Suburbia Project

Sidebar: The Answer to Zoning Troubles?

Form-based codes can transform suburbs from bedroom communities or strip mall thoroughfares into a bustling communities centers with commercial, retail, and public areas all accessible in a pedestrian-friendly area.

By Paris Rutherford
Published October 21, 2005

No matter how opportune a suburb seems for redevelopment, its zoning can provide severe obstacles to creating the types of mixed-use environments sought today.

Traditional Euclidean-based dictates prescribe development based on use, density and bulk - all of which limit the number of levels and integration of retail, residential and other uses that make a successful modern development.

Fortunately, many cities are now taking a closer look at form-based codes. Hardly a new concept - Charlotte, San Francisco and Chicago's Loop District boast this system - form-based codes regulate based on building form.

Because they prescribe an overall style and layout to an area, developers find it far easier to foster a pedestrian-friendly environment with public spaces, green areas and inviting street-front properties.

Despite the promise of form-based codes, however, there are some drawbacks to their implementation. Many politicians, developers, and homeowners are unfamiliar with the concept, and are understandably wary of embracing the codes too quickly.

Similarly, many investors and lenders have little experience in funding projects developed in accordance with form-based codes, and are often apprehensive about financing a project type with which they have little background. Form-based codes also necessitate a long-range planning prevision that many politicians shy away from.

With education, these hurdles will likely be lifted. As developers, homeowners and politicians develop a greater understanding of the merits of form-based codes, resistance to their adoption will undoubtedly ease, and the proliferation of suburbs developed or redesigned around the guidelines of form-based codes will increase.

Ultimately, form-based codes can transform suburbs from bedroom communities or strip mall thoroughfares into a bustling communities centers with commercial, retail, and public areas all accessible in a pedestrian-friendly area.

Paris Rutherford IV, AICP is the Vice President of Planning and Urban Design at RTKL Associates, an architecture firm based on New Urbanist principles.

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