Form-Based Codes Institute at Smart Growth America

FBCI: The Beginning

One could argue FBCI began with a dinner conversation in Washington D.C. among Peter Katz, Richard H. Driehaus and myself in the summer of 2000. The occasion was a design competition won by Dan Parolek for a monument commemorating the Millennium. That conversation led to a presentation to the Mayor’s Blue Ribbon Zoning Reform Commission established by the City of Chicago as it undertook reform of its 1957 zoning code. A generous grant from a private foundation underwrote an October 9th, 2001 presentation by Katz, Geoffrey Ferrell, Steve Price and myself, portraying good and abysmal examples of Chicago urbanism and exploring the reasons for both conditions.

A street in Chicago - click to enlarge - Steve Price's visualization

A street in Chicago – click to enlarge – Steve Price’s visualization

Near the end of the presentation Peter suggested the commission throw out its current code and start over, using the emerging principles of typological/graphic coding. Later that day we gave the same presentation to a public audience. That presentation was filmed and, when asked how to label the film, I came up with the term Form-Based Coding.

While Chicago did not take Peter’s advice, Bruce Katz, then Director and Senior Fellow of the Center on Urban and Metropolitan Policy for The Brookings Institution nevertheless learned of the presentation and asked to know more. The result? Both Peter and I worked with Brookings to design and host Shaping the American City: New Approaches to Regulation, A Zoning Reform Symposium held in Chicago, January 16-17, 2003. The American Planning Association co-sponsored this invitational national event where the FBC approach was presented along with other “cutting-edge” coding tools. Many of the presenters and participants became founders of FBCI.

Our first meeting in Lake Geneva, October '04

Our first meeting in Lake Geneva, October ’04

Two seminal meetings led to the actual creation of FBCI as an organization. The first was held at a private estate in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, on October 3-5, 2004. Having authored The New Urbanism, Peter Katz was planning to write the book on Form-Based Coding* and wanted to bring together leading practitioners to discuss best practices, agree on common terminology, and define a threshold of components required to constitute a code as “form-based.” The weekend of thought and discussion was exciting: no deadlines, just the opportunity to discuss the planning, design and legal aspects of the FBC tool kit with the best in the business. As the weekend drew to a close there was a consensus to form an organization – the Form-Based Codes Association – and to meet again.

Our second meeting, in Ft Lauderdale March '05

Our second meeting, in Ft Lauderdale March ’05

Sam Poole invited us all to his office in Fort Lauderdale during March 5-7, 2005. In the interim we worked on various assignments in order to further our discussion at this next meeting. It was in Fort Lauderdale that we agreed to expand the knowledge base about FBC by teaching courses through the Urban Academy of Virginia Tech. While Peter Katz and I had prepared a proposal for FBCA to become a membership organization with dues being an important element of funding, the group decided to become “a think-tank,” the Form-Based Codes Institute. In preparation for this second meeting I had sought start-up funding from Richard Driehaus. As a result, The Richard H. Driehaus Charitable Lead Trust provided two grants in 2006; one for $10,000 and a second for $22,500. Course income helped to match these contributions.

Beginning in 2007 The Richard H. Driehaus Charitable Lead Trust provided $12,500 in order to establish an award program, The Richard H. Driehaus Form-Based Codes Award, and that support has continued.

To complete our look at the past, a quick summary of FBCI accomplishments is in order:

  • The FBCI definition for what constitutes a form-based code is the accepted standard. In addition, our Request For Qualifications template for entities seeking assistance to create a FBC is widely used.
  • FBCI created a series of three courses: Introduction to Form-Based Coding (a prerequisite for the subsequent courses), Preparing the Code: Design Considerations, and Completing, Adopting and Administering the Code.
  • The introductory course has a shorter version, The ABCs of Form-Based Coding that is also taught online.
  • In the beginning years FBCI partnered with university programs to offer its courses: Virginia Tech, Rutgers, and Arizona State University.
  • A number of municipalities sponsored courses for their staff and local leaders: Tampa, Florida; Mississauga, Ontario; and Sedona, Arizona. In addition the State of Michigan has sponsored the course series several times.
  • Nearly 900 (actually 887) persons have taken one or more of FBCI’s courses. Just over 200 (actually 201) have taken the full-course series and received a certificate.
  • Multiple “live” webinars have resulted in an extensive library of webinar recordings covering a range of FBC-related topics taught by national FBC experts.
  • The Richard H. Driehaus Form-Based Codes Awards continue to honor high achievement and to uphold standards for Form-Based Coding.

I believe that as the economy recovers and the development governed by FBCs emerges, the value of this important regulatory tool will become more widely recognized and appreciated. It has been a privilege to have participated in this important movement.

While The Richard H. Driehaus Charitable Lead Trust has been a major charitable benefactor since FBCI’s inception, FBCI is now seeking to substantially expand its donor support. FBCI Executive Director Joel Russell will elaborate in his article on new fundraising initiatives as the organization looks to the future.

About the Author

Drawing on her experiences in commercial real estate development, and leadership of not-for-profit historic preservation state and national organizations, Carol Wyant has been involved with design and preservation of the built environment for over 30 years. In addition to serving as a founding board member and Executive Director of FBCI, Wyant also lends her consulting expertise to advocate for preservation of historically and architecturally significant sites and structures, context appropriate new design and land use strategies, and community beautification.