The Iowa chapter of the American Planning Association recently honored West Des Moines for its publication of a "pattern book". Pattern Books are locally specific guidebooks detailing appropriate interventions in existing neighborhoods (both renovation and new construction). This particular book is focused on the older areas of West Des Moines. Examples used in the book are the Cape Cod, Ranch, and Split Level home.
The 45-page book is available for free on the West Des Moines web site.
Typically zoning and building codes are the enforcement, and pattern books are guidelines for "best practices". In suburban subdivisions, restrictive covenants dictate design decisions. In older areas, a local historic ordinance can do the same thing.
This pattern book is very well put together - it is informative and concise, with specific constructive suggestions for remodeling existing homes. Each section is backed up with concrete examples and logical reasoning. In general it is a wonderful resource that actually applies to many areas of the City of Des Moines as well.
It is wonderful that West Des Moines put the time and effort into producing this book. I would like to see the suburb put such proactive effort into their development planning philosophy. The missing piece from this pattern book was the "pattern" itself! Individual houses are not a pattern (though they may utilize similar designs). Most of the house types in the West Des Moines pattern book actually work best as part of a traditional walkable neighborhood with sidewalks, front porches, density, mixed-use, and accessible public transportation.