New and Worth Reading: a Friendly Critique of Form-Based Codes

MLewyn's picture

Nicole Garnett of Notre Dame Law School is publishing a sympathetic critique of form-based codes (available here, soon to be published in Brooklyn Law Review).  She supports the aims of form-based codes, but wonders whether they would be more appropriate as voluntary codes than as citywide zoning overlays. She has three concerns.

First, she worries that the architectural detail required by form-based codes adds to building costs, especially where these codes are overlays to existing zoning rather than replacements of existing zoning.  (The obvious remedy to this problem is to make up for the costs of more expensive materials by removing other costly regulations- but I realize this might not always be politically possible).

Second, she wonders whether the transect is universally applicable to American cities where density is not always significantly greater in the core than in the periphery (e.g. Los Angeles).  In theory, this problem doesn't seem to me to be quite as serious as the problem of cost.  Not every area needs to include all of the transect zones; for example, a suburban single-family area could be coded as completely T3 (suburban).

Third, she worries that form-based codes sometimes include jargon that might be hard to understand, especially for developers unfamiliar with new urbanism.  Of course, existing zoning codes are also often quite vague.


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