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Identifying & Evaluating Form-Based Codes

Identifying Form-Based Codes

A well-crafted form-based code is the most effective form of development regulation for shaping pedestrian-scaled, mixed use and fine-grained urbanism. How does one determine if a development regulation is a form-based code and a well-crafted one? Form-based codes generally receive affirmative answers to all of the following questions:

Is it a Form-Based Code?

  • Is the code’s focus primarily on regulating urban form and less on land use?
  • Is the code regulatory rather than advisory?
  • Does the code emphasize standards and parameters for form with predictable physical outcomes (build-to lines, frontage type requirements, etc.) rather than relying on numerical parameters (FAR, density, etc.) whose outcomes are impossible to predict?
  • Does the code require private buildings to shape public space through the use of building form standards with specific requirements for building placement?
  • Does the code promote and/or conserve an interconnected street network and pedestrian-scaled blocks?
  • Are regulations and standards keyed to specific locations on a regulating plan?
  • Are the diagrams in the code unambiguous, clearly labeled, and accurate in their presentation of spatial configurations?

Evaluating Form-Based Codes

The following lists of questions reflect best practices of form-based coding. Effective form-based codes usually receive affirmative answers to these questions:

Is the code enforceable?

  • Does the code implement a plan that reflects specific community intentions?
  • Are the procedures for code administration clearly described?
  • Is the form-based code effectively coordinated with other applicable policies and regulations that control development on the same property?

Is the code easy to use?

  • Is the overall format and structure of the code readily discernable so that users can easily find what is pertinent to their interest?
  • Can users readily understand and execute the physical form intended by the code?
  • Are technical terms used in the code defined in a clear and understandable manner?
  • Does the code format lend itself to convenient public distribution and use?
  • Are the intentions of each regulation clearly described and apparent even to planning staff and citizens who did not participate in its preparation?

Will the code produce functional and vital urbanism?

  • Will the code shape the public realm to invite pedestrian use and social interaction?
  • Will the code produce walkable, identifiable neighborhoods that provide for daily needs?
  • Are parking requirements compatible with pedestrian-scaled urbanism?
  • Is the code based on a sufficiently detailed physical plan and/or other clear community vision that directs development and aids implementation?