Form-Based Codes Institute at Smart Growth America

Standards of Practice for 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? Click HERE to download a PDF of FBCI’s standards of practice for form-based codes. 

Definition of a Form-Based Code

A Form-Based Code:

  • Is based on a sufficiently detailed physical plan and/or other clear community vision that directs development and aids implementation.
  • Is focused primarily on regulating urban form and less focused on land use.
  • Is regulatory rather than advisory.
  • Emphasizes 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 often difficult to predict.
  • Requires private buildings to shape public space through the use of building form standards with specific requirements for building placement and building frontages.
  • Promotes and/or conserves an interconnected street network and pedestrian-scaled blocks.
  • Keys regulations and standards to specific locations on a regulating plan.
  • Incorporates diagrams that are unambiguous, clearly labeled, and accurate in their presentation of spatial configurations.

Standards of Practice for Form-Based Codes

To meet FBCI standards, a form-based code should:

Be enforceable:

  • Is it effectively coordinated with other applicable policies and regulations that control development on the same property?
  • Is the code designed, intended, and programmed to be regularly updated?
  • Does the code format lend itself to convenient public distribution and use?

 Promote good urbanism:

  • Will the code result in good urban form?
  • 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?

Be simple and easy to use:

  • In its organization/layout:
    • Is it easy to understand the layout in the first few pages or by flipping through it?
    • Can users easily find what is pertinent to their interest?
    • Are the procedures for code administration clearly described?
  • With efficiency in the number of steps:
    • Does it have just the right number of steps in the decision tree to define the development opportunity, while still offering options and flexibility?
  • With brevity:
    • No more pages than necessary for the scale of the codified area?
  • With clear graphics as good communication tools:
    • Are the graphics tidy, concise, and do they convey information in a transparent manner?
  • With an understandable, easy to follow, and speedy approval process, and
  • With technical terms defined in a clear and understandable manner.

Be written to allow for predictable results without sacrificing variety in the size and shape of urban spaces and the design of buildings:

  • Can users readily understand and execute the physical form intended by the code?
  • Are the intentions of each regulation clearly described and apparent even to planning staff and citizens who did not participate in its preparation?