Date of Award

May 2017

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Josef Stagg

Committee Members

Brian Schermer, Robert Schneider, Anne Dressel


Accessibility, Behavior, Housing Development, Neighborhood, Residential, Walkability


The transformation of the Westlawn Housing Development, one of the largest housing projects in Wisconsin, has led to this research. The old development, which was modeled after the military barracks style for its uniformity and practicality, is in extreme contrast to the new design influenced by the Traditional Neighborhood Development (TND). TND was well received by the middle class as an alternative to the suburban sprawl sweeping the nation in the 1980s. However, research suggests that most TND’s are premised on upper-middle-class preference and do not focus on the housing needs of the general population.

This research will explore if the fundamental TND design principle is applicable to different neighborhoods, particularly in a low-income neighborhood such as the Westlawn Housing Development, located on the northwest side of the City of Milwaukee. This public housing development was built in the 1950s. In 2012, one-half of the development (Phase 1) received a comprehensive revitalization. This created two planned residential neighborhoods, one was completely redone in 2012 and one to be completed in the future.

Many New Urbanism supporters have continued to advocate for the TND concepts into the 21st century. However, this raises the question: can the TND beneficial elements and performance that were developed for the middle-class decades ago transfer to a different neighborhood in the 21st century? While many studies emphasized physical elements and the mechanics of the development, they failed to address people’s needs and their personal experience. This research studies the interplay of people, their activities, and the physical settings, and documents people’s experience regarding the walkability and accessibility to neighborhood resources.

For this research, residents and non-residents were approached between 2013 and 2015 for semi-formal and informal interviews, plus conversations. Two sets of surveys based on the TND design principles were sent to all 644 households in the old and new developments. This process, using participant observations research, provides a detailed interpretation of a real-life setting through interactions, actions, and behaviors. The collected data was based on 86 survey participants. Twenty of those agreed to an interview. While the small sample size limits the quantitative analysis, the responses from participants are a significant indication of the residents’ ease of walking and accessing the facilities and services provided by the community. As the data collection ended at the end of 2015, the development was not complete because there was no progress in the sections that are zoned for a supermarket and market-rate buildings. The results suggest that the ability of this development to provide access for one’s everyday needs with a minimum amount of distance, travel and the cost was not met. Further studies may benefit the community when the entire development, including Phase II, will be completed in 2021.

Dissertation_Presentation_NancySChu.xspf (67 kB)
Dissertation Presentation 04-27-2017