Tag Archives: smartcode

The Passion of Place

David Byrne noted in last Sunday’s NY Times that people get hooked on cycling because of pleasure, not health, money, or carbon footprint. “Emotional gratification trumps reason.”

Ben Brown agrees, using Byrne’s “Stop Making Sense” as a blog title on the subject of community engagement and how special interest groups often talk past each other. “Intuition comes first, strategic reasoning second.”

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Filed under Economic Development, Experience, Planning and Design, Public Policy

The Dreaded Density Issue

Having worked in communities big and small across the continent, we’ve had ample opportunity to test ideas and find approaches that work best. Urban design details. Outreach tactics. Implementation tricks. Many of these lessons are transferable, which is why we’ve created “Back of the Envelope,” a weekly feature where we jot ’em down for your consideration.

A number of recent conversations with Stefanos Polyzoides, Howard Blackson, and Matt Lambert regarding density and residential types has me thinking about building typology as one solution to visualizing and embracing density.

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On the Street: The DNA of place and the ROI of movement

The corporate culture of our government has been a carte blanche to keep doing what we’ve been doing. This culture implies that what we’ve been doing works.

In business, last year’s income statement is a major driver in this year’s action plan. If a product or service was profitable, then it’s nurtured and grown this year. If a deliverable creates a loss, then change is made as quickly as possible.

Because governments are focused on GDP and jobs instead of ROI, the reasons behind decisions often get muddy. Return on Investment (ROI) is quite simple. It’s just the gain from investment less the cost of investment all divided by the cost of investment. How many times over your money will be returned to you.

And yet our governments aren’t geared to think this way unless it has to do with a change from business as usual.

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Retail: When it bends the rules and breaks the law.

Getting ready for a TEDx talk in a few weeks, I’ve once again been noticing how the places that I love the most usually break the law. The contemporary development codes and bylaws, that is, which are geared to the car, not to the pedestrian and cyclist.

Then last week’s urban retail SmartCode tweetchat with Bob Gibbs sparked a debate about the rules of thumb that govern the success or failure of the most risky development of all: retail. And when those rules might be bent by certain special circumstances.

Ready to geek out with me for a moment?

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Filed under Agriculture, Architecture, Development, Planning and Design, Public Policy, Resilience

Special Districts Getting All Mixed Up

Recently there’ve been rumblings of a very interesting trend among cities that have adopted form-based codes to guide the character of their neighbourhoods. That is, once a city begins to think urbanistically, they start to solve some really hard problems. And those problems lately have been to do with industrial uses, and how to reconnect industry to the walkable portions of the city.

Over the last month, I’ve lost count of how many emails and phone calls I’ve gotten asking for exemplary plans under form-based codes that incorporate industrial uses. I got one while I was writing this, in fact. Heavy industry is one primary thing zoning initially sought to separate. I am reminded of one of my favorite T.S. Eliot excerpts, from Little Gidding:

“We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started. And know the place for the first time.”

Not that anyone’s adding back in noxious uses to the ‘hood, but it is a very interesting turn of events.

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Form-Based Codes? A picture’s worth a thousand words.

If the attendees list of Placemaking@Work, my monthly webinar series, is any indicator, we’re increasingly united in our desire to improve the places we call home, wherever those places might be. Last month, I had participants from Hawaii to Russia, from British Columbia to Saudi Arabia, and many points in between.

The common thread among these seekers is their search for tools and tactics that have proven effective. And increasingly dominating these conversations are form-based codes.

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Measure Local, Share Global, Part 2: From app to main course

Talk about geek love!

When I wrote recently about having cooked up an iPhone app for collecting the physical metrics behind form-based codes, my intentions were pretty modest. First, I was just kind of giddy over how it was coming together and wanted to talk about it. But second, and more importantly, I wanted to get the idea out there and let the swarm take a crack at it, as a true, open-source initiative.

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Measure Local, Share Global: There’s an app for that

Okay, so I have a little problem. Since 1985 I’ve been a committed, out of the closet, Macoholic. I wrote my architectural thesis on an Apple IIe. Don’t do the math — I’ll be fifty this year.

A couple of months ago one of my business partners, Howard Blackson, suggested we find a way to use our iPhones and iPads to collect the urban DNA we use in writing form-based codes (another problem of mine — I’m a code geek). Understanding how to write standards that produce the types of places people love the most is my professional passion. Continue reading

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Let’s Get Small: Placemaking as Antidote for Shrinking City Budgets

It’s that time of year, but it’s no holiday party in most city budget meetings. Cities across the continent are looking for ways to make ends meet. A quick survey turns up some sobering city deficits: New York $4.4 billion, Toronto $225 million, Washington DC $188 million, Houston $120 million, L.A. $87 million, San Diego $72 million, Cleveland $28 million. States are worse still: California $6 billion, Illinois $15 billion, Arizona $1.5 billion. Those are some major gaps to fill, before we make it to the federal level.

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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

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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

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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

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An App for That (And that and that…)

One of the greatest selling points of the SmartCode, the DPZ-created version of a form-based unified development ordinance, has always been its customize-ability. First of all, it’s Transect-based, which immediately separates it from conventional codes that stamp out the same rules for development everywhere in the landscape. And since DPZ made it a free, open-source code, practitioners from everywhere can correct, refine, and amend it as conditions demand.

The latest, still-evolving version of the SmartCode, v10, takes flexibility to a new level with add-on modules that address everything from storm-water management to sprawl repair to aging in place. Comparisons to Apple’s iPhone applications strategy are inevitable. In fact, Arizona State grad student Dan Bartman (email: dbartman(at)asu.edu) is already doing SmartCode explainers in PowerPoint using an iPhone face and modules as app icons.

Andres Duany, founding principal of DPZ and author of the SmartCode calls the latest version “the single biggest change since the beginning.” Here’s how he explains it:

SmartCode v10 is still a work in progress, directed by the non-profit Center for Applied Transect Studies. Sandy Sorlien, CATS’ director of technical research, says v10 will be ready for its debut at the SmartCode Intensive workshop on Wednesday, May 19, the opening day of the annual conference of the Congress for the New Urbanism.

You can find out more about the modules for v10 here. And read all about the 18th annual CNU Congress here and in our previous blogs here and here.

— Ben Brown

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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

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