Zoning as Spiritual Practice: From me to we to Thee

Get right with God. Fix your zoning.

That’s not something you hear regularly from the pulpit, maybe. But it’s gospel nonetheless. Here’s why:

If there’s one common thread woven through the world’s most enduring religions, it’s the call to connectivity: Self to others to everything.

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“You’re terminated, hippie.” — Where does that leave local sustainability?

Federal government to sustainability efforts: You’re terminated.

In a blockbuster-style showdown, the House Appropriations Committee started a furor this month as they proposed the elimination of HUD, USDOT and EPA sustainability programs in 2011-12, as well as suggesting the rescinding of dollars already awarded by the Sustainability and TIGER grant programs. As municipalities, counties and regional COGs scramble to find ways to focus the weak development market forces into more sustainable patterns of walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods, the possible removal of the federal support is discouraging.

Looks like we’re gonna have to go indie.

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My Sleuthing Adventure: Where are Western Canada’s Form-Based Codes?

Western Canada’s form-based codes are missing.

This is no small problem. Those of us working in the region are continuously grilled by municipalities with the same question, often delivered with a suspicious, cocked eyebrow: “Where are they? Where in Canada have they, or any other alternative zoning regulation, been enacted?”

The answer we’re obliged to offer is unfortunately neither reassuring nor helpful:  “We’ve turned up little evidence,” we mutter quietly. Little enough, in fact, that a comparable municipal mentor is typically unable to be found.

A mystery is at hand. Continue Reading

Brave New Codes Reach Tipping Point: When, Where, Why?

A year ago, Apple’s sales of its iPhone and iPod Touch eclipsed 40 million units, confirming their potential to fundamentally retool our future opportunities and patterns of daily life.

Today, a year later, form-based codes hit a similar milestone, with similar implications, as over 330 cities and towns around the worldrepresenting over 40 million people — have embraced the idea of form-based coding as an alternative to the sprawl-inducing zoning models of the past century.

We’ve hit the tipping point. Welcome to the other side. Continue Reading

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. Continue Reading

Love Ain’t Enough: Put Up or Shut Up

Like any next, big something, placemaking is growing up. And in its role as gawky adolescent, it’s beginning to realize something most of us have long since come to accept: You can’t skirt by on youthful good looks forever.

Today, efforts to create more endearing and enduring surroundings are being subjected to decidedly grown up demands. And with them, smart growthers—from enviros to designers to code reform advocates—are learning one of life’s hardest lessons: Love will only take you so far.

Son, you’ve got to demonstrate sufficient returns. Continue Reading

Miami Just the Tip of the Iceberg for Form Based Coding

When Miami, Florida adopted a SmartCode on October 22 by a 4-1 vote, an important step was taken for the global knowledge base of placemaking. This zoning reform is clearly a turning point away from the energy-intensive, environmentally-destructive, auto-centric development patterns of the 20th century. Miami 21 represents the “Miami of the 21st Century,” and takes into account all of the integral factors necessary to make each area within the City a unique, vibrant place to live, learn, work and play. The initiative is the largest mandatory form-based and transect-based unified development ordinance in history.

While this is a massive step for the 4th most populous urbanized area in the U.S., Miami is not alone. About 200 other cities are in the process of zoning reform that utilizes form-based codes to reverse the negative effects of use-based zoning. Use-based codes separate the uses into pods of commercial, residential, industrial, and agricultural. And generally requires an automobile to get from one pod to another. Form-based codes allows a mixture of compatible uses that enable neighborhoods to develop again, nodally along transit corridors.

Form Based Coding's thousand points of light.

To get an idea of where all form-based codes are happening, Collaborative Google Maps show the lay of the land. These maps provide an informal support group of SmartCodes and other form-based codes at some point along the process of code writing, adoption, and implementation.

While most of these other initiatives are not on the scale of Miami, several are close, including El Paso, Texas; Denver, Colorado; San Antonio, Texas; Montgomery, Alabama; Memphis, Tennessee; Nashville, Tennessee; Phoenix, Arizona; St. Petersburg, Florida; and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. On the other end of rural-to-urban transect is the “New Ruralism” that is occurring among the towns and villages that are seeking to deal with sprawling placeless-ness through form-based codes that protect their rural character.

The idea is that by learning from the experience of others, ideas can grow more quickly, and the continental community consensus building power can increase. The maps allow individuals to change their own information, however the general format includes:
- A description of the work at hand
- Links to the draft or final codes
- Illustrations and maps
- Project, client, and consultant websites
- General statistics on adopted codes, including population and acreage
- Links to news articles regarding each initiative

Currently, the maps contain information on 41 adopted SmartCodes, 51 SmartCodes in progress, and 97 other Form-Based Codes. This is not an exhaustive list, as new initiatives begin every day, so everyone is encouraged to add their own work.

Check them all out:

SmartCodes Adopted
SmartCodes in Progress
Other Form Based Codes

Green markers indicate SmartCodes adopted, yellow SmartCodes in progress, and purple other Form-Based Codes.

Additionally, TND maps give details on projects that are being designed in form-based development patterns. While many of these projects were done without the benefit of form-based codes but rather as Planned Unit Developments (PUDs), others are designed under adopted form-based codes. These maps are intentionally not a ranking or review system, however turning on satellite view and zooming in is an instructive virtual tour on the successes and challenges of thse developments.

All of these maps may be opened simultaneously, to get a regional idea of the sorts of initiatives that are occurring across the continent. When traveling to a particular region, the maps become a tour guide for progressive urbanism and zoning reform.

TNDs US – West
TNDs US – East
TNDs US – Florida & Caribbean
TNDs Canada

For TNDs, blue markers indicate greenfield development, and turquoise for infill, brownfield and grayfield.

– Hazel Borys

What We’re Reading: A Legal Guide to Urban and Sustainable Development

It probably won’t surprise most folks that the pursuit of more traditional (and sustainable) urban patterns is often thwarted by…  lawyers! But here’s a refreshing change: Two of them – Dan Slone and Doris Goldstein, with Andy Gowder – have just released A Legal Guide to Urban and Sustainable Development for Planners, Developers and Architects, a wellspring of practical solutions for beating them at their own game.

Put the power of lawyers to work for <em>you</em>.

Put the power of lawyers to work for you.

From planning and zoning to development and operations, this richly illustrated resource lays down the law on all aspects of smart growth and development: incorporating good urban design into local land regulations, overcoming impediments in subdivision and platting, structuring community associations for mixed-use projects, maneuvering the politics and, yes, surviving litigation.

In a solid nod of approval, it’s perhaps equally unsurprising that the book’s foreword is provided by Andres Duany, who’s spent a career running the gamut of these legal and political hurdles – some successfully, others not.

And in a not-too-shabby September 2008 review, The New Urban News says, “Immensely practical, this guidebook is loaded with techniques that can enable New Urbanism to jump hurdles erected by the legal system, the political apparatus, and the day-to-day difficulties of community life.” Finally, Law of the Land, in an October 2008 post, summarizes, “Justice Brennan: ‘If a policeman must know the Constitution, then why not a planner?’ is a perfect lead-in to a wonderful new book.”

We agree. Get your own copy here.

- Scott Doyon