, that accompany sprawl development and the gold-plating of thoroughfares.

Bloat: excess that accretes gradually over time. (Like this Lexicon.)

Blizzard (of paper): a type of Thicket.

California: the poster child for excessive regulation. Contrast with Detroit.

Cataclysmic Money: the Jane Jacobs term for money that comes in the form of floods (too much money too quickly) and droughts (too little money to support life). Too much money and you get chaotic, top-heavy growth. Too little and you get failure and decline. Compare with Gradual Money.

Cost of Intermediation: a number to be considered in Lean Business and Lean Development. It includes both valid costs and quicksand costs.

Flab, Flabby: see Lard, Lardy

Environmental Bling: showy and hence expensive sustainability features. (Var: green bling)

Footnote Mania: from academia, a requirement to reference.

Greenwashing: hiding the underlying wastefulness of a project by dressing it in cosmetic plant material or other Gizmo Green. (Var: Chia Tech)

Hyper-Gentrification: neighborhood change that comes from city governments in collaboration with large corporations. Widespread transformation is intentional, massive, and swift, resulting in a sanitized city filled with brand-name mega-developments built for the luxury class. (Jeremiah Moss, New York Times)

Lard: (n.) anything excessive. (adj.) lardy, the opposite of Lean.

Metriosis: an obsessive disorder particularly of the Engineering Specialist genus that causes the metriosicist to calculate with an absolute minimum of two decimal places, even when totaling raised hands.

MuniCode: company that provides templates and a web home for conventional and often bloated zoning codes.

Overspecification: the requirement of more than is necessary for a situation, adding costs, constraining solutions, and making rigid what should remain fluid and flexible.

Regulatory Centipede: a cascade of often well-intended regulations and incentives that damage urban life and urban fabric, causing necrosis. Commonly found where regulation doesn’t account for urban reality (e.g. brownfield cleanup cascading into parking lots capping contamination, cascading into last-minute halts on development, cascading into full cleanup, cascading into bankruptcy, lawsuits, liens, and chain-link fences around derelict houses.)

ROBD: Return on Brain Damage. A rough calculation that a project will or will not be worth the aggravation from buronics.

Quicksand Cost: soft cost minus design cost.

Tomcat Architecture: spraying all over the urban landscape to mark territory.

Utility Sprawl: The practice of spreading utility pipes and wires farther apart than need be. The practice is often inherent in the paradigm of Conventional Suburban Development (CSD) and must be addressed to retrofit sprawl or build compact urbanism. Manifests in several ways: refusal to put pipes or wires under paving; refusal to co-locate in a common trench; insistence on separate utility easements outside of street or alley rights-of-way, and neglecting to show street trees and utility locations in street, alley and utility standard drawings. Utility sprawl and overly wide pavements are the most common manifestations of gold-plated infrastructure, and the key impediments to Lean Infrastructure.


Barnacle: a growth that increases drag.

Buron: an impediment to common-sense building, community planning, or business startup efforts. A buron may be a person, group, code, procedure, or entrenched habit. By the prolonging of planning, permitting, and building, a buron makes them more expensive. (Syn: clog) It may be unfixable in the short term and require a bypass/workaround.

Buronics: the general condition of multiple burons and the thinking that arises from them.

Clog: impediment, buron.

Clogging Party: aggregation of clogs in a system or jurisdiction.

Cruft: a policy or process that is superseded, unused, useless, or broken. (Derived from computer software jargon.)

Drag: something that causes misdirection and unwanted slowing of progress, analogous to the hydraulic inefficiency that makes a ship lose its heading. A high-drag regulatory environment increases costs.

Encrustation: aggregate of barnacles.

Foible: entrenched habit or glitch in the system that has unintended consequences.

Glitch: fixable foible.

Hair: developer slang for complications to sort out on a project. Every deal has some kind of hair on it.

Hairball: an organization’s maze of rules and regulations, or an extremely hairy process. See also: Hair.

Hindrance: Buddhist term for obstacle in the path, usually of one’s own creation, but suggesting a way of thinking that obstructs; usually a stubborn inability to change one’s thinking.

ICC: International Codes Council, purveyor of a hairball of building safety codes, i.e., the IBC, IRC, IECC, IEBC, and IgCC, and certification for same. Not Lean, but can be varianced by state amendments in an example of subsidiarity.

Ongoing Compliance Obligations: ongoing burdens; unlike barriers to entry

Snag: an anomoly or accumulation that gets in the way.

The Stymied: people who cannot make progress because of all the buronics.

Thicket: an aggregation of clogs that may become a Clogging Party if not fixed, bypassed, or prodded, e.g., “a thicket of prerequisites.”


Carl: lazy work, ugliness or a surrender to entropy; cardinal enemy of a well-run cooperative. “The fuse box is all Carled up,” or “Don’t be a Carl.” Patron saint of bad decisions, chooser of hideous paints, a menace. (Catherine Lacey, New York Times)

Flummox: to render actions ineffective.

Obsolete Regulations: regulations that might have worked at one time, but don’t now.

Spaghetti Code: software in which the execution path is tangled to the point of being almost impossible to understand.

Utility Clutter: surface installations of cable and telecommunications boxes on street frontages, and the clutter in the few places that actually have some utility competition with side-by-side poles and wires.


Anomie: a condition of moral deregulation and absence of legitimate aspirations arising because society provides little moral guidance to individuals.

Base 10 Ecology: requirement that all natural systems (habitats, wetlands) have buffers of 50, 100 or 200 ft.

Bureaucratic Creep: the process of standards creeping into building practice without being voted on. Example: LEED certification is not voted in; it becomes the de facto code by bureaucratic creep.

Contagious Stupidity: a common attribute of bureaucracy or governance by which one official or functionary’s unwillingness to solve a problem propagates into general inaction across the organization or government.

Enforcement by Lore: enforcement by rote habit or improvisation, often due to baroquery.

Green Creep: so-called “sustainability” standards that creep into building culture and LEED practice, that no one has voted on.

Legacy Regulatory System: an inherited system, which means no one is to blame.

Lore: in government, the oral tradition of a bureaucracy passed on by rote repetition and occasional improvisation. Example: “The zoning code has so much baroquery that officials have had to fall back on loreto get anything done.”

Practology: the field investigation of human impracticality.

Rule-Bound: condition of individuals or entire staffs who believe they should always follow the letter of the rules regardless of sound policy, empirical experience, or common sense, and in place of personal initiative.

Rule-Follower: a rule-bound individual. (Var: grade-grubber)


Dogberry: from Shakespeare, a pompous, incompetent, self-important official.

Parasite: a person or firm who extracts more value than he, she, or it creates. (Var: lamprey)

Regulatory Capture: when groups or individuals with a high-stakes interest in the outcome of policy or regulatory decisions can focus their resources toward gaining the policy outcomes they prefer, while members of the public, each with only a tiny individual stake in the outcome, will ignore it altogether. This explains why some public works departments only allow reinforced concrete pipe for drainage, or why we end up with 600-page stormwater regulations, or why fire sprinklers become mandatory. A subset of rent-seeking.

Regulatory Collusion: whether intentional or inadvertent, a powerful lawmaking force created by two already powerful entities supporting each other, such as statisticians and policymakers.

Rent-Seeking: creating a condition under which you can benefit from its complexity or dysfunction. See also: Suckerfish.

Suckerfish: person who benefits from a more industrious person or entity, or exploits complex or dysfunctional conditions. (Var: lamprey, parasite)


Black Tape: killing a project with nothingness. May suggest redacted or unavailable information.

Boggle: (n.) (1) bureaucratic smiley-face verbal sticker. Worse than a flummox, it elicits gesture and even speech. (2) when the information, process, or decision presented leaves you exasperated for actually trying to follow the logic and connect the dots to some rational intent.

Boggle: (v.) confuse or create a feedback loop such that participants can’t think straight, creating consternation, even amazement at the lack of common sense. See also: Kafka-ization.

Kafka-ization: the accretion of regulations into hermetic or circular arrangements, so there’s no entry or exit. Example: You need a “certificate of substantial completion” to subdivide lots, and you need utilities hooked up before you can get the certificate, but the water utility won’t hook you up until the lots are subdivided.

Narrow the Base: narrowing the range of incomes, salaries, ethnicities, sexes, or other attributes that something serves or is served by. Example: “We love the kind of gentrification that broadens a neighborhood’s resident base from almost the bottom to almost the top, but we deplore the kind of gentrification that narrows it to only the top incomes.” See also: Broaden the Base, in SOLUTIONS.

Unintended Consequences

Condom Machine Conundrum: when incompetence or fraud goes unpunished because those who have had a non-performing “green” mitigation method installed on their property are too embarrassed to complain.

Externality: cost or benefit that affects a party who did not choose to incur it.

Gizmo Green: trendy, tech-dependent environmentalism. It tends to be more expensive and often less effective than Lean approaches, regardless of good intentions. The desire or requirement of Gizmo Green can make small projects unfeasible.

Govsperanto: a constructed language used by government bureaucrats to report in sterile or mind-numbing terms the absurd or unintended consequences of regulations.

Progress Trap: the condition human societies experience when, in pursuing progress through human ingenuity, they inadvertently introduce problems they don’t have the resources or will to solve, for fear of short-term losses in status, stability or quality of life. This prevents further progress and sometimes leads to collapse.

Silo: where a specialist is isolated from other specialists in their own silos.

Specialist: person who is expert in one narrow discipline, and often only that one discipline to the detriment of others.

Thermostat Age: the period beginning in the mid-19th to early-20th centuries in most places after which people create environmental comfort by flipping a switch and letting machines do the work.

Trained incapacity: characterization of the efficacy of specialists, by C. Wright Mills.




Detroit: one of the inspirations for Lean Urbanism, due to its economic difficulties and lightened regulatory environment; location of the first Lean Urbanism Council.

Lean: (n.) an across-the-board concept for reducing bloat and peeling back the layers of stupidity that subvert the real goals of a society.

Lean: (adj.) characterizing a thing or process that, by its nature, isn’t bloated, lardy, expensive, or incomprehensible.

Lean: (v.) make more Lean. (Var: Lean up)

Lean Seam: the narrow scope of concern for the Project for Lean Urbanism, between and somewhat overlapping the concerns of Tactical Urbanism and the Congress for the New Urbanism.

Lean Urbanism: (1) small-scale, incremental urbanism that requires a minimum of resources to incubate and mature. (2) a movement comprised of builders, planners, architects, developers, engineers, writers, artists, civic activists, nonprofits, government entities, business owners, students, etc., working for more sustainable, attainable housing and development in an era of limited resources. The Project for Lean Urbanism focuses on lowering the barriers for participation in community-building.

Lean Value: value (e.g., a building) measured against an objective of necessity (e.g., basic shelter); or value measured relative to a sufficiency platform.

Millennials: the demographic cohort including people from their early twenties to mid-thirties in age (as of 2015). Millennials are one of the generations (see also: Third Agers) most in need of, most able to contribute to, and most likely to benefit from Lean Urbanism.

Third Agers: the dominant (in numbers) and active aging Boomer population over the next 30 years. Their propensity to downsize and start new businesses can provide a market and inspiration for Lean Urbanism.

Walkability: a core tenet of Lean Urbanism, as walking is the Leanest route to independence.


Adapt: to change something so it functions better or is better suited for a purpose, or change behavior so it is easier to live in a particular place or situation.

Agile: having a quick, resourceful, and adaptive character. Agile development values individuals and interactions over processes and tools, working solutions over comprehensive documentation, customer or user collaboration over contract negotiation, and responding to change over following a plan. (Derived from software development.)

Generative: characterizing a process based on one or more initiating rules, generating complexity over time. May apply to a natural, technological, or built process using evolutionary or heuristic methods. Generative processes require the ability to generate variations (mutations), to cull poor solutions (selection), to pass on tested variations (inheritance), and to combine tested variations.

Resilient: able to become strong, healthy, or successful again after something bad happens; able to rebound.

Seam Allowance: overlap at the conceptual edges of the Lean Seam, to create a seam that holds up to rough treatment and accommodates later alteration. The size of the overlap depends on how much stress will be applied. The typical seam allowance for blue jeans is 1/2″.

Strategery: the sublime finesse of playing the regulatory sophistry.


Alegal: activity that is neither legal nor illegal, often clandestine, based on creative interpretation of requirements.

Bypass: a process or system that avoids dealing with the buron or foible creating an impediment.

Stratology: the study of how to maneuver through the system.

Sub Rosa building: building without permission or permit. This is not necessarily illegal, but may restrict what you can do with the property in the future, such as getting the sub rosa portion included in a loan appraisal. (Syn: freelancing, bootlegging)

Tacit Sanctioning: common activity when apparent bureaucrats realize that common sense is better.

Threshold: a certain level to stay above or below, thereby avoiding a regulation or service that would otherwise kick in.

Workaround: see Bypass.

Common Sense

DBYN: Don’t Bother Your Neighbors, a common-sense Lean threshold for what you can do on your lot.

Lard Guard: avoiding lard by never forgetting the human scale and human limits.

No Harm, No Foul: common-sense method to assess whether something should be allowed or penalized; used on the basketball court for informal games. (Var: soft foul)


Generalist: person who possesses at least some expertise in all the disciplines necessary for placemaking, and the ability to integrate them intellectually and/or practically.

Subversive Competence: competence that undermines (only) bad top-down regulations. Can be bolstered by Tacit Sanctioning.

Symbiote: a person or firm who creates more value than he, she, or it captures. (Var: oxpecker)

Tactical Competence: the conspicuous application of technical competence, sometimes in an unsanctioned manner, to secure the moral basis to demand responsibility or authority. Example: painting the right kind of crosswalk and putting up the right kind of signs in a place at which they are clearly warranted, but where the city hasn’t provided them for bureaucratic reasons.


Anti-Swarm: a large group of advanced thinkers who change the previous setup.

Broaden the base: broadening the range of incomes, salaries, ethnicities, sexes, or other attribute that something serves or is served by. See also: Narrow the Base, in PROBLEMS.

Networked Capabilities: an idea or ideal of doing only what one does best, but networking everything. It operates on the personal level, the programming level, and on the physical level.

Platform: an assemblage of resources on which others can build, as long as they follow established standards in exchange for the platform supporting and enabling them. Lean supports platforms that enable Small regardless of their size.

Protean Organization: a versatile, changeable organization capable of adapting to a given situation.


Kanju: the specific creativity born from African difficulty. One of many terms in various countries for informal hacking of systems. Similar to jugaad in India.

Low-Grade Bad Humor: a prerequisite to getting things done.


Patch: a small-scale statute or policy to fix a dysfunctional system or code. Examples: amendments, rezonings, revisions, and local variations. May be limited by time or place, and may be partial. See also: Tactical Competence.

Plugging In

CADfugly: what the graphics of conventional engineering are. Engineers and utility staffers have a hard time trusting drawings that are not ugly, so graphic presentations for joint trench, meter, and transformer placement, etc., should be CADfugly and lifted from various states’ PUC-approved standards.

Power Grid: a dominant paradigm that can be obeyed or plugged into to empower small, more agile efforts, as Neighborhood Overlays may plug into municipal zoning.


Entensibility: a systems-design principle where the implementation allows for reduction of the amount or complexity of system components.


Expediter: consultant in an over-regulated or complicated environment who shepherds projects through the red tape as rapidly and effectively as possible to achieve official approvals quickly. (Var: fixer, navigator)

Streamlining: a positive, elegant, comprehensible leaning of a process or document.


Insubordination: a tool of subsidiarity whereby a lower, more local level ignores a higher-level rule. See also: Subsidiarity in LEAN GOVERNING.

Neighborhood Overlay: a local code that legally plugs into an existing municipal zoning system, but whose rules are generated at the neighborhood level and may preempt municipal rules. May be used in a Pink Zone.

Preemption: a tool of subsidiarity whereby a lower, more local level replaces a higher-level rule. See also: Subsidiarity in LEAN GOVERNING.


Cutter: Person or process that cuts through red tape and other clogs and burons.

Fix: general term for an action that deals with a clog. Types: Bypass, Patch, Prod, Waiver, Workaround.

Fixer: someone who can create, discover, or implement a fix.

Prod: action that untangles a thicket or hairball, or dislodges a clog.


80% Solution: The deliberate solution of only 80% of a given problem, leaving time, budget, and room for improvement and course-correction. (Derived from the Pareto Principle or “80-20 Rule.”) See also: Under-Solution.

Fit for Purpose: (UK) appropriate, and of a necessary standard, for its intended use.

Fix it First: a core Lean value, as long as it is fixed to its original standard and not a new gold-plated standard.

Incremental: characterizing progress, such as the evolution of a building parcel or a city, accomplished one small step at a time.

Opt-Under: selection of an option that carries less regulation or risk, such as avoiding thresholds that trigger review.

Under-Solution: an ethos of solving problems to 80%, instead of gold-plating every solution.

The Seven Platforms

Lean Building

Lean Development

Accidental Developers: people who are fixing up old buildings for their own use as artists, makers, entrepreneurs, etc., and need help with design, construction, and navigating the process.

Anderson-Kim Threshold: the threshold below which buildings do not require more expensive code compliance. Example: A building with four or more units, with one ground floor unit that satisfies accessibility, so upper floors don’t require elevators.

Artisan Urbanist: a maker who takes pride in the hand-crafted nature of his/her work, such as a small developer or architect who does some of his/her own construction.

Barn-Raising: a one-day event whereby scores of neighbors combine skills and get together to build an entire barn.

By-God-No-More-Fucking-Around-Building: an expression for which R. John Anderson has a trademark pending.

Faubourg: a self-build development, usually on the outskirts of a city, supported by the local government. In some cases, land is negotiated as leftover parcels from private owners. The infrastructure is negotiated and made available.

Filling (a lot): incrementally covering a lot with structures or buildings without annoying the neighbors. Example: Some of the rear yards in corner lots in Salida, Colorado, have been filled with small businesses. Filling is finer-grained than infill, which fills whole lots. See also: DBYN.

Hackable Buildings: buildings in which the technology is not so arcane as to prevent the home handyman from doing repairs.

Handshake Building: the neighbors’ seal of approval. See also: DBYN.

Hard Money Lender: lending company offering a specialized type of real-estate backed loan. It lends short-term capital (also called a bridge loan) that provides funding based on the value of the real estate acting as collateral.

Intervention: small-scale improvement to the urban environment, such as a pocket park or crosswalk.

Jane’s Guild: named for Jane Jacobs, a large group of rookie women Small Developers formed after the 2015 Congress for the New Urbanism in Dallas, and launched by non-Jane R. John Anderson.

Pedestrian Shed: an important planning increment for Lean Urbanism as well as New Urbanism, an area centered on a common destination, such as a main street or town square. Its size is related to a walking time of five to ten minutes from edge to center, usually a quarter-mile for everyday errands. (Syn: walkshed)

Placemaking: an approach to planning and design that prioritizes the safety, comfort and beauty of the public realm, including the street.

Platted Town Center: new mixed-use center based on a planned group of lots, with individual developers building each building. Modeled after historic downtowns and implemented in Rosemary Beach. The lead developer only builds the ground plane, roads, squares, etc., and a few buildings.

Pocket Neighborhood: a neighborhood within a neighborhood. Pocket neighborhoods are clustered groups of neighboring houses or apartments gathered around a shared open space — a garden courtyard, a pedestrian street, a series of joined backyards, or a reclaimed alley — all of which have a clear sense of territory and shared stewardship. Definition from Ross Chapin.

Risk-Oblivious: for Lean Urbanism, the most important group in the well-known gentrification triad of “risk-oblivious, risk-tolerant, and risk-averse.” The risk-oblivious will inhabit and improve distressed buildings and neighborhoods before the other two. They may include students, artists, young singles, childless couples, and heedless people of all ages.

Self-Building: the act of building for one’s own use.

Sequential: characterizing buildings and urbanism that grow and replicate from other buildings and urbanism, though not necessarily to a more urban condition. (Compare with Successional.)

Site Revitalization: activating vacant space temporarily with the intent of creating full-scale, long-term projects; a tool of the developer and the advocate alike.

Small Developer: a developer entitling, financing, and building projects at a small scale, typically a quarter block or less. (Var: artisan urbanist)

Small Developer/Builder: person or firm responsible for directing an entire project, including design, entitlement, finance, construction, and sales/leasing. They are by necessity a more agile sub-species of developer/builder, performing a wide variety of work on a very limited soft-cost budget. Typical characteristics include: intensely local in where they build and the good will and reputation they cultivate; not afraid to engage in small experiments, mitigating risk by using repeatable, stable building types; stick with people they know for equity, debt, and building trades; focus on building projects for rent, keeping for-sale product to a small piece of their product mix; try to avoid lengthy entitlements.

Successional: characterizing urbanism that evolves by becoming more dense and mature as time goes on, or characterizing a plan or code that enables successional communities. Raising the zoning by one Transect Zone enables across-the-board succession in that zone. (Compare with Sequential.)

Townsite: a legal subdivision of land for the development of a town or community. Conveys that a town goes there, not just a residential subdivision.

Transect: capitalized, the rural-to-urban conceptual framework for the analysis, planning, and zoning of the built and natural environment.

Unslumming: the gradual transformation of a low-income neighborhood into one with a mix of incomes. Unslumming is a dynamic process that relies on the actions of the agents, the people, within a slum. Jane Jacobs saw unslumming positively in comparison with other forms of neighborhood change, such as commodification, in which a mixed-income neighborhood is gradually transformed into one that is chic but generic, or hyper-gentrification, in which it is rapidly transformed into a chic, generic neighborhood through government subsidy. These three scenarios are loosely and wrongly referred to by the negative term gentrification.

Lean Building Types

  • Bungalow
  • Camelback
  • Carriage House
  • Co-Housing
  • Cottage
  • Flex House
  • Fourplex
  • Granny Flat
  • Growhouse/Shrinkhouse
  • Incubator
  • Katrina Cottage
  • Live-Work
  • McMansion Retrofit
  • Micro-units
  • Mini-units
  • Mixed-Use Building
  • Modular Home
  • Outbuilding
  • Park Model
  • Rowhouse
  • Shed
  • Shop
  • Shotgun
  • Sideyard
  • Six-Flat
  • Tiny House
  • Triple-Decker
  • Twin/Duplex/Double
  • Walkup
  • Workshop
  • Yurt

Lean Business

Bartered Trades: exchanging goods and services without using money as a mediator.

Crowdfunding: the solicitation of, and funding by, large numbers of people (the crowd) donating small amounts of money. Crowdfunding is often mediated by the Internet, but need not be.

Fixer: a person who provides services for a fee, using connections or knowledge of a complex system to help people with sufficient resources overcome obstacles. Contrast with Navigator.

Gradual Money: like drip irrigation, the proper amount of money to support healthy growth. (Jane Jacobs.) Compare with Cataclysmic Money.

Hackerspace: community-oriented workspace where people with common interests, often in computers, technology, science, or digital or electronic art, can collaborate. (Var: hacklab, hackspace, makerspace)

Localism: (1) in the UK, a movement and government act aimed at devolving more decision-making powers from central government back into the hands of individuals, communities and councils; (2) in the US, a movement that advocates for and engages in providing food and other goods to nearby markets. Contrast with Globalism.

Maker: person or group who makes something utilitarian, such as food, buildings, or usable art, and offers it directly to the end user.

Makerplace/Makerspace: a building available for makers to use for their work, by renting or bartering for space, by joining it as a co-op, or by other affordable options; the 21st-century version of a studio building.

Micro-funding: the practice of providing small grants, often with few strings attached, to those in need. See also: Micro-lending.

Micro-Lending: the practice of providing small loans to those in need. Recipients are most often poor people in developing nations. Microloans may be loans for $50 or $100, and are typically used to help somebody start or expand a business.

Navigator: a person who helps other citizens understand and work through clogged or glitchy systems. See also: Fixer, Expediter.

Triple Bottom Line: a generalist approach to assessing value. The three assessed categories of effective placemaking are Economic, Social, and Environmental.

Lean Governing

Abrogation: one way to deal with buronic laws, i.e., abolish or repeal them.

ASAP: Area of Simplified Administrative Procedures. See also: Pink Zone.

Carve-Out: a blanket exception in a contract. A Pink Zone is essentially a carve-out.

Code-Light Zone: an area where there is less regulation on building. See also: Pink Zone. (Var: Code-Free Zone)

Distributed Leadership: a leader’s assignment and even abdication of leadership to other leaders at subsidiary levels or satellite spheres of concern.

DumbCode: the one-page Common Sense Code for Traditional Architecture, created by David Mayernik. It has two short sets of standards, one rural and one urban, for a Lean Transect.

Idaho Stop: a relaxation of regulation permitting a bicyclist to roll (cautiously) through a stop sign as if it were a yellow yield sign, and to come to a full stop at a red light, then proceed with caution as if it were a stop sign.

Lean Scan: a tool developed by the Project for Lean Urbanism to evaluate community-building problems and solutions. This includes (1) identifying underutilized or latent assets; (2) mapping these assets at the scale of the corridor, the neighborhood and the block; (3) looking for possible points of integration; (4) defining incremental interventions that mobilize assets across multiple categories, unlocking synergy; (5) identifying tools to apply: rehab, infrastructure, building, tactics, thresholds, workarounds, permitting, finance, etc.; and (6) condensing the steps into an action plan.

Patroon: a method for decentralizing decisions and initiatives. Instrumental in the early growth of the colony of New Amsterdam, patroons were charters to individuals for deeded tracts, giving those individuals basically medieval feudal rights — the creation of courts, appointment of officials, and holding the land in perpetuity. They were required to settle the land with at least 50 families within four years to keep those rights, which was incentive to make a mutually beneficial deal with the settlers. The system was changed to the term ‘Manor’ by the English and some of these existed into the 1800s. A Pink Zone could be informed by Patroons.

Pink Code: a development or building code that lightens the red tape of conventional permitting. A “pink” module or overlay may be added to an existing code to incentivize its use and reduce the expense of building

Pink Zone: area for development where the bureaucratic red tape is lightened, or where a Pink Code would apply. It may be similar to a Planned Unit Development, with pre-negotiated building plans and infrastructure requirements, and a Home Owners’ Agreement or Business Improvement District for management.

Pocket Code: a development or building code that is brief and compact in format. Pocket Codes may fold to fit into a shirt pocket. They address only the most essential elements of walkability and/or building safety.

Regulatory Harmony: when regulations are in sync with community goals and the desire of stakeholders to carry out those goals smoothly and expeditiously.

SmartCode: an open-source, model unified development code, combining planning and zoning with a system of Regional Sectors, Community Units, and Transect Zones. Its coordination of all scales in a compact system and brief document makes it Lean. Plugs into numerous disciplines (planning, design, building, engineering, ecology, affordable housing, etc.) through the common language of the Rural-to-Urban Transect. A Lean version of the SmartCode may be appropriate for Pink Zones.

Subsidiarity: the assignment of decision-making to the lowest competent level. In the US some initiatives are best handled at the federal level, while others devolve appropriately to the state, municipality, neighborhood, block, or household. The concept, which originated in Catholicism, also implies a preference for private over public entities. See also: Distributed Leadership.

Transect Zone: one of six areas within the Rural-to-Urban Transect; a legal designation of land area to replace one or more of the separated-use zoning districts in conventional codes. A Transect Zone is a well-integrated habitat of symbiotic elements. (Var: T-Zone; Context Zone; Habitat Zone)

Lean Green

Lean Infrastructure

Ag Urb: Agricultural Urbanism. Differs from urban agriculture in that agriculture is incorporated into the community-planning process and is Transect-based.

Eco Code: a code that uses the terminology of ecological science. It may be any of the Lean code formats described previously.

Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI): landscaping interventions such as rain gardens, tree trenches, etc., that use natural drainage to relieve some of the stress on urban sewers and keep polluted runoff out of waterways. Unlike single-purpose gray stormwater infrastructure, which uses pipes to dispose of rainwater, green infrastructure uses vegetation and soil to manage rainwater where it falls.

Light Imprint: a Transect-based system for rainwater infrastructure, including GSI; a simpler, less-expensive alternative to Low Impact Development.

Little Asphalt: opposite of Big Asphalt, the “pave less” ethos of Lean Infrastructure.

Negagallon: a gallon of gas not consumed.

Negatrip: a trip not taken.

Negawatt: a watt saved, worth two or three generated. Energy conservation is leaner than energy generation, even renewable energy generation.

Network Hub: at a rail or bus transit center, a center for Lean transportation types such as zip cars, rental cars, taxis, and shared bikes, with services such as bike storage, real-time travel info, news stand, coffee shop, and daycare. See also: Transmobility.

Off the Grid: the condition of 100% energy self-sufficiency.

Original Green: the collected wisdom of building sustainable places and buildings that existed before the Thermostat Age. Practice is based on traditional low-tech or no-tech building and design.

Renewables: energy and materials that are freely available and naturally replenished, such as sunlight, wind, rain, tides, waves, and geothermal heat.

Rural Weave: small green civic spaces woven and punctuated throughout a community or city. May support Green Stormwater Infrastructure. (Syn: green weave)

Transmobility: ability for users to move smoothly through a city using various modes. A transmobility system should feature a logical, intuitive interface that makes it accessible to all.

Lean Transportation Types

  • Bikeshare
  • Car-Sharing: ride-sharing, lift-sharing, roadsharing, carpooling, carpool queue
  • Jitney
  • Pedi-Cab
  • Rickshaw
  • Shuttle
  • Tuk-Tuk
  • Uber
  • Walking

Lean Learning

Apprenticeship: the on-the-job learning and teaching of skills between a master practitioner and a learner outside of an institutional structure.

Arduino: an open-source prototyping electronics platform based on flexible, easy-to-use hardware and software. It’s intended for artists, designers, hobbyists, and anyone interested in creating interactive objects or environments.

DIY: Do It Yourself, applicable to learning as well as making.

Pocket Handbook: easy-to-read instructional guide in a Lean format, such as a slim brochure or single sheet. May be pictorial only, Ikea-like.

Vernacular Mind: an approach that is coherent, sparse, direct, awake but not self-conscious, and, above all, concrete; it locates intelligence in the environment, and culture in tradition. Its antonym is abstraction.

Vernacular: a local tradition or collection of traditions generated by the Vernacular Mind.





The lack of resources is no longer an excuse not to act. The idea that action should only be taken after all the answers and the resources have been found is a sure recipe for paralysis. The planning of a city is a process that allows for corrections; it is supremely arrogant to believe that planning can be done only after every variable has been controlled. – Jaime Lerner

Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can. – Arthur Ashe

Simple, clear purpose and principles give rise to complex and intelligent behavior. Complex rules and regulations give rise to simple and stupid behavior. – Dee Hock

Most men appear never to have considered what a house is, and are actually though needlessly poor all their lives because they think that they must have such a one as their neighbors have. … Shall we always study to obtain more, and not sometimes be content with less? – Henry David Thoreau

In our culture scientists have the last word, the ultimate authority on anything having to do with biology. There are other forms of knowledge — very powerful forms of knowledge — about biology. There is local knowledge, the knowledge of bee keepers, there is the knowledge of people who are just really great observers of the natural world. – Michael Pollan

The most prolific innovators of all time, according to Bill Bryson’s Home, are English rectors, ten times more innovative than any other group, including physicists, economists, scientists and inventors… We are never going to effect systemic change in the market until there’s a wholesale re-boot on pseudo-legislative standards. This will require nothing less than a concerted effort to identify and collect all the best-directed minds in the country to begin crafting suppleness into standards with intended consequences for fertile environments; the kind of fertile environments where English rectors flourish; the kind of healthy environments that feed off messy mundane reality and heuristic tinkering once again — in other words, project civilization. – Robert Orr

[Cities’] diversity mandates tolerance; their openness invites immigration from without and mobility from within; their interdependence makes their borders porous and their behaviour interactional and transactional; their friction-inducing density ignites imagination and creativity; their anonymity and liberty inspire innovation and entrepreneurship. In sum, their defining features constitute a recipe for democratic civility — whether or not it is formalised in a democratic governing system…the city is intrinsically democratic… – Benjamin Barber


When small is impossible, that isn’t American. – Carol Coletta, Knight Foundation

Too big, too many, too far apart and too far away. – Frederick Herrmann

Kafka rules. – Patrick Pinnell

A punitive paradigm debilitates the work. – Senen Antonio

Bureaucracies intercept the link of mutual responsibility between the people and those they elect. – Andrés Duany

The cost of living in a complex society is paralysis, paranoia, and discouragement. – Sara Hines

Time. Everything takes too long. Financing, permits, the public process, the growth of street trees. – Sandy Sorlien

The “car-dependence” of all building codes that separate uses puts real teeth and $$$ into the aphorism, “What’s good for General Motors is good for the country.” – Robert Orr

The ICC codes and the HUD codes are like two cul-de-sacs within ten feet of each other, and a breakthrough ought to be achievable. – Sara Hines

During the 1990s famine in Sudan, grain was shipped in from nations around the world, but supplies were reported deficient. Turned out the sudden surplus of grain in the elevators stimulated the rat population, which consumed 10% of the grain. “In all calculations one must remember that one has to feed the rats.” – Dr. Bob Windom, 1875

After 1875 we traded corruption for a whole lot of constipation. – Kip Bergstrom

We do not err because truth is difficult to see. It is visible at a glance. We err because it is more comfortable. – Alexander Solzhenitsyn

The shrinking city… defies much of what we think we know about cities and their development, at least as long as “growth” and “development” are the only measures of vitality. – John Patrick Leary, “Detroitism,” Guernica

We don’t have free markets. We have protection rackets for businesses with access to our government. – Bill Maher


Making Small Possible. – motto of the Project for Lean Urbanism

Find a way, or make one. – The Explorer’s Dictum

Liberty and justice for all. – The Founders

Gravity, sunshine, rain, and photosynthesis are Lean by nature. – Paul Crabtree

Lean is using the things we have already paid for. – Bill Dennis

When in doubt, leave it out. – Mark Twain

The Lean answer to “Can I do this?” is “How can I do this?” – Sandy Sorlien

Lean Development should make marginal neighborhoods more complete and complete neighborhoods more affordable. – Rob Sharp

A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked. – John Gall

Democracies are faster at the bottom, unlike guardian states, which are faster at the top. Lean is at the bottom, well positioned as Washington DC becomes more dysfunctional. – Doug Kelbaugh

We need to go back to common sense. To official discretion. To the exercise of judgment based on community values. That sometimes that trust is abused is not a reason to limit it. Every so often we will need to throw the bums out or put them in jail. But let’s not tie ourselves up in knots the rest of time. As a wise man once said, in order to prevent bad government, let’s not make good government impossible. – Kip Bergstrom

A house should be built to last at least 100 years. And beauty is part of what makes a house stay on the landscape. If it’s beautiful, it will be loved and taken care of. McMansions aren’t loved and they won’t be taken care of. – Michael Connor

Beauty CAN be Lean. Lean SHOULD be beautiful. Opulence is NOT Lean. – Jonas Maciunus

Never tear down a wall until you determine why some man built it in the first place. – Roland Nicholson, Jr. (quoting his grandfather who was speaking about voting rights)

Instead of demolishing, deconstruct, and stockpile material in warehouses (or deserted high school gyms, abandoned churches or other large spaces). Install a millshop, a welding shop, and a place for working with lime and plaster. Do so within neighborhoods, and aside from having materials where you need them and space to build component parts that can be transferred and assembled on site, you create jobs. Bring together architects, master craftsmen and apprentices and ply the trades. Renovate what you can on site, and teach by doing in the building crafts studio. – Ann Daigle

Lean is fixing mistakes. – Bill Dennis

Be Lean in generative elements, but allow complexity in the result. – Michael Mehaffy

Good enough for now with room for improvement later. – R. John Anderson

It’s not difficult to distinguish Lean from lack. – Steve Coyle

The most important thing Lean can do is reduce consolidation, support an economy and government rooted in community, and make nuanced judgments about risk that end up changing policy. – Ann Daigle

Local officials focused on adding value, and challenging obstructions to adding value, can have a very nurturing effect on their communities. – John Norquist

If a subsidy is a buron, if it comes with strings attached or makes things take longer, then it’s not Lean. If a subsidy isn’t a buron, it could be Lean. It could fast-track and enable. It could remove barriers to entry. – Sandy Sorlien

The cost of living in a Free Society is Tolerance. – Larry Flynt

A dollar saved is worth more than a dollar earned. – Scott Bernstein

Create more value than you capture. – Tim O’Reilly

The prize for good ordinary buildings is awarded monthly: Higher rents. This prize is highly valued by ordinary people. – R. John Anderson

The Lean protocol is to find underutilized assets and leverage them, by establishing platforms to deploy Lean tools and use the assets. – Hank Dittmar

Think of Lean Urbanism as a set of catalytic projects. Per Wikipedia, catalysis, in the chemical sense, is an increase in the rate of a chemical reaction in two or more reactants due to the presence of a substance called a catalyst, which is not used up in the process. A single catalyst may participate in multiple chemical transformations. – Kit McCullough

We want the urbanism to be Lean, too, not just the process and tools. Less bloat in the physical environment, more human scale, less wasted space, fewer energy-hogging buildings and landscapes, smaller development modules, more small dwelling units per neighborhood, more affordable and community-tended drainage, narrower thoroughfares, more pocket parks, fewer priapic office buildings. – Sandy Sorlien

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. – Leonardo da Vinci

Vertical green is not Lean. – Doug Kelbaugh

Lean is not only about reducing the quantity, but also the quality of energy used for the job. Heating domestic hot water with electricity generated with nuclear power is the thermodynamic equivalent of cutting butter with a chainsaw. – Doug Kelbaugh, 1978

We are very, very cavalier about using fossil fuels. We should treat heating oil like fine olive oil. – Doug Kelbaugh

The bicycle is the most civilized conveyance known to man. Other forms of transport grow daily more nightmarish. Only the bicycle remains pure in heart. – Iris Murdoch

Examining trailers, mobile homes, food trucks, and food carts is valuable in illustrating where the barely “real” buildings start to work, and when it makes sense to use both. – R. John Anderson

Lean is concerned with the ethics of the process. The CNU is concerned with the ethics of the outcome. – Andrés Duany

A Lean Code raises the floor but lowers the ceiling. – Doug Kelbaugh

The only alternative to tradition is bad tradition. – Jaroslav Pelikan

Lean is purposeful. – Andrés Duany

Less square feet = more spare time. – Doug Kelbaugh

It’s the big dogs that really wreck the place. – Sandy Sorlien

Solve no more than 80% of a problem; under-solve it. An under-solution requires other solutions, and bonds with them like atoms sharing electrons. – Bruce Donnelly

There’s not enough time or money to solve our problems one at a time. – Doug Kelbaugh

Pick the low hanging fruit first. A headlong rush to sustainability will bankrupt us before we get there. – Doug Kelbaugh

Science in collusion with regulators will eliminate the Idaho Stop. Or make it mandatory. Lean will be the Grey Market of Urbanism. – Andrés Duany

Anarchy is the Mother of Order – Pierre-Joseph Proudhon

Anarchy is Order without Power – Pierre-Joseph Proudhon

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. – Margaret Mead

St. Jane Jacobs, grant me the serenity to embrace the complexity I cannot change, the courage to intervene with the simplicity I can, and the wisdom to understand how these factors are organically connected. – Michael Mehaffy

If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea. – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry


Sandy Sorlien

Sandy Sorlien is an urban code writer, editor, photographer, and teacher. She is former Director of Technical Research for the Center for Applied Transect Studies, and was the managing editor for the DPZ SmartCode and its Modules from 2005 to 2010. She wrote the Pocket Code in 2013. Sandy is currently employed by the Philadelphia Water Department as an Environmental Educator at the Fairmount Water Works. She is completing a photographic book about Main Streets and has embarked on another about the Schuylkill River. In March 2014 she won a micro-grant from the Awesome Foundation (very lean) for her public art project, Rescue H2O.

More Posts - Website


May 5th, 2021

Lean Comp Plan Tool


States require local governments that have zoning authority to create comprehensive plans. While most comp plans establish laudable policies, they are often poorly implemented and can stand in the way of small-scale, incremental development. This tool outlines a Lean process that planning staff can use to reduce the expense of policy development and increase the likelihood that it will be implemented. For comp plans, Lean Urbanism is not only concerned with leveling the playing field for small-scale actors, but also with directing investments toward areas of greatest impact.

February 27th, 2021

Pink Zone Manual – Making Small Possible


Pink Zones are areas where Lean Urbanism strategies are implemented. They’re areas where red tape is lightened, where barriers are lowered, where it’s easier, faster, and cheaper to create small businesses and develop small properties. When tested and proven effective, those strategies can be applied to other parts of communities.

The Pink Zone Manual will guide you through sequential and detailed instructions to help you implement a Pink Zone in your community.

November 17th, 2020

Lean Code Tool


Writing a new zoning code is time-consuming, politically fraught with landmines, and therefore unlikely to happen in most places. But with a limited number of strategic adjustments, many zoning codes can be repaired to allow Lean Urbanism and improve or create walkable, livable environments.

September 11th, 2019

House Hacking Catalog


Housing can create wealth for existing and new residents. It can also create opportunities for growing, improving, or preserving a neighborhood. House hacking is a powerful tool for Lean Urbanism. It helps overcome the barriers to entry, and accomplishes individual and community goals.

We created this House Hacking Catalog to show how it’s possible and to provide inspiration, information, and ideas to make it happen. It contains descriptions of the types of buildings, rentals, and construction that make good options for house hacking, plus issues to consider including financing and finding the right property, as well as additional resources.

October 31st, 2017

Savannah Pilot Project – Pink Zone Workshop


Savannah is hosting one of the national pilots by the Project for Lean Urbanism. The project sponsor is the Savannah Development and Renewal Authority, with support from elected officials, municipal staff, nonprofits, and neighborhood leaders. In Phase 1 of the pilot, a team from the Project for Lean Urbanism visited Savannah multiple times to identify obstacles to small-scale economic development. In Phase 2, a week-long workshop was held to establish an Action Plan and Lean projects in two Pink Zones within the city. This is the final presentation from the workshop.

November 23rd, 2016

Tool Survey – Existing and Proposed


Lean Urbanism is a way to restore common sense to the processes of development, building, starting small businesses, community engagement, and acquiring the necessary skills. The Project for Lean Urbanism is collecting and developing tools and daylighting techniques to enable and encourage those activities. This collection is the result of a survey to identify tools developed elsewhere and to track ideas for those that are needed. As tools are developed by the Project for Lean Urbanism, they will be made freely available on this website.

November 4th, 2016

The Pink Zone – Where Small Is Possible


The Pink Zone is a powerful tool for concentrating resources on the task of enabling small-scale, community-centered development and revitalization. It defines an area of focus, leverages a suite of available tools, and provides a platform for the community to gather resources, make commitments, and work together on projects that enhance community character and allow existing businesses and residents to remain and profit from the improved quality of life. The Pink Zone tool will be developed and refined in a series of pilot projects, and then released to the public.

August 18th, 2015

Lessons from PHX – Embracing Lean Urbanism


The City of Phoenix has become a model of Lean Governing, demonstrating the benefits of community revitalization when a municipality enables and encourages the work of creative entrepreneurs, small developers, neighborhood leaders, and community organizations. Along the way, it has employed and refined a number of principles and techniques that other cities can use to revitalize their neighborhoods. Phoenix is demonstrating that small projects can lead to big results.

August 13th, 2015

The Lexicon of Lean Urbanism


The Lexicon of Lean Urbanism defines the “terms of art” and other useful words and phrases that have emerged from extended discussions on the online Lean Urbanism discussion group and at Lean Councils. The first section is dedicated to these terms, and the second presents a selection of helpful quotations.

July 29th, 2015

The Katrina Cottage Movement – A Case Study


Appealing, context-aware designs for small-scale homes in small-scale neighborhoods grabbed national attention during the 2005 Mississippi Renewal Forum after Hurricane Katrina. Though it took far longer for the ideas to find traction than anyone imagined, trial-and-error progress has produced models worth emulating, and just in time to address new realities in housing demand in post-recession America.