Support Street Life with Mixed-Use, Form-Based Zoning

Form-based zoning codes are legal regulations that direct the physical form and placement of buildings within communities. Form-based codes focus on the relationship between buildings and the streetscape, generally with the goal of creating appealing, pedestrian-oriented public spaces. In contrast, traditional zoning regulations focus on separating residential, commercial, and manufacturing uses and do not determine the exact form and location a building would take. Form-based codes typically include a regulating plan or map designating where different builtform standards apply, specifications for required streetscape elements and built-form standards, an explanation of the review process for applications and developments, and a glossary of terms.

  • Formulate an overall vision for the community through a broad-based public-input process. The vision can then be adopted into a comprehensive plan to establish local land use policies and create political momentum for code reform
  • Examine existing codes to see where they fail to guide development toward the established community vision
  • Determine whether form-based codes are the best approach to meeting the community vision, again through a broad-based public input process
  • Write the code with regular revisions and reviews through a public-participation process
  • Confirm that the code is constitutional in its language and application, especially relating to the primary legal considerations of property rights, due process, equal protection, and free speech (relating to adult uses)
  • Creates quality, human-scaled built forms and public space
  • Makes the code easier to discuss, judge, and enforce because descriptions and visuals of built-form regulations are more accessible to non-planners
  • Easily matches and maintains existing neighborhood character
  • Replaces single-use areas with mixed-use zones
  • Since form-based codes are binding laws, a community can be financially liable for litigious disputes
  • Form-based code includes technical terms that are subject to legal interpretation and need to be defined in a glossary
Where to Use It
  • Historic districts
  • Transit-oriented developments
  • Main Street corridors
  • Revitalization districts
  • Downtown areas
  • Commercial centers in existing neighborhoods
  • New developments
  • Campus developments
  • Mixed-use districts
Professional Consensus
  • The American Planning Association gave its 2011 National Planning Excellence Award to the Miami21 form-based code

Many U.S. neighborhoods, cities, and counties have adopted form-based codes, including:

This material is the product of a partnership between America Walks and Sam Schwartz Engineering. Visit here for more information on the partnership.