“A town is saved, not more by the righteous men in it than by the woods and swamps that surround it.”        — Henry David Thoreau

A transect is a cut or path through part of the environment showing a range of different habitats. Biologists and ecologists use transects to study the many symbiotic elements that contribute to habitats where certain plants and animals thrive.

natural transect

Human beings also thrive in different habitats. Some people prefer urban centers and would suffer in a rural place, while others thrive in the rural or sub-urban zones. Before the automobile, American development patterns were walkable, and transects within towns and city neighborhoods revealed areas that were less urban and more urban in character. This urbanism could be analyzed as natural transects are analyzed.

To systemize the analysis and coding of traditional patterns, a prototypical American rural-to-urban transect has been divided into six Transect Zones, or T-zones, for application on zoning maps. Standards were written for the first transect-based codes, eventually to become the SmartCode, which was released in 2003 by Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company.


This zoning system replaces conventional separated-use zoning systems that have encouraged a car-dependent culture and land-consuming sprawl. The six Transect Zones instead provide the basis for real neighborhood structure, which requires walkable streets, mixed use, transportation options, and housing diversity. The T‑zones vary by the ratio and level of intensity of their natural, built, and social components. They may be coordinated to all scales of planning, from the region through the community scale down to the individual lot and building, but the new zoning itself is applied at the community (municipal) scale.

The T-zones are intended to be balanced within a neighborhood structure based on pedestrian sheds (walksheds), so that even T-3 residents may walk to different habitats, such as a main street, civic space, or agrarian land. The following table lays out the relationship of the region and community to the Transect Zones in the model SmartCode.

coverThe table to the left explains the nesting relationship of the scales of planning addressed in the SmartCode. Note that the six normative Transect Zones are not applied at the regional scale, as they are used for municipal zoning or to achieve balance in private developments.

preview | pdf





As a shorthand, New Urbanist practitioners refer to the framework of the rural-to-urban transect used in this way simply as “the Transect.” The benefits of using the Transect include

  • a common language for a new zoning paradigm
  • the ability to plug into transect-based codes and supplementary Modulescreated by different experts in the design, engineering, and environmental fields
  • successional potential for communities to evolve gracefully and sustainably over generations.

Codes and architectural pattern books based on the Transect must be calibrated for each place, to reflect local character and form. Depending on the place, there may be fewer or more T-zones determined by analysis. For example, most towns do not have a T-6 Urban Core Zone.

Although the model T-zone diagram is based on exemplary American urbanism, there have been numerous successes adapting the Transect methodology to the traditional patterns of other countries, including England, Scotland, Mexico, the Bahamas, Spain, Russia, and Romania. This is possible because nearly every town has some rural-to-urban gradient or distinctions, and code calibrators, like scientists in the field, analyze the components of the local transects to extract their DNA for coding for the future. The components include the disposition, configuration, and function of buildings, thoroughfares and civic space, which are coordinated by T-zone number to ensure “immersive environments,” i.e., human habitats with distinctive character.

Because they are based on the physical form of the built and natural environment, all transect-based codes are form-based codes. The SmartCode, released in 2003, is the pioneering transect-based model code. The most up-to-date version is available free to municipalities and planning firms and may be downloaded here.

Practitioners are also studying regional transects for use in comprehensive plans and future inter-jurisdictional planning. The Regional Sector Plans of the SmartCode are based on natural regional transects, along with infrastructure such as existing or planned rail lines and thoroughfares.

Illustrative examples of regional and community-scale transects are available for download at our Image Library.

Original document.

Nov 252015

The OCPG has come to realize that the difficulty with density and parking and other issues relating to a walkable Oxnard Boulevard in our downtown and corridor areas is that our current zoning does not allow true urban placemaking.

For instance, current Oxnard zoning in the downtown allows 39 units per acre…which means that the living units must be 3 and 4 bedrooms. We need higher density to accommodate the empty-nesters, Millennials and others who are interested in living an urban lifestyle and want singles or 1 bedroom units. Form Based codes allow a broader range of options in specific overlay areas.

Zoning in Oxnard’s residential areas will not change. Form based codes are generally applied in very specific overlay areas do not replace existing zoning.

Below is a copy of the Form Based Code section of our Resources page – click the Resources tab above to view all our great place-making and urban design links.

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.” [ ]

More on Form Based Codes from the Form-Based SmartCode website:

The SmartCode is a model, form-based unified land development ordinance designed to create walkable neighborhoods, towns and cities across the full spectrum of human settlement, from the most rural to the most urban, and incorporating a transect of character and intensity within each. The SmartCode was originally developed by Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company. It now exists as shareware and typically serves as a foundation from which it is then customized to address specific municipal goals. It can be leveraged as a tool towards both aspirational and preservationist ambitions.

[The long version:]

The SmartCode is a unified land development ordinance for planning and urban design. It folds zoning, subdivision regulations, urban design, and optional architectural standards into one compact document.

Because the SmartCode enables community vision by coding specific outcomes that are desired in particular places, it is meant to be locally customized (also known as “calibrated”) by professional planners, architects, and attorneys.

The SmartCode is not a building code. Building codes address life/safety issues such as fire and storm protection. Examples of building codes include the IBC, IRC, and ICC documents.

The SmartCode supports these outcomes: community vision, local character, conservation of open lands, transit options, and walkable and mixed-use neighborhoods. It prevents these outcomes: wasteful sprawl development, automobile-dominated streets, empty downtowns, and a hostile public realm. It allows different approaches in different areas within the community, unlike a one-size-fits-all conventional zoning code. This gives the SmartCode unusual political power, as it permits buy-in from stakeholders of diverse interests and concerns.

The SmartCode is considered a “form-based code” because it strongly addresses the physical form of building and development. Conventional zoning codes are based primarily on use and density. They have caused systemic problems over the past sixty years by separating uses, making mixed-use and walkable neighborhoods essentially illegal.

The SmartCode is also a transect-based code. A “transect” is usually seen as a continuous cross-section of natural habitats for plants and animals, ranging from shorelines to wetlands to uplands. The specific transect that the SmartCode uses is based on the human habitat, ranging from the most rural environments to the most urban environments. This transect is divided into a range of “Transect Zones,” each with its own complex character. It ensures that a community offers a full diversity of building types, thoroughfare types, and civic space types, and that each has appropriate characteristics for its location.

The six T-Zones are: T-1 Natural, T-2 Rural, T-3 Sub-Urban, T-4 General Urban, T-5 Urban Center, and T-6 Urban Core.

The Transect is a powerful tool because its standards can be coordinated across many other disciplines and documents, including ITE (transportation), and LEED (environmental performance). Thus the SmartCode integrates the design protocols of a variety of specialties, including traffic engineering, public works, town planning, architecture, landscape architecture, and ecology.

The SmartCode addresses development patterns at three scales of planning (thus it may replace a number of other documents):
> The Sector (Regional) Scale
> The Community Scale
> The Block and Building Scale

If stronger architectural guidelines are desired, a community may further adopt supplemental regulations or a pattern book.

Nov 202015

Urbanism is an old idea with new recognition about how cities worked before the auto became the dominant planning idea for the way cities have been designed since about 1945.

Here are a few links to help us understand what this new Urbanism is and how to achieve a people and place oriented city instead of car dominated cities:

A General Theory of Urbanism
by Duany et all. PDF

Urbanism Making Places for People
An urbanism oriented presentation for Ventura County  at a recent VCOG meeting by Sargent Town Planning out of LA. PDF

Charrette Events


On February 2, 2016 the Congress for the New Urbanism make the end of Charrette presentation to the Oxnard City Council at a special workshop. View the CNU presentation here.

Come to City Council chambers at 5pm for the CNU-CA presentation of the Charrette progress to date.

Images from the Pinup presentation that the CNU-CA made to the public on Monday evening.


The corner of Oxnard Boulevard and Fourth Street is currently populated with parking lots. Anchoring the corners with retail/commercial at the street level with housing above will begin to bring the Boulevard alive.


Concept for housing over retail/commercial.


CNU designers at work.


Gateway concept for the Third Street bridge.









Download Event Flyer

Downtown Oxnard Charrette by the
Congress for the New Urbanism California Chapter


Dear Oxnard Friends and Neighbors:

The Oxnard Community Planning Group is proud to team with the City of Oxnard to bring the Congress for the New Urbanism, California Chapter (CNU-CA) to Oxnard. The CNU-CA will create a Downtown and Oxnard Boulevard Vision Plan to help Oxnard become a great California City.
The CNU-CA is presenting a 5 day community based urban design process and opportunity, called a Charrette, and we invite you to participate. All residents and stakeholders are invited.
Do you wonder what New Urbanism is? Are you curious about making Oxnard a better place for all? Check out the attached English/Spanish flyer and take advantage of the free New Urbanism Film Festival on the evening of Saturday January 30th. There will be video shorts about New Urbanism and a chance to chat with the CNU-CA Charrette presenters. There are many other events over the 5 day Charrette – join us – all are welcome.

To help City and Downtown leaders take best advantage of the $6.1M settlement Oxnard recently received, our organization, the Oxnard Community Planning Group, reached out for assistance to a nationally-renowned urban design and planning association, the Congress for New Urbanism. (One of our founding members, architect Dao Doan, is also a member of CNU. According to Dao: “… the charrette is a public outreach process during which professionals will perform their design work in an open forum environment, making progress while taking in feedback and comments from the participating public. The public is welcome to visit, observe, and contribute in a positive manner that helps move the design process forward. At key times there will be presentations of ideas, concepts, and recommendations, with further feedback documented for refinement of ideas.”)

Every year, the California chapter of the CNU (CNU-CA – chooses a city to visit and convene a public design charrette, donating their world-class design and planning expertise. In recent years, the CNU has offered this remarkable gift to the cities of Newport Beach and Livingston, CA. This year, they’re coming to Oxnard.

The charrette will be comprised of CNU-CA experts (planners, architects, developers, community development professionals and others), stakeholders (public invited) who will meet over the course of 5 days to envision a mixed-use multi-story walkable downtown future for Oxnard.

The charrette process will start on Friday January 29 and culminate at the City Council meeting on Tuesday February 2, with a presentation of the findings of the charrette process. The charrette will be held at the old Social Security building just north of Plaza Park in downtown Oxnard. Entrance from Plaza Park side near the art gallery.

While the charrette will not directly make recommendations about how to spend the $6.1 million, it will bring forth information and create a vision to assist city management and the City Council to make policy to assure that this money will be spent wisely—to kickstart the best possible outcome for Oxnard.

In addition, the city will receive a detailed guiding principles document, with graphics and words that can move the city towards an Oxnard Downtown and Corridor Specific Plan.

Perhaps most important, the charrette will bring a new vision of Oxnard that will encourage investment, economic development and multi-story housing and move Oxnard’s downtown towards a thriving, successful and sustainable model of placemaking, and contemporary urban planning for Oxnard and Ventura County.

About us: The Oxnard Community Planning Group seeks to assist the city in creating and implementing a successful planning strategy and vision for Oxnard. The work of the OCPG is dedicated to championing policy that makes placemaking a guiding principle and a basis for investment, economic development and multi-story mixed-use housing in Oxnard’s downtown and along Oxnard’s main street corridors.

Please feel free to contact us for more information.

Oxnard Community Planning Group
PO Box 6838
Oxnard, CA 93031


Oxnard Community Planning Group
A Livable Oxnard visioning document

MISSION – The Oxnard Community Planning Group advocates for visionary practices in planning, design, and development that will lead to a more livable and prosperous city.

VISION – The Oxnard Community Planning Group envisions a city that grows wisely, preserves farmland and open space, drives smart economic development, welcomes vertical density, cherishes our past and boldly anticipates our future.

CORE VALUES – The Oxnard Community Planning Group believes in a city that works to meet the needs of all our residents: young, old, people with disabilities, pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists; even people who don’t go anywhere. We strive to be open-minded, welcome thoughtful discussion, and are willing to invest our time and efforts towards bringing these beliefs into being.

OCPG Core Group Members: Cathi Comras, Dao Doan, Oneita Hirata, Claudia Lozano, Steve Nash, Frank Nilsen, Aurelio Ocampo, Roger Poirier, Roy Prince, Irene Rauschenberger, George Sorkin, Lisa Toth