“Form-based zoning” is something that I’ve never entirely understood. It’s always explained to me as regulating form not use, and generally the example given is that form-based zoning will require certain design aesthetics but not dictate whether something is used as a residence or a place of business or whatever. And instead of setbacks, FAR requirements, etc., it will dictate overall size (I guess with a height limit?). But while it seems marginally more pleasant to mandate parking lots go behind buildings, it doesn’t seem to me like zoning by “form” is inherently better than the status quo American planning tools. A planner can use a Euclidean designation to accomodate high-density development just as easily as he can use a form-based code to force suburbia on an area. In other words, the devil’s in the details, and just moving to a form-based code doesn’t really change anything if you don’t also allow for more growth overall
After reading this paper (abridged ungated version as a .pdf here) on parking in Miami’s new form-based code – “Miami 21,” implemented in 2009 – I fear that I was right, and that form-based codes will probably end up looking just like the old ones:
In general, there are minimal parking requirement changes in the Miami 21 form-based code. Lower minimum requirements or the establishment of appropriate parking maximums in existing, compact urban neighborhoods would protect the existing character of these areas and encourage the development of context-sensitive development that promotes walkability. Yet the proposed parking requirements in the Miami 21 form-based code still include relatively high minimums, even in the more urban transects
This is partially a critique of DPZ’s SmartCode, which does not reduce parking requirements signi?cantly even in the more urban transects. Considering the level of public transportation service in its urban core and the rapid construction of multiple high-rises in its downtown, parking requirements in at least the urban core (T6) transect for Miami could be lower. In particular, fewer parking spaces in the urban core would support market-level parking pricing, public transportation, and walking. This requirement would reduce greenhouse gases, air pollution, and the urban degradation that results from parking lots creating characterless voids and increasing automobile use, which deteriorates urban street life
The Miami 21 “form-based code” doesn’t even actually drop the use-based zoning – commercial use is not allowed in the “suburban transect” and part of the “general urban” one. In fact, the authors found that the development patterns allowed by the new form-based code are generally pretty similar to what was allowed by the old code – they just translated it into the new “form-based” language. And whereas the old code exempted small buildings from parking minimums, Miami 21 doesn’t give any exceptions for size. It does appear to drop the parking minimums entirely for development within 1,000 feet of a rail station, but only for residential and only in the densest two zones, which, based on their names (T6-60 and T6-80), sound like only the very core of the skyscraper district.
And that DPZ SmartCode the authors mention? That’s the Duany Plater-Zyberk SmartCode, written by Andrés Duany, leader of the New Urbanism movement. The Miami 21 code has some unfortunately high minimums, but I was shocked to see that even the downtown minimums in Duany’s SmartCode are higher than the minimums that Miami had before the form-based revision. In other words, Miami’s old code was in some ways more transit- and pedestrian-friendly than the New Urbanist ideal.