Smart Code - Form Based Zoning

Posted by Anonymous

Since I was young I have always been fascinated with the built environment around me. Growing up on the east side of Buffalo, I was cradled in a mix-use environment that was very stimulating and that still holds endless curiosity with me.

I, like many others, pine for the "old days" of a vibrant mixed use living environment (for me it was still there in the 80's ;). See my recent Nostalgia post. The question is how do we get back there? As we can see form recent development on Main St, current zoning can give us projects ranging from the people and car friendly Ulrich City Center to the typical auto-centric site plans of the Walgreen's and Family Video properties.

There is a push in Buffalo to institute a "smart code" to be ensure that the award winning city master plan that was adopted a few years back can actually be implemented. It is a form based code system which goes beyond the usual "use, density, and parking" defined in most typical zoning ordinances. The ordinances which have shown to give auto-centric site plans which consume vast amounts of land, offers little long term benefit to the area, and often depresses the value of the surrounding neighborhoods (NIMBY lawsuits anyone?).

I'd ask those interested in what our streets and neighborhoods look like to watch this slide show. It is put together for Buffalo and thus offers an example that is tangible to all of us. It gives a wonderful history lesson of development and examples from Buffalo's current "outdated" zoning and examples of successful form based coding in other cities. It takes about 20 minutes to skim through and get the jist of it depending on how fast you click through it. I found it easy to "study" many of the slides and took more time.

Please comment on what you think of the proposed code system and its goals and how you think something like this would apply here in Lockport. I sent this slide show of to Mayor Tucker also. Our DT was dismantled parcel by parcel (or block by block during urban "renewal") and it will also be put back together parcel by parcel. What do we want the sum of the parts to be? If you have a counter point link showing how great auto-centric planning is, please feel free to share it.

Lockport Zoning for comparision. I have yet to go completely through it.

Here are several quotes from the


Cities have to move to a new system. They should look at the streets they like and the public spaces they like and then write the rules to get more of what they like and less of what they don’t. Conventional zoning doesn’t do that. It just gives a us a use and a density and then you hope for the best.

In the US, types of form-based coding go back to the colonial days. The 1733 Plan of Savannah Georgia laid-out by General James Oglethorpe, is one of the most studied and celebrated city plans in the world.

Conventional zoning typically regulates three basic metrics: use, density, and parking. However, to produce great public spaces, regulating only these three things has proven insufficient. A fourth metric is necessary: design. Form-based codes add that necessary fourth dimension to the development process.

Unified codes are effective because they integrate different elements of a project usually spread across several municipal departments – agencies that often to not communicate with each other under the current system.

It is important to note that FBC’s do not specifiy any particular style. As along as the basic scale, proportion, and siting requirements are met, buildings can be any style….historic districts may have some finer control…”

UPDATE: 12/05/08 - Added sample slide images


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