A Placemaking Journal

Zoning: No Longer Just for Nerds

Remember when you could empty a room by trying to work zoning philosophy into a conversation? Okay, you can still do that in most places. But the coolness quotient is on the rise, we swear.

Consider the adoption late last year of a form-based code in Miami, surely one of the most exotic political environments in North America. Very high hipness factor.

Note also the change in the air in the heart of the country. Minnesota, for instance, where the guys behind the Strong Towns blog make the case for great places that knit together the key components of livability through good design and well-considered coding. In an April 26 post, Chuck Marohn exposes “The Crazy Face of Zoning,” using regional examples of the unintended consequences of conventional zoning.

What’s happening? Here’s how Phil Langdon puts it in the April-May issue of New Urban News:

“Something is changing — for the better. Across sizable portions of the US and Canada, codes aimed at shaping communities into compact, walkable, mixed use configurations have crossed a threshold. A constituency has begun to solidify in support of form based codes (FBCs). “

Phil updates readers on the latest strategies of FBC-coders and reports the numbers. The current tally: Some 294 form-based codes are in some stage of preparation or have already been adopted in the U.S. and Canada. Including international codes, the count is up to 325, with more rapidly announced.

The surge in interest in an alternative to conventional coding coincides with increasing interest in shaping places that are accessible to a broad range of incomes, ages, and abilities and that avoid the mistakes of car-centric, land-devouring sprawl. Revamped comp plans are beginning to call for transit alternatives, more pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods and corridors, mixed-use development, ag land conservation, and rules that support sustainability. Conventional zoning only frustrates communities’ efforts to align goals with regulatory tools. So no wonder the call is going out for a better approach.

For an explanation of how and why form-based codes became tools of choice for implementing Smart Growth, read Geoff Dyer’s analysis, and check out resources at the Center for Applied Transect Studies and the Form-Based Code Institute.

If you’re headed to Atlanta for CNU 18, in addition to coding discussions imbedded in the general program, there are two one-day workshops on applying the latest in form-based code approaches, featuring top thinkers and practitioners. Both are on May 19.

  • The ABC’s of Form-Based Codes”, presented by The Form-Based Code Institute, features Dan Parolek, Joseph Kohl, Bill Spikowski, and and Sam Poole. Place: Millennium Gate, 395 17th Street, Atlanta. Price: $250.
  • The SmartCode Intensive” is organized by PlaceMakers and headlines SmartCode creator Andres Duany and 16 other experts. Place: Hilton Downtown, 255 Courtland Street NE, Atlanta. Price: $49 (with a webinar for the same price for those unable to attend in person).

–Ben Brown

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