Form-Based Codes Institute at Smart Growth America

Strategic Plan

Reflections from FBCI Director Carol Wyant

Reflections from FBCI Director Carol Wyant

Dear Friends,

Many of you may have already heard that I will step down as the executive director of FBCI at the end of this year. I will continue to serve on the Board of Directors. It’s been a wonderful 10 years at the head of this organization, and I have thoroughly enjoyed my work with so many dedicated, knowledgeable, and genuinely good people during my tenure as founding Executive Director.

I am excited to announce that as the result of a nation-wide search FBCI selected Joel Russell, who will come in as full-time Executive Director on February 1, 2014. I am confident Joel brings the vision, organizational savvy, and deep knowledge of Form-Based Coding needed to propel the FBCI mission further on the path to fruition. As a continuing board member I will be cheering him on and look forward to much future success for the organization and the movement.

In the spirit of its new leadership FBCI is exploring many additional new ideas. We invite your suggestions for how we can expand the use and effectiveness of Form-Based Coding in the months and years to come. Please share your comments. Your thoughts are welcome!

As we come to the end of this year, and I reflect upon my years as Executive Director, I want to recall the beginnings and some of the highlights of FBCI…


Our first meeting at the Driehaus Estate

During October 1-3, 2004 the gracious hospitality of Richard Driehaus at his Estate in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin provided the setting for a gathering instigated by Peter Katz who invited leading practitioners of Form-Based Coding to discuss current best practices. These urban designer-architects, planners and real estate attorneys were so excited to talk about their craft across disciplines and without a project deadline, that attorney Sam Poole invited everyone to meet again March 5-7, 2005 at his office in Fort Lauderdale. In the interim groups worked on self-assigned tasks including threshold criteria defining a FBC, a model RFP, and a FBC short course and syllabus.

FBCI Board Steps

At the Driehaus Estate, 2004

Joining these colleagues at the March meeting was Arthur C. Nelson, Ph.D., who presented his research predicting that by 2025 there would be 70% more buildings on the ground than currently. Designed well, this development could heal urban design errors of the last century but, in order to achieve this result, current zoning practices would have to change. Nelson offered those assembled the opportunity to create and teach courses on Form-Based Coding through his Academy for the New Urbanism, housed at the Virginia Tech Alexandria campus. Seizing Nelson’s offer as a way to jumpstart its mission, FBCI formalized its organizational structure as a not-for-profit organization, led by its elected Chairman Paul Crawford, and launched its 3-course series in November that same year.

The FBCI Board of Directors, 18-members strong, realized that the only way to have the impact needed on future community development would be to give away the hard-earned knowledge of its members to as many people as possible. In addition to its 3-course series, FBCI developed a website and an annual awards program to recognize Form-Based Codes that could serve as models for emulation by others. Webinars, blog-posts, and presentations at conferences and meetings were added to further the FBCI Mission “to advance the knowledge and use of, and develop standards for, Form-Based Codes as a method to achieve a community vision based on time-tested forms of urbanism.

As the FBC knowledge base became more widespread, FBCI expanded its organizational structure, inviting respected FBC supporters to join its Resource Council and Advisory Board. These members have helped enormously to share their knowledge, support FBCI and improve the built environment.

In 2012 FBCI adopted a new Strategic Plan and, at my urging, included in that plan the objective to hire a full-time executive director. I have only able to serve on a part-time basis, and I was convinced a full-time director was necessary to support the continued growth and effectiveness of the Form-Based Coding movement. Now, with Joel taking the helm, we look forward to exciting years ahead for the FBC movement!

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Ways To Fail At Form-Based Codes: Don’t Articulate A Vision

Ways To Fail At Form-Based Codes: Don’t Articulate A Vision

Originally published in Better! Cities & Towns, 25 Feb 2013.

Last week, we were talking about how the form of a neighborhood either provides gathering places that build social capital and local resilience, or else makes for a lonely, disconnected, nowhere. Some towns and cities are using form-based codes to help reconnect people with each other and the places they call home.

At the end of last week’s discussion, I quickly mentioned 10 points that can create problems with form-based codes. My friend, Bruce Donnelly, commented that some of these points bear elaboration. So today, I’m doing a back of the envelope on the biggest challenge to form-based codes: failing to establish a community vision that can then be codified — that is, made into law.

Maybe you could boil down many of our dysfunctions — from local governments to individual choices — to not taking the time to establish a vision. A sort of “what I want to be when I grow up” process that leaves behind the vagaries and platitudes that generate places that fall short of being unique.

Great visions almost always center on what is special about a place. Smaller cities often focus on natural features, like mountains, waterways, or plains. Or extraordinary social amenities, like strong arts and cultural communities, or foodie havens, or quaint main streets built for antiquing and local music. Bigger cities almost always offer up creative class amenities like “Start-Up City Miami” or “Strong, Smart New York” or “Toronto the Big.” Or maybe it’s “Dare to Live Outdoors San Diego” or the great “Pub Sheds” in Decatur or Asheville.

Visions that can be codified — made into land use laws that say how neighborhoods will form — are much more nuanced than a slogan or a core competency, though. They’re broken down into vision, policy, actions, and plans, along with public-private partners who are willing to do the hard work of bringing it all to reality. The Vision Keepers, if you will.

One of the most enjoyable form-based codes I’ve ever helped lead was thanks to a great city planner, Gianni Longo, who had done the hard work of helping craft a vision for Kona, Hawai’i. When we came in to help with the form-based code, the well-articulated vision was strongly supported locally, and the codification was a delightful process.

Often policy planning, master planning, and land use law are more closely married, and that’s when it’s sometimes harder to ensure there is a “collective local vision” — although I realize that many people have issues with this phrase. While a “consensus plan” may not pander to the most extreme special interest groups, it generally seeks to find common ground.

Looking at a few vision documents that have generated great codes and plans, El Paso, Ranson, and Miami come quickly to mind. Quoting a bit from Ranson:

All of the goals in the Community Vision assume the principle of Connectivity: a fine network of thoroughfares should knit together the community. The goals also all draw upon the principle of sustainability: places must be ecologically, fiscally, and socially sustainable.

  1. Local character builds regional economies.
  2. Strong core communities make strong foundations.
  3. There is a place for everything, and everything has its place.
  4. Affordable living includes housing, transportation, energy, recreation, and shopping.
  5. Green infrastructure supports sustainable communities.
  6. Neighborhoods are the building blocks.
  7. Private buildings and public infrastructure work together to shape public space and to build community character.
  8. Working together creates bigger opportunities.

Of course, each of these items have a whole host of idea development and supporting actions, but the point is that the City has spent the time to articulate what it believes, hashed out the details to get to common grounds, then wrote it all into law with a form-based code.

And that’s what’ll get you around item one for the biggest Achilles’ Heel possible for your form-based code: failing to articulate a generally-accepted local vision.

Now, once again for a little inspiration from Steve Mouzon, documenting Paris — perhaps the most extreme example of a vision getting implemented, even if it wasn’t the “collective local vision” but rather a much heavier-handed version of top-down planning. Nonetheless, it’s one of the few cities where even the bridges are able to bring me to tears. Enjoy!

Paris Bar

Paris Bridge

Photos by Steve Mouzon


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