By David Goldberg
Believe it or not, zoning is hot. So hot that in September the White House itself iden- tified zoning reform as a key weapon to address housing affordability and — yes — climate change. Even without the Administration’s urging,
though, a growing number of cities across the country
have been taking a fresh, hard look at longstanding zoning codes. And as often as not, they are deviating from
conventional zoning in favor of “form-based codes.” Simplistically put, conventional zoning codes are the DNA
of driving-oriented places, while form-based codes are
intended as the genome of walkable neighborhoods.
One of the remarkable features of the real estate market since the Great Recession has been the popularity
of more urban, mixed-use settings. To meet the demand
for those places and create walkable neighborhoods with
character, communities are increasingly turning to form-based codes, and those codes are in turn shaping much
of the urban development in the 2010s.
Think of it as a three-dimensional approach to guiding
development. Conventional zoning of the last 80 years
or so is more two-dimensional, painting colors on a
map where certain land uses — one-family houses here,
shops there, offices over here — are allowed and others
are restricted. Form-based codes are less concerned with
separating uses and more interested in how each unit
of development contributes to the way a neighborhood
looks, feels and functions.
“They integrate master plans, zoning, land-use, subdivision control, public works and traffic standards as no
unified document has ever before,” said Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, whose firm, DPZ, wrote the form-based overhaul
of a zoning code for Miami. That city in 2010 became
Form-based codes are
shaping much of the urban
development in the 2010s.
ZONING FOR WALKABLE
Form-based codes gaining ground
Courtesy of Arlington County