Friday, November 20, 2009

Form-based code puts power in public's hands

The Congress for New Urbanism, New England chapter recently held a council on form-based codes. Several examples of municipalities implementing a form-based code were presented. Now, form-based code just means that the growth and eventual physical space and atmosphere of a place is thought about and prescribed in a code format. Instead of the post war zoning of placing all the businesses in one spot and houses in another and all the workshops in another, the old fashioned Main street we all love is described in drawings and zoning law.

The best way to look at this is to imagine that you have no say in what your town will look like and feel like. Instead, that over time, your town is just a mess of boxes and parking lots, a place you and your children no longer like. That is the current zoning model we have.

When a town takes the time to draw a map describing their goal of the most wonderful town possible, everyone wins. This plan would show where they want tree lined sidewalks with stores and offices and apartments; where they want tree lined streets with houses; where and how many parks they want; how to place elementary schools so that most children can walk to school and similarly with sports fields so that children can all walk to a field and play after school.

A form-based code describes how the street will look and how tall the buildings are to make this plan develop over time. The use of the spaces is less important as the place itself. It is an empowering tool and must be presented as such- not a scary change. The amount of freedom increases to the public, not decreases as we all will take charge of our future.

Don't let the government and out-of-towners let your town turn into a sprawling hell. Take charge and demand a form-based code!

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