People tend to talk about design in terms of aesthetics: A pretty picture. A stylish outfit. An elegant sculpture. A house with curb appeal.

But really, design means planning.

A lot of thinking and planning and consideration of obscure details goes into creating those things.

The same is true with developments and neighborhoods. A building’s design is more than muntins and lintels, columns and dormers, balconies and balustrades, or Art Deco vs. Victorian. It’s about how a building faces the street; its proximity to shops and restaurants; its height and scale in relation to its neighbors; how close it is to parks or other greenspaces; its landscaping; and the presence of street trees.

These are among the ideas stressed in Dense by Design: A Compact Guide to Compact Development, a booklet that MORPC released in 2011.

Components of good urban design can include privacy, walkability, neighborhood feel, and usability of outside spaces, said Ken Danter, a longtime housing industry analyst and a collaborator on insight2050. Other factors are the treatment of parking and the way buildings are separated and connected – the outdoor hardscapes.

“Good design can actually be accommodated by density, especially with mixed use,” Danter added.

What is “mixed use?” Is it a mix of retail, residential, and office uses in different parts of a neighborhood? Along a single street? In the same block? In the same building? Danter likes to speak in terms of “integrated uses” that are mixed together throughout a neighborhood or development.

The booklet was designed to help professional planners and local government officials talk to skeptical residents about the benefits of and need for compact development. But it also was written to be clear and jargon-free for the residents themselves.

It outlines the roots of zoning in general, and a brief history of planning and zoning in Ohio – where zoning codes sometimes substitute for a planning process.

Density is not a four-letter word. But to many people, those seven letters have a foul connotation that is synonymous with “blight” or slum.” Dense by Design, by taking a page from the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy’s Visualizing Density, uses local photos from around Ohio to show rather than tell people about well-designed density.

In its snapshot of Ohio’s planning and zoning history, Dense by Design offers a look at how density became more associated with numbers – people per square mile; units per acre; floor-area ratio – than design and neighborhood functions. It also shows how compact development makes more efficient use of public services and utilities – thus holding the line on government spending.

Still, density is a hard sell. The use of local photographs allows readers to see attractive, well-designed projects that often are more dense than they appear. Such projects may be viewed as preferable to development that is less dense, but also less appealing.

In fact, Dense by Design is not really so much about density as it is about design. At a time when Central Ohio is faced with significant growth and change in its population, communities need to be very deliberate in designing ways to accommodate the increases. There’s no one-size-fits-all model. Central Ohio communities have different characteristics, and they’ll adapt in different ways. Some are landlocked and will need to explore growing up rather than out; others may have room to spread out, but might choose to respond to growing demand for compact and walkable neighborhoods.

Dense by Design is a toolbox to help communities weigh the opportunities before them and the changing preferences of residents.