“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.
R. John Anderson saysMay 15, 2011 at 10:06 pm
I agree that parking minimums are a corrosive hallucination that will eat away at performance of otherwise decent codes. It is however, easier to move a number in the minimum parking requirement than it is to move a four story building built in the wrong place on it’s lot.
I can only imagine what the sausage-making process of reforming the zoning code of Miami must have been like.
R. John Anderson
Charlie saysMay 15, 2011 at 11:12 pm
Duany came out against parking minimums in the strongest possible terms in his ‘Suburban Nation’ book in 2000, so it would be interesting to learn why the SmartCode, drafted at around that same time by DPZ, has such high minimums (or even minimums at all). DPZ is also listed as the lead consultant for Miami 21 on its website, so the parking requirements seem to reflect the influence of the SmartCode rather than a watering down of some ideal, aspirational code during the approval process.
John Massengale saysMay 16, 2011 at 11:50 am
You begin by saying “Form-based zoning” is something that I’ve never entirely understood” and then quickly demonstrate that you’re telling the truth. Wouldn’t it be good to make more of an effort to understand form based codes before being so negative about them?
Second, John Anderson is right about the political process. Political change is often incremental, and if one can get the major goals now, it’s often worth compromises in the details that can be changed later. Miami is an auto-based city where holding the line on parking would sink the entire endeavor.
Miami is a place where many legal factors have worked against making walkable places: separation of uses, placement of parking lots, large setbacks, street widths, etc. Miami now has the legally enforceable goal of being a walkable city, with a form based code that has corrected many of the restrictions in the old auto based code. You’re right that the parking minimums are too high, but if you look at how they’re accommodated in downtown Coral Gables, you’ll see an example of how improved form for parking can make a walkable place.
Andrew saysMay 16, 2011 at 1:11 pm
Good comments all around. What you’re looking at is the political reality of getting change passed in a place where many interests are comfortable with / benefit from the status quo. While certain parts of Miami 21 are lauded by New Urbanists overall, I think most of us feel like Miami 21 was at best a mixed product. So much political compromise means instead of a lean, straightforward, and simple replacement for the previous code you have a very complex re-writing of the previously enormous code.
Because of these political compromises many practicing New Urbanists feel it’s generally better to find a small area willing to really embrace a dramatic change, and within that area completely replace the previous system with one much simpler and as close to the ‘ideal’ as possible. Then let the surrounding region watch for 10 years and see that (a) the world didn’t end, and (b – hopefully) the area that adopted urbanism is outperforming the rest of the region both in economic terms and in quality of life.
In any case, the only important mistake you’re making in your post is looking at Miami 21 as the ‘New Urbanist ideal’. It isn’t. Further, be aware that within the practice of New Urbanism there is wide divergence about what kind of code would be ideal in a city – the movement incorporates people who are otherwise on the political far right and far left, and as you can imagine they tend to disagree strongly about the best ways to achieve the outcome of a vibrant, walkable, economically prosperous and environmentally sustainable city.
Most importantly know that New Urbanism is a work in progress, and as a group the Congress for the New Urbanism is one of the most open and participatory organizations I’ve ever encountered. The ideas you espouse on your blog are great, and would be much appreciated in any part of the New Urban discussion you cared to join.
David Sucher saysMay 16, 2011 at 3:19 pm
“… it seems marginally more pleasant to mandate parking lots go behind buildings,”
If you believe that then I fear you have missed the starting point of walkable cities. The location of the parking lot is the very start of urbanism. You cannot have walkable urbanism unless you understand the central importance of the location of the parking lot. Period.
Rationalitate saysMay 17, 2011 at 2:24 am
I wasn’t talking about Miami 21, I was talking about the DPZ SmartCode!
Rationalitate saysMay 17, 2011 at 2:29 am
“Legally enforceable goal of being a walkable city”? What exactly does that mean?
Eliza saysMay 17, 2011 at 3:30 pm
The lower minimums are an improvement on existing codes. It’s a matter of inching the ball forward and setting in place a framework that is easier to improve than the old framework. The heights, parking minimums, etc, can be tweaked and the uses liberalized but the overall framework is at least in the right direction and forces would be editors to consider the physical results of their changes.
Of course “better” is in the eye of the beholder. If your idea of “better” is simply deregulation then it’s easy to see this as just trading one straightjacket for another. Though arguably it is some level of deregulation. That’s probably the debate that would be worth having.
Eliza saysMay 18, 2011 at 2:23 pm
“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”
Don’t know all the details but I wonder if the CalPoly research considered shared parking and other exemptions. You may see some of the exceptions (e.g. low-income housing) as tinkering but given all the exceptions, it would take a little more analysis to figure out which has less parking at the end of the day. The model SmartCode does exempt retail under 1500 square feet from parking; too bad if that didn’t make it into Miami21; the intent at least is there. I’m sure many compromises were made and given this is the first implementation at the city scale I’m sure there is plenty of room for improvement.
Excerpts from the code respecting parking reductions (May 2010):
b. Off-street Parking dimensions and Shared Parking (mixed-use) reduction table shall be as set forth in Article 4, Table 5.
c. Required Parking for Adaptive Reuses may be reduced or exempted by Waiver for properties located in a Community Redevelopment Area, or in areas where a Parking Trust Fund has been established, or for historic sites and contributing Structureswithin designated historic districts.d. Parking reductions shall not be cumulative except in T6-36, T6-48, T6-60 and T6-80. Parking reductions shall not exceed fifty percent (50%) of the total Off-street Parking required, except for Residential components of projects within one thousand (1,000)feet of Metrorail or Metromover stations.
j. Specific areas may be set aside for Tandem Parking. Tandem Parking in all Transect Zones, except T3 and T4, shall be used only by a valet parking operator.
3.6.6 Parking Management Plan – Parking allowed off-site through a parking management plan agreement with the City of Miami Parking Authority shall be as set forth in Chapter 35 of the City Code.
a. Parking reductions for Elderly Housing.
b. Parking Reduction for Low-Income Housing