Are there any legitimate reasons for not adopting the SmartCode?
Are there any legitimate reasons for not adopting the SmartCode?
There are several pragmatic reasons that would qualify as legitimate to some people. For example: the development field (especially financiers) isn't quite sure how to take the development pattern yet, save for a few savvy firms or individuals, and because of this, it has the potential to stifle growth. It's almost as if financing companies (banks, etc) trashed all of the records from before 1920 and wedded itself onto the concept of some form of Euclidean zoning as part of its feasibility evaluations.
There's also a large subculture in most places that have a strong investment in the status quo. In such a case, a compromise Smart Code optional/parallel code might be useful, as it would promote it, perhaps even through incentive, but not mandate it, basically allowing the development community to opt which set of development codes it wishes to follow.
If neither of these are a concern for your town, this argument becomes a moot point.
Then there are folks (including many planners) who think it's just not the optimum regulatory environment, or don't care for the development patterns it creates, for whatever reason. It also wouldn't surprise me if some states had some statutory preclusion for form based codes. Texas, perhaps strangely, does not, and our state government is notoriously anti-regulation and anti-city.
I think also that form-based zoning has not been extensively used in many places long enough for others to see what the long term results are.
Until one can see concretely that it will not result in some disasterous beast, many munis will be reticent to jump on the bandwagon.
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It may be too big of a leap for Staff to enforce and interpret it. Some cities can't get the very basics right, much less implement a code that is beyond the basics.
And who is to say that - really - this is the 'perfect' solution and is the way to go, such that everyone should jump on board in an era of staff cuts?
The problem has been FBC has been adopted up until recently in small neighborhoods or areas, not city wide. Let's see how Miami21 goes as an example of implementing the smart code.
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We are looking at a FBC for a greenfield development near town. The education process for staff, the public and for our elected officials has been fairly difficult and time consuming. I think that one of the biggest hurdles to widespread adoption of FBC is the public's perception that uses should still be separate. Until the baby boomers who mostly grew up in the 'burbs, are not the majority of homeowners, no significant shift to using and adopting FBC will happen.
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Ordinarily I'd say that cost and market product acceptance can be issues.. which is, if the effect of attaching the code at a whole town scale (as opposed to, say, a TOD, main street or subdiv scale) would be to greatly drive up psf rents, say, or otherwise influence housing (and other space) affordability or availability, you can run a risk of pricing out your own publics or harming economic development. If there's a big transition from single- to multi-family implicit in the code adoption that will definitely effect affordability... needs to be impact assessed. Even if this was not the case, you'd still need to reassure your stakeholders that it won't be.
Personally I think this might be a big issue, since smartgrowth and NU development assumptions remain largely untested at a whole-town or -city scale. Ultimately, it'll have to be empirically tested, and who wants to go first until it is... Generally, advocates point out that smartcoded development commands a rent/value premium, as a key selling point to developers. Well... that's great for a single development and a developer but at a whole-town scale that's potentially an apocalyptic disaster.
My personal view is that what most communities need is far short of the smartcode. They need increased horizontal use-mixing to cut away at older Euclidean assumptions. relaxing use restrictions, and encouraging people to live closer to the places where they work and get services. They need selective (and often opportunistic) infill densification. And they need a sustainability framework and action/adaptation plan of quantifiable performance targets, across a number of QoL- and environmentally-related resource sustainablity, economic and design dimensions to guide future, organic growth.
For example, with respect to transport, setting targets and devising strategies for reducing the average miles one drives every day to get to and from work over time can be just as effective as trying to use urban form or land-use policy to force people out of their cars into walkability or into transit modes. Less sexy but as effective. People don't need architectural and infrastructural determinism in land-use.
Last edited by Cismontane; 01 Dec 2010 at 12:15 PM.
I do agree strongly with your other sentiments about a more organic approach and less determinism in land use. FBC sometime walks a fine line between flexibility and determinism. I think the intentions are to allow for greater flexibility, at least with uses allowed, but the implementation of FBC results in conformity. I think part of the problem is that most local developers simply want to be told what the density, f.a.r. and setbacks are. When confronted with FBC, they interpret the code with the least amount of effort, and it results in something less than intended. It takes some sophistication and creative will for users of FBC to create something of great architectural and design value. You see it more in more urbanized communities where more prominent firms have a hack at doing something cool. But, for most of suburbia, this isn't the case.
Developers like these things because they can increase returns, whilst raising costs overall. If this logic stops applying (because costs norm out), they will balk.
I see tremendous value in standardizing form-based codes so that architects can design for each Transect Zone and so they can license their work in order to improve design quality around the world. The system is straightforward enough so that it seems as if it would be quite useful to efficiently re-establish rural-to-urban transects and reinstitute walkability.
Regulating the Transect at every level, and placing a minimum of three Transect Zones in each pedestrian-shed should also be easy ideas for most people to grasp. The urban areas demand more discipline, except in regards to civic buildings, from architects, but the Code gives them much more freedom in the rural and sub-urban places where the urbanisms aren't as tight. I think it's also appealing that the SmartCode is being presented as an overlay.
Considering that politicians, planners, engineers, architects, and landscape architects have turned most of the U.S. into crap over the last few decades, the SmartCode to me is a clever way for these professions to reverse all the damage as quickly and effectively as possible.
I don't know where people get some of these ideas. The SmartCode and the New Urbanism prescribes fitting a minimum of three Transect Zones within each pedestrian-shed, so this notion that these form-based codes institute a single housing typology, like condominiums and apartments in mixed-use buildings over which Linda_D continually obsesses, is patently false. And, Linda, some people are drawn to the street life and pedestrian culture of a city. Shops, restaurants, and other businesses in walkable places are amenities.
Who are you to deny others this housing option, especially when you say that, on one hand, there is no demand for these places but, on the other hand, the cost of living in them is too high. So, which is it? If there is no demand, then the prices and rents should be dropping. Shouldn't they?
Let's face it. There are significant moneyed interests that now feel threatened by the rise of the New Urbanism and smart growth, and the campaign to stop the movement is entirely predictable. I just question the reason that someone who seems so married to Joel Kotkin's ideal of homogenized suburban sprawl even participates in these discussions.
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Like ColoGI mentioned, we may not move as quickly towards more compact development until we're compelled to do so, when energy costs hits a threshold and forces us to reduces our consumption of energy and resources, and ultimately make some hard choices about our transportation and land use choices. I know most of the planners already get this--but the masses haven't got it yet. Many still make the choice to have a one hour commute to work to have cheap housing out in the burbs. And since the masses still demand this, the builders will respond accordingly and push for these types of land use patterns.
I'm not necessarily taking a Joel Kotkin apologist stance for sprawl. I am simply acknowledging the desires of most people, and general market forces. I will also admit that the tide is changing. Household demographics are changing. There's a need for a greater variety of housing stock; a greater variety of transportation choices. As a planner, I am often caught in between the desires of the community and planning ideals. Sometimes, the two overlap, and you tap into the sweet spot of providing for the community something they want, but is also good planning practice--something sustainable. Sometimes, it takes education to persuade community residents to think beyond the boundaries of their property and to consider the benefits of public amenities.
Coming right out of college, I had the city planning ideals of what was taught to me in school. It gave me somewhat of a planner-knows-best mentality. I still have some of that, but it's been modified to planner-knows-best-of-what-community-residents-want. This is why we do community outreach for our General Plans... to get their feedback. And yes, we do some education along the way, too--some persuasion here and there, some asking of critical questions to make residents confront their opposing desires and to come up with some compromising tradeoffs. Such is the grand life of a practicing planner.