Sep 022015
Brilliant – Just brilliant.
If you are interested in making Oxnard a better place you MUST watch this:


Published on May 23, 2014

Jeff Speck is a city planner and urban designer who, through writing, public service, and built work, advocates internationally for smart growth and sustainable design. The Christian Science Monitor called his recent book, Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time, “timely and important, a delightful, insightful, irreverent work.”

More Jeff Speck:

How do we solve the problem of the suburbs? Urbanist Jeff Speck shows how we can free ourselves from dependence on the car — which he calls “a gas-belching, time-wasting, life-threatening prosthetic device” — by making our cities more walkable and more pleasant for more people.

Aug 252015

“We had to create a new kind of Place” 1:30

“No local tax dollars” 1:50

“We knew the City did not have the money, and that if we had to wait for the City to come up with the money – this project would never happen” 2:10

“We were able to raise money because we did not talk about this as an infrastructure project, we talked about it as a Quality of Life and Economic Development project” 2:20

The Indianapolis Cultural Trail: The Next-Gen in U.S. Protected Bike Lanes from STREETFILMS on Vimeo.

In May (2013), the Indianapolis Cultural Trail, a protected bike & pedestrian trail connecting some of Indy’s most popular cultural institutions, had it’s long-awaited public coming out with a ribbon cutting and celebration. It could be the biggest bicycling infrastructure achievement in North America and yet it’s still practically a secret. Hopefully after experiencing our Streetfilm, that will change.

As you’ll see it runs eight fantastic miles through the heart of the downtown and features beautiful stone work, green landscaping and bioswales for containing stormwater runoff. There is great signage and design with an eye for maximum safety. In many places along the trail, parking and/or a car travel lane was converted to fit the lanes in. But most importantly, the trail features ample room for both cyclists and pedestrians (most of the time in separate environments) to move about in a major city whether they are commuting, exercising, running errands or just going for a afternoon jaunt.
It’s fun and very safe and people of all ages using it. It’s the kind of thing Gil Penalosa’s 8-80 Cities organization preaches to the world.

Across the U.S. we have cities such as NYC, Chicago and San Francisco doing tremendous work installing many innovative miles of protected lanes with inexpensive materials. Although the Cultural Trail cost quite a bit, it’s nice to imagine that in the near future we’ll want to make these lanes more permanent and rideable. And for that we need not look to Europe, we can go check out Indianapolis.

Note: Please don’t miss our associated Streetfilm on Indy Mayor Greg Ballard AND a short looking more in-depth at the bioswales and storm water management system along the Cultural Trail.

Original article.

Jul 222015

In Los Angeles, MOCA is modeling how institutions with huge collections should be thinking: Move artworks into underserved communities.

Image Georges Méliès
Georges Méliès, “Le Voyage dans la Lune”: Not exactly the sort of satellite museums should launch, but related. (Georges Méliès)

Everyone should be thrilled that the Underground Museum in Los Angeles is screening 7 Fragments for George Méliès. It’s an animation installation by William Kentridge, a fantastic artist, but that’s not the reason people should be pumped—or not the only one. No, what’s so great about 7 Fragments is that it’s a Museum of Contemporary Art show—featuring an artwork from the Museum of Contemporary Art collection—that’s not on view at the Museum of Contemporary Art.

Let Carolina A. Miranda explain. In the Los Angeles Times, she details the unlikely collaboration between the Underground Museum and MOCA that has made 7 Fragments possible. MOCA is one of the most visible visual-art institutions in L.A., if not the nation. The Underground Museum, by comparison, is invisible.

“For the next three years, the Underground will feature a series of exhibitions, curated by [founder and painter, Noah] Davis, that will be drawn from MOCA’s permanent collection—placing important works of art in a largely working-class black and Latino neighborhood at the heart of Los Angeles,” Miranda writes.

There isn’t a city in the country that wouldn’t benefit from such a program: a non-museum space for showcasing museum-collection works. There isn’t a museum anywhere that couldn’t use to expand its reach and viewer base. A farm league for museum exhibitions and curators would do the entire art world some good. Experimental satellites are an idea whose time has come.

Around this time last year, Miranda was writing about the effort by L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti and other leaders to lure a museum to the city that would house the art collection of George Lucas. Several cities—namely Chicago, San Francisco, and L.A.—were locked into a downward spiral to see who would give away the most to secure Lucas’ support. Miranda wasn’t on board, namely because Lucas’ art collection sucks. Against the prevailing sentiment (or at least the mayor’s), she launched the #WhyLucasNOTinLA campaign.

Arguably, L.A. has enough museums as it is—as do many cities. Over the past two decades, the nation as a whole has undergone an extraordinary cultural building boom. As Joanna Woronkowicz, D. Carroll Joynes, and Norman Bradburn explain in Building Better Arts Facilities, most large metropolitan statistical areas have erected new facilities within recent years. During one narrow window (2000–2002), 87 percent of MSAs with a population of 2 million or more launched new cultural buildings. About one-third of small MSAs (population 500,000 or fewer) did the same, per a report by authors for the Cultural Policy Center at the University of Chicago.

The expansion of culture’s footprint from 1994 to 2008.

Not all of these projects have served cities well. For one thing, the costs for building museums, theaters, and performing-arts centers increased during the boom leading up to the collapse of the dot-com bubble. While those costs have since relaxed (more recent data aren’t available), the costs for building museums outstrips almost any other kind of building project. And in the wake of the recent recession, the construction industry as a whole is smaller, meaning construction costs in the U.S. are rising.

A jump in the costs for cultural construction projects in the U.S. (University of Chicago)

But there’s an argument to be made for launching satellites instead of adding expansions no matter what the cost of construction is, especially with regard to contemporary art. Any museum you care to name has more artworks than it can ever show and a challenge in reaching various communities—any museum.

The answer is right there: Take the artworks out of storage and put them into those communities.

While it might sound obvious in an era that has seen restaurants have to seriously compete with food trucks (and even launch their own), museums haven’t quite learned to see past the brick and mortar. The Museum of Modern Art boasts some 200,000 works of art in its collection, but instead of reaching further into New York City—the way it did when it absorbed MoMA P.S.1 in Queens in 2000—the museum is betting hard on its tourist-trap mall location in Midtown.

For most museums, the situation is even bleaker, since most of them can’t claim a P.S.1 of their own. Fortunately, the Underground Museum and MOCA in L.A. have shown the way: Hungry curator, disused space, underserved community, untapped artwork. There is no major city where this won’t work. There is no museum that can’t make bread with this recipe.

Original Article.

Jul 182015

Cities are greatly in need of slimming down their roads, says architect Michael Bohn. A recent project in Long Beach, California shows how curb extensions and street furniture can have a huge impact on the economics of downtowns.

Humans are not the only ones needing a diet these days. More and more cities are putting their streets on a diet – reducing vehicle lanes to add pedestrian space and calm traffic. New York City’s recent success in closing an entire section of Times Square to traffic is the most famous example. But the real news is how quickly and effectively it can happen even on a fairly small scale in any city or town.

The other news is that, besides the benefits road diets give to pedestrians and business that thrive on foot traffic, in some cases even traffic congestion is – surprise – improved as well.
Photo: People seated at cafe tables on the new bulbouts.

Long Beach, California is implementing a series of road diets that prove just how well they can work. Among these is a project unveiled in late 2009 at First Street and Linden Avenue in the East Village Arts District. Studio One Eleven, my firm, worked with the city to design curb extensions at this intersection. These “bulb-out” extensions of the sidewalk reduce the curb-to-curb distance – originally over 50 feet – between 40 and 60 percent, significantly lowering the exposure pedestrians face with vehicles, bringing them out past the obstructions of parked cars, street trees and street furniture. The narrower right of way on First Street has also calmed traffic, adding to pedestrian and bicycle safety and giving businesses better visibility.

Today, these bulb-outs are fully integrated into the street infrastructure, but a prototype plan was able to test the idea temporarily, turning the experiment into a community event. The city placed large, potted plants in the street to define the pedestrian zone. An adjacent restaurant expanded its outdoor seating into this new area of the “sidewalk” (at this point it was actually still part of the street). And an information kiosk was installed to explain the concept of the curb extensions.

Illustration: the curb cut designs.

It is taken for granted among some planners that enhancing pedestrian mobility can also enhance business activity, but the results in this case were dramatic: The restaurant achieved the highest receipt sales in its 10-year history.

The new, permanent curb extensions at First Street and Linden Avenue expand the pedestrian realm over 3,000 square feet, the size of two average coffee shops or a medium-sized restaurant. Besides outdoor dining, there is now room for landscaping (using drought-tolerant plants), street furniture such as benches, sidewalk paving patterns, and trash receptacles. Businesses use the expanded sidewalk for additional bike racks and outdoor sales displays. The extra space has cleared existing sidewalk area for thorough movement while expanding and making prominent the outdoor activity at these businesses.

This human-scaled design is perhaps the most important advantage of a well-planned road diet: The First and Linden curb extensions have contributed to the increased vitality of Long Beach’s East Village Arts District, with business owners, customers and local residents enjoying a sense of place that harmonizes with the energetic vibe of retail and community destinations. More than ever, the neighborhood is a civilized place where pedestrians and bicyclists are easy to spot, coffee drinkers can people watch, and shoppers are inclined to linger.

But what about the ability of curb extensions to actually facilitate traffic flow? It seems counter-intuitive, as bulb-outs purposefully slow down cars and often eliminate right-turn lanes. Those who advocate traffic diets believe it is more important for pedestrians to cross safely than for cars to get through an intersection. However, the shorter distance that results from curb extensions on each side of a street means the average pedestrian spends at least four seconds less time when crossing the street (based on the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices average walking speed of 4 feet per second). The irony is that the reduced time necessary for walkers to cross the street can provide more time for cars to pass, partially compensating for the loss of a right-turn lane. In other words, everybody wins: Cars get maintained traffic flow and pedestrians get safer crossings.

Other road diet plans also carry this double benefit. For example, car lanes can be reduced without necessarily reducing the number of cars they move. To maximize traffic capacity, engineers typically fit as many automobile lanes as possible, leaving a relatively narrow border on each side for sidewalks and (in some cases) on-street parking. This sometimes results in an even number of lanes, eliminating a dedicated left-turn lane. This means there must be restrictions placed on left-turn movement, as the left-most lane must do double duty as a left-turn lane and a throughway lane. Because the shared lane is obstructed whenever a left-turning car is waiting for an opening to cross traffic, left turns are often limited to non-peak hours.

When a road diet is applied to a road with at least four lanes overall, it often removes one lane in each direction. The space made available by eliminating these two lanes can be used for creating a dedicated left-turn lane, as well as sidewalks, parkways, bike lanes, or a dedicated right-turn lane. Surprisingly, eliminating one through-lane in each direction does not result in a proportional loss of car-carrying capacity, and the addition of a dedicated left-turn lane (and sometimes a dedicated right-turn lane as well) helps reduce congestion. Adding turn lanes in this manner can also decrease accidents, because it results in fewer lane changes and better visibility for on-coming traffic. All of these benefits are useful in explaining road diets to skeptical traffic engineers, or reluctant business or community members.

My firm is working with Long Beach to add curb extensions and other road diets throughout the city. These include narrowing streets adding curbside parking and bike lanes, and creating protected bike roadways between car parking and the sidewalk.

The addition of curbside parking is important particularly in parking-impacted areas. At a cost of $8-12k per stall when a new surface parking lot is built, curbside parking is almost a freebie. For example, another Long Beach road-diet project (on Livingston Drive) will add 32 parking stalls in a mid-density residential neighborhood, with the only cost for these stalls being paint to restripe the street. From a retail perspective having curbside parking in front of a shop can increase retail sales by thousands of dollars while at the same time serve as a buffer to pedestrians using the sidewalk from moving vehicles.

Many of these changes are the result of Long Beach’s Livable Community agenda, which enjoys broad support from Long Beach’s City Council and is a top priority for its city manager. In 2009 the city hired Mobility Coordinator Charlie Gandy – a nationally prominent bicycling proponent – to implement many of these plans.

According to Streetsblog Los Angeles, which closely follows pedestrian, public transit, bicycle and related issues, the city is concerned about the health of its residents, and for the environment. “But this is also an economic-development strategy,” says writer Joe Linton. “If Long Beach is to attract and retain companies and workers, then it needs to be able to compete. The city has decided that livability will make it competitive.”

In the instance of the First Street and Linden Avenue curb-extensions and the other road diets underway, that strategy is successful.

Original article.

Images of the Future of Oxnard Boulevard and Downtown


The following images are of a potential future Oxnard Boulevard – a future with infill, multi-story, mixed-use buildings with housing and retail at the street level along designated parts of our main street. The Oxnard Community Planning Group strongly believes that with a Complete Streets and moderate, appropriate density policy our main street and downtown will thrive. These ideas are shared by many in our community.

These images are pre-charrette and thus show a street configuration that has changed in view but not in intent. The post charrette configuration is curb-side parking on both sides and both a slow and fast lane in each direction with a median for left turns. The current tank barrier medians and other raised medians are suggested to be removed.

We are interested in your thoughts, ideas and suggestions regarding what you see below. Send us an email using the contact button above – or complete the questionnaire by clicking the Community Input tab.

The image above is looking south-east at the intersection of Oxnard Blvd and 5th. Notice that our proposals respect our landmark buildings and businesses by keeping them in our vision. There are curb extensions at each corner making it a shorter walk across the street, and the curb extensions allow for public transportation to be out of the traffic lane. The curb extensions support on street parking. Look for the left arrow/right arrow with the vertical bar and click and drag the vertical bar to see the before and after versions.

You are now looking north along Oxnard Boulevard. With wider sidewalks and canopy trees adding to the ambiance. On street activities will generate more business for local stores. The protected bike lanes are also good for business. Look for the left arrow/right arrow with the vertical bar and click and drag the vertical bar to see the before and after versions.

Here you are looking north along Oxnard Boulevard at 7th Street towards the Asahi Market. Wider sidewalks, canopy trees and curb extensions slow and calm traffic allowing the ambiance and street activities that will generate more business for local stores. Look for the left arrow/right arrow with the vertical bar and click and drag the vertical bar to see the before and after versions.

Oxnard Boulevard showing the protected bike lanes and the center divider creating a left turn lane to be used during non heavy use times. Look for the left arrow/right arrow with the vertical bar and click and drag the vertical bar to see the before and after versions.

Jul 082015

The Ventura County Civic Alliance has created a guiding principals document for livable communities and place making in our communities:

“It is said if you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.  And for much of the last century, southern California’s growth was scattershot with too little thought given to the big picture.

Even in our beautiful Ventura County, we live daily with results of this short-sighted approach: traffic congestion; a disjointed regional transportation system; a dearth of affordable homes for working families; and excessive wear and tear on our environment.

The Ventura County Civic Alliance and its Livable Communities Working Group believe we can do better and, in fact, already are building communities that enhance – instead of degrade – the quality of our environment and our quality of life.

Founded in 2001, the Alliance advocates for a more sustainable approach to development in Ventura County.  It adopted a nationally respected set of principles. These include promoting a range of housing choices; walkable, close-knit neighborhoods; repurposing of historic buildings; preservation of open space, farmland and critical environmental areas and a variety of transportation options.

Called the 10 Tenets of Livable Communities, these are not lofty, academic theories but sound practical strategies to serve as planning guidelines.

How do we know that?  This booklet will show you projects that follow these tenets – already built or approved – in every city of Ventura County.”

Download the booklet.

Ventura County Civic Alliance Livable Communities page.

Jun 282015


Vehicle Miles Traveled in California has been on the decline for a couple of years. Changes in how the state manages transportation changes promise to drive it even lower. Photo: ## Traffic##


Ding, dong…LOS is dead.

At least as far as the state of California is concerned.

Level of Service (LOS) has been the standard by which the state measures the transportation impacts of major developments and changes to roads. Level of Service is basically a measurement of how many cars can be pushed through an intersection in a given time. If a project reduced a road’s Level of Service it was considered bad — no matter how many other benefits the project might create.

Now, thanks to legislation passed last year and a yearlong effort by the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research (OPR), California will no longer consider “bad” LOS a problem that needs fixing under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) . This won’t just lead to good projects being approved more quickly and easily, but also to better mitigation measures for transportation impacts.

Late yesterday, OPR released a draft of its revised guidelines [PDF], proposing to substitute Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) for LOS.

In short, instead of measuring whether or not a project makes it less convenient to drive, it will now measure whether or not a project contributes to other state goals, like reducing greenhouse gas emissions, developing multimodal transportation, preserving open spaces, and promoting diverse land uses and infill development.

“This is exciting,” said Jeffrey Tumlin, principal and director of strategy at Nelson\Nygaard. “Changing from LOS to VMT does away with a  contradiction that applicants currently face under CEQA. The contradiction between the state’s greenhouse gas reduction requirements and the transportation analysis requirements is no more.”

This revision in state law promises many positive changes.

The most obvious one is that sponsors of projects that aim to reduce car dependency will no longer have to spend time and money measuring their potential to delay cars. VMT is easier and faster to estimate, and it produces a measure of a project’s effect on overall travel, rather than just focusing on delay caused to cars at certain intersections.

In an extreme example of LOS wreaking havoc, a lawsuit in 2009 forced San Francisco to spend more money studying the traffic impacts of its bike plan than it will take to completely implement it.

Such a study will no longer be necessary.

But perhaps a larger change will be what kind of development the law now encourages. When the state measured transportation impacts of a project based on car delay, it was fighting against its own environmental goals. Using LOS, it was easier and cheaper to build projects in outlying areas where individual intersections would show less delay resulting from new development. At the same time it was much harder and more expensive to build in dense areas where there was already a lot of traffic, and where measured LOS impacts would require expensive mitigations or reduced project size — but also where higher density would make transit, walking, and bicycling more viable transportation choices.

Now, projects that are shown to decrease vehicle miles traveled — for example, bike lanes or pedestrian paths, or  a grocery store that allows local residents to travel shorter distances to shop — may be automatically considered to have a “less than significant” impact under CEQA.

Another change will come in how developments mitigate their transportation impacts. In many urban areas, under LOS analysis the only way a development could lessen its impact would be to slim the sidewalk and widen the roadway. This was particularly frustrating along major bus routes or near rail transit stations, or anywhere bicyclists wanted to travel safely.

Under the new rules, the hypothetical development would instead be able to mitigate transportation impacts by funding better transit, creating better access to transit, building better pedestrian facilities, or a host of other improvements that would actually improve travel choices.

The change in law does not require individual cities and local governments to change the way they analyze traffic impacts for other purposes, although some cities have already been working on more creative analysis than LOS.

While the change from LOS to VMT is clearly a good one in many respects, many of the state’s most progressive transportation leaders hope this is just the first step towards more progressive transportation planning in the state. In her confirmation hearings, incoming Los Angeles Department of Transportation General Manager Seleta Reynolds argued that when projects are analyzed, they should be scored on their value in creating a stronger community by providing better housing, cleaner air, more transportation options, or something else.

Tumlin agrees. “Ultimately, what we need is a process and tool to help us imagine what a better California would look like and what we would need to move toward that vision,” he said. “Even with these improvements, CEQA can’t do that.”

The proposed guidance must still go through a formal rulemaking process, which may involve further revisions. OPR welcomes public comments on the draft. Send them by 5 p.m., October 10, to:

Original Article.

Jun 182015

Oxnard is no longer a sleepy little agricultural town – we are 200,000+ strong and growing every day.

Oxnard is the largest city in Ventura County by far, and it’s time for Oxnard to grow up – to become the World Class city it deserves to be.

It’s time for Oxnard to become the urban center of the County – leading in innovative housing & 21st century manufacturing – with a vital and flourishing downtown and Main Street.

Oxnard has a significant small-scale manufacturing and light industry sector that needs local resources including better education and housing for our residents to thrive.

Housing that is innovative, compact, multi-story, and mixed-use, with choices for all people, along the Oxnard Boulevard corridor and a walkable Main Street will go along way to shift Oxnard towards civic pride and that World Class reality.




Oxnard’s Core Downtown Corridor will become vibrant and alive places when there are more people to frequent the areas. Oxnard must increase the density of nearby residential areas to get more people Downtown. Zoning changes, to mandate moderate density, is what is needed and is the only thing that will change the current poorly frequented Downtown areas.

To get more people Downtown, Oxnard needs to change its zoning ordinances to incentivize infill housing and multi-story mixed use building in its Downtown Corridor areas.

Current Oxnard zoning incentivizes sprawl. Zoning changes along the Oxnard Blvd/ Saviers Rd Corridor will reverse this negative trend and bring building, investment and vitality back to our Downtown areas.

The major benefit and result of zoning changes will be to bring more People into core Downtown areas which will encourage small businesses like restaurants and galleries, clothing and book stores, local foods and produce, and other like small businesses catering to people that live in the area and beyond. For example nearby communities have stores that sell specialty olive oils, kitchen supplies and local produce. This will happen because zoning changes will increase property values and stimulate investment in Downtown Oxnard.

Zoning changes, in addition to benefitting Oxnard as a whole, will benefit local property owners, contractors, builders and crafts people as the money earned and spent on smaller infill projects is recycled in the local community many times over. With large-scale developers (developments), there is little incentive to do the right thing for Oxnard and where the money mostly goes out of the area, the community is saddled with long-term costs. Large scale developers, all too often – hit and run – shunting long-term costs onto the Oxnard community for many years to come.

Anyone who thinks that promoting and developing Downtown Oxnard specifically to attract tourists is seriously misguided. Tourists, pure and simple, are attracted to vibrant culturally alive places, which unfortunately Downtown Oxnard currently is not. However, once Downtown Oxnard is a thriving place that locals are attracted to and frequent – then and only then – does Downtown Oxnard have a chance of attracting tourists.


Embrace and encourage Oxnard’s cultural diversity (one successful example is Vallarta Market)

Recognize and develop Downtown Oxnard for the People of Oxnard (when we are successful the tourists will come)

Change the zoning to INCENTIVIZE building and development to create Moderate density infill housing and multi-story mixed-use in Oxnard’s Downtown Corridor areas

Make Oxnard a pedestrian and bicycle friendly Complete Streets community – People first – cars only after people (listen up traffic engineers)

Redesign/recreate the Oxnard Blvd/Saviers Rd Corridor (The Collection-101 to the Sea) into a tree lined road with wide sidewalks, separated bicycle lanes with lots of bicycle parking (because of the vibrancy created by increases in density, People will flock to pedestrian/bicycle oriented vibrancy)


Establish an Oxnard Blvd/Saviers Rd (The Collection-101 to the Sea) Design and Development District. Staff it with visionary and creative City planners and arborists – and include, from the public, artists, restauranteurs, Master Gardeners and stakeholders interested in a vibrant Oxnard.


Anyone who says “it can’t be done” or that “there is not enough money” – or whatever the negative conversation…


This is a long-term endeavor…keep the faith, stay the course.

A Facebook conversation about this can be found here:


Braving the New World of Performance-Based Zoning

“Conventional zoning is downright sinister in the ways that it forms a barrier against good urbanism.”
“The critical thing is to zone for what will create great places, rather than to zone simply for sprawl, as has been mindlessly done for decades,”

“The problem isn’t zoning per se — it’s zoning that requires all the wrong things, few of the right things, and well-intentioned, piecemeal amendments that have made an incomprehensible mess.”

Conventional zoning is an outdated barrier against good urbanism, but there’s disagreement on the best way forward.

Most people might think of zoning as the province of white-haired volunteer boards, but in an increasingly developed world, it has a larger importance. Codes that guide development are the DNA of human settlement.

The problem is that most zoning hasn’t changed with the times, for nearly a century now. It’s like having traffic rules and manufacturer regulations based on the Model T.

A short history: The landmark 1926 Supreme Court case Euclid v. Ambler Realty confirmed the authority of local governments to lay down the law on building—literally. Zoning, in legal terms, is considered part of police powers, enforcing health and safety. A hundred years ago, cities were increasingly congested and dirty places, and planners sought to spread things out and separate noxious uses; a tannery shouldn’t be next to a townhouse, and so on.

The principle of separation of uses led to the color-coded zoning maps pinned up in most town halls: residential here, commercial over there, and industrial over by the other town’s border. But the approach is pretty much entirely inappropriate for urban development—and especially infill, downtown, and transit-oriented development.

Conventional zoning is downright sinister in the ways that it forms a barrier against good urbanism.
Conventional zoning is downright sinister in the ways that it forms a barrier against good urbanism. It prohibits live-work arrangements, residential over retail, and all other manner of the mixed-use environments that are proven formulas for vitality, walkability, and convenience. Outdated and NIMBY-driven codes ban accessory dwelling units and the occupation of carriage houses and in-law apartments, as well as infill cottages—building smaller dwellings on empty portions of already-developed residential land—which would instantly increase the supply of affordable housing.

And zoning has another attribute, typical of a system long overdue for an overhaul: all kinds of loopholes and amendments, layered on like barnacles. For instance, the “approval not required” clause in Massachusetts doesn’t give the local planning board any say on development, as long as it fronts on an existing street. A coalition has tried to get reform legislation passed for years, but the homebuilders lobby has blocked a full vote (and the subject is so obscure, it’s hard to get anyone to care).

What to do, then? The 1960s and 1970s saw a fresh take with conditional zoning, special permits, and planned-unit developments. Credit New Urbanism for drawing attention to the need for new codes around the beginning of the 1990s: When neo-traditional planners went to build the equivalent of a New England town square, they found it was illegal.

In the 21st century, the most notable innovation has been the form-based code. It is less concerned with the use that goes on inside buildings and more with their appearance and the way they relate to each other and shape the streetscape in the context of a vision for a  neighborhood. The most high-profile adoption is Miami 21, but a surprising number of cities have taken the plunge, including Denver, Cincinnati, El Paso, Nashville, Fort Worth, and nearly two dozen others.

Joel Russell, executive director of the Form-Based Codes Institute—yes, there is such a thing—has said he hopes to take things to the next level by emphasizing the benefits of a code overhaul to a broader public. He is taking the campaign on the road in the coming days, to the Future of Places conference in Buenos Aires.

Some of the most out-of-the-box thinking is coming from (where else?) the Bay Area, with the adoption of “performance-based zoning.” In the city of Fremont, the city council chose a new path for a nearly 900-acre parcel anchored by a future BART station, set for massive redevelopment. Planners started with a set of goals—a certain number of jobs, a certain number of homes including affordable homes, and critically, strict standards for a low carbon footprint. However developers achieve all that is their business.

“We wanted to get away from the usual laundry list—You can do this, this is a conditional use—and instead say that, if you can achieve this, you decide about the uses,” said Noah Friedman, senior urban designer at Perkins + Will and force majeur behind the Warms Springs South Fremont Community Plan. The zoning, approved by the city council, “doesn’t tell you how to achieve the standard, just that you need to achieve that standard.”

The former Toyota plant site, a regional hub soon to be strategically accessible, is envisioned as a “workplace TOD,” including 9.6 million square feet of light industrial, research and development, office, convention, retail, entertainment, hotel and residential development. The targeted 19,390 jobs and 4,000 homes can be phased in over time.

Bring it on. Explore the frontier. Anything’s better than the mainframes we have now.
The performance-based approach is also being tested in the Atlanta region, where planners are rethinking the framework for light industrial development in a world where there just aren’t a lot of tanneries anymore. It’s a zen approach to setting down the rules: zoning without being zoning. Or call it Zoning 2.0, though like a lot of garage startups, the concept can be traced back many years. The notion of  judging development by its impact rather than its use categories can be found in the 1980 book Performance Zoning—and who doesn’t have that on their shelf?—by Lane Kendig. The concept never took off quite the way its initial backers hoped, however, with several local governments giving it a try and then abandoning it. The Fremont experiment represents a new hope as performance-based zoning gets fined-tuned and draws from the framework established by LEED, the green building standard.

Devotees of form-based codes suggest there are good things about performance-based zoning, but that it’s not the answer unto itself.

“The critical thing is to zone for what will create great places, rather than to zone simply for sprawl, as has been mindlessly done for decades,” says Russell. “The problem isn’t zoning per se—it’s zoning that requires all the wrong things, few of the right things, and well-intentioned, piecemeal amendments that have made an incomprehensible mess.”

Different views of the best way forward sure sounds like foment to me. And that may be the best sign yet that zoning is entering a new phase of disruption: a little Apple vs. Microsoft-style rivalry.

Bring it on. Explore the frontier. Anything’s better than the mainframes we have now.




Must View

“If you plan cities for cars and traffic, you get cars and traffic. If you plan for people and places, you get people and places.”

– Fred Kent, Project for Public Spaces


What’s the Big Idea?

  1. The current path cities are pursuing is not financially stable.
  2. The future for most cities will not resemble the recent past.
  3. The main determinant of future prosperity for cities will be local leaders’ ability to transform their communities.
Form Based Codes
“Why form-based codes? Because our current laws tend to separate where we live from where we work, learn, and shop, and insist on big, fast roads to connect them all. Roads that are unfriendly to pedestrians, cyclists, and transit. As a result, North Americans spend more hours in their cars than anyone on earth, and a growing number of communities are working to do something about it.” [ ]

Tactical Urbanism

City Planning

City Planning & Urban Design

These firms and consultants seem to get it right

Economic Development

  • Safer Streets – Stronger Economies
  • Fiscal Implications of Development Patterns
  • A candid talk about the future of America’s cities, towns and neighborhoods
  • Competitive Cities for jobs and growth
    “While the report takes pains to note that there is no silver bullet for urban competitiveness, it identifies some key factors and strategies that bear on itThe most competitive cities focus on higher-skill tradable industries, attracting foreign investment, creating new businesses, and growing their existing, already competitive firms (which usually has the biggest impact on job creation). They also have strong growth coalitions of elected leaders, civic officials, and the private sector. Most importantly, they have a clear strategy to exploit their competitive advantages. In Bucaramanga, Colombia, for instance, the city has used its oil revenues to invest in universities known for their research on the oil industry—in turn generating technical skills and boosting human capital. It’s this kind of creative and independent thinking that allows cities to do a lot with a limited amount of resources.”
You Think You Know About Parking?
Design Review

Human Scale Design

Transportation Engineering
  • Context Based Design and the Fate of the Arterial
    A brief and urban look at the way a street engineer can make our streets walkable. The street engineer that pulls out the code book and tells you, with various official sounding citations, that making streets only for cars is the only thing that can be done – is regressive and does not understand where cities are going. We need street engineers that understand walkability, urbanism and placemaking. The code based street engineer is a dinosaur.
  • Institute of Transportation Engineers
    Designing Walkable Urban Thoroughfares: A Context Sensitive Approach