Form-Based Codes Institute at Smart Growth America


FBCI Board Dinner

FBCI Board at the Driehaus Estate, Lake Geneva, Wisconsin

The Form-Based Codes Institute was founded in 2004. For decades prior, its members were leading practitioners who had incorporated the principles and practices now recognized as Form-Based Coding into their work. A series of fortuitous events led them to establish FBCI. One such event occurred in 2001, following upon the City of Chicago’s decision to revise its 1957 zoning code. With the assistance of a grant from The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation, Carol Wyant was able to engage Peter Katz, Geoffrey Ferrell, and Steve Price to prepare a presentation to the Mayor’s Zoning Reform Commission. Their presentation showed the best of Chicago’s traditional urbanism and the mixed results that came from the mid-century code changes. Katz suggested that Chicago throw out its 1957 code and start over by using graphic or typological coding techniques. While Chicago did not embrace this recommendation, the city did attempt to rectify the issues raised by the presentation through conventional zoning methods.

The 2001 presentation had several indirect and positive outcomes. First, when asked to name a film of the Chicago presentation, Carol Wyant coined the term “Form-Based Coding,” thereby providing a label for what these planners had been doing for many years. In addition, Bruce Katz at the Brookings Institution heard about the presentation and asked to see and share it with his staff. As a result of discussions at that meeting, Brookings asked Peter Katz and Carol Wyant to assist with an invitational symposium to look at cutting edge zoning techniques, including the newly named Form-Based Coding. This symposium was held in Chicago on January 17, 2003, with the American Planning Association joining as co-sponsor.

FBCI Board Steps

At the Driehaus Estate, 2004

Some months later, Katz and Wyant assembled leading practitioners from the fields of architecture/urban design, planning, and environmental/land use law, to agree on Form-Based Coding terms and best practices. They convened during the weekend of October 3-5, 2004 at The Richard Driehaus Estate in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. Those attending found it exhilarating, as they shared ideas and knowledge across their professional disciplines and the geography that often separated them. On a more sober note, everyone agreed that the need and the challenge to disseminate knowledge of Form-Based Coding were enormous. All agreed to join together as the Form-Based Codes Alliance to pursue this work. They assigned themselves a range of tasks, including the drafting of key definitions, a model RFP, and a course curriculum and syllabus. Paul Crawford, FAICP, committed to host a listserv to facilitate work on these assignments. Attorney Sam Poole offered to host the group for its second meeting at the Berger Singerman law offices in Fort Lauderdale the following April. Subsequently, Richard Driehaus offered the new organization an incubator challenge grant to assist with early administrative costs.

It was at the April 2005 meeting in Fort Lauderdale that board members changed the new entity’s name to Form-Based Codes Institute. The name well reflected the organization’s focus: to create and distribute knowledge of, and tools for the implementation of, Form-Based Codes. At the same meeting, FBCI members agreed to teach a course series hosted by Arthur C. Nelson at the Academy for New Urbanism at Virginia Tech in Alexandria, Virginia. The course series began that November, establishing FBCI as an effective educator in the burgeoning practice of form-based coding.