Code Writing for Cities

SmartCode Private Frontage Page
Page from the current version of The SmartCode by DPZ showing how building frontages and setbacks can be controlled by transect zone.

Form-Based Codes & Urban Planning

DPZ’s three decades of practice have enabled our thorough understanding of the often contradictory regulatory and financial controls that influence urban development. Land use, zoning, subdivision control, public works standards, environmental regulations and the structure of finance interact to produce the often-considered unsatisfactory built environment.

The documents guiding implementation of our master plans include an illustrative plan, a regulating plan, street sections, urban regulations and architecture regulations. This system of integrated plans and regulations is called form-based coding. DPZ’s form-based codes are calibrated to the individual project, graphically and verbally describing the manner in which buildings shape public space and establish character for distinctive streets, squares, greens and parks.

The form-based code guides a community vision. Prescribing the specific outcome intended for a place ensures physical predictability, desired by residents and property owners, and by developers and investors.

DPZ re-introduced historical methods of form-based coding to contemporary planning practice, with the design of Seaside. A series of large plates with annotated diagrams provided the instructions for building designs to produce the town’s public spaces. These plates still guide building in Seaside today as it continues to evolve.

Our early town codes evolved into the Traditional Neighborhood Design Ordinance (TND), a combination of land use, zoning and street standards, developed to be inserted into conventional zoning ordinances. From this emerged the SmartCode, a regulatory document that frames a vision of sustainable growth and re-development, from regional organization to streetscape details. The SmartCode can supplement or replace conventional zoning and public works standards.

The SmartCode’s organizational concept is the rural-to-urban Transect, a gradient of intensity that guides the character of places. For instance, the rural village may have free-standing buildings with variable setbacks and roadside swales; the town center may have one and two story buildings and tree-lined streets with sidewalks; the urban core may have taller buildings forming a continuous streetwall with a wide, curbed sidewalk and trees in planters.

DPZ’s form based codes range from simple building and street design guidelines for private sector clients to SmartCode calibration for municipalities. An example of the latter is Miami21, the form-based code that replaced the City of Miami’s forty-year-old zoning ordinance in 2009. The new code, intended to help make Miami more pedestrian oriented and physically predictable, thoroughly altered the City’s management of zoning, land use, preservation and permitting processes.

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Washington, DC: 301-948-6223
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Berlin, Germany: 49 30 2693293