Check out our bookBuy the book
Form-Based Coding is a revolutionary tool that has the power to inspire walkable neighborhoods, resilient communities, and thriving cities.
Our architects and urban designers have been at the vanguard of zoning reform for more than 20 years. We don’t write Form-Based Codes because they’re trendy, but because they’re the most effective way to regulate walkable urban places. That’s what they were designed for.
We’ve helped modern cities write FBCs from Hawaii to Texas to Gabon, Africa. We were co-founding board members of the nonprofit Form-Based Codes Institute, created to advance the understanding and use of form-based codes worldwide. We didn’t invent Form-Based Coding, but we literally wrote the book on it and have received more than two dozen awards.
We’ll assist you in laying the groundwork for a new Form-Based Code, helping to train staff, review administrative procedures and examine relationships with existing codes. We’ll help coordinate a multi-disciplinary team that can handle challenges like parking and street design, and help inform community perceptions around density. In the end, we’ll help you translate everything into a high-quality built environment.
Extracting the DNA of Place as the Foundation for Your Code
At Opticos, we believe that you have to get to know a place intimately before you can write an effective Form-Based Code. All of our codes, whether project-area or city-wide, begin with an extensive analysis process that includes photo documentation, touring, and mapping analysis. Our goal is to extract the DNA of the existing place, and to make sure the code we write reinforces its unique characteristics. The result of this analysis serves as an excellent tool for communicating with community members, stakeholders, and decision makers throughout the code-writing process. It also serves as the foundation for the new form-based zones and supplemental form standards.
Integrating Building Types and Missing Middle Housing
Not all Form-Based Codes have Building Types Standards, but they are at the core of most of our codes. We believe building types are the building blocks of great walkable urban places. This is partly because because they introduce (or re-introduce) a broader range of housing types into local development, and also because they help ensure high-quality built results.
Many building types, including Missing Middle Housing, cannot be effectively regulated by conventional zoning. These building types often have medium or high densities, which excludes them from single-family use zones, even though they are house-scale. Meanwhile, their small footprints and lower heights don’t fit the parameters or intent of existing multifamily and medium-density zones. So we’ve developed an effective way to regulate for them by including building type standards within our Form-Based Codes.
Going Hybrid: Citywide Codes
Over the course of the past 15 years of integrating Form-Based Coding into citywide code updates, we know there are right ways and wrong ways to write a hybrid code. Simply adding form-based regulations to a conventional zone won’t work. As a start, an effective hybrid combines different types of zones for different types of places: form-based zones for walkable places, and conventional zones for auto-oriented places. Then every part of the code from administration and procedures to signage needs to be carefully vetted for these different types of contexts, sometimes sharing systems and approaches and other times needing different approaches. We’ve learned from experience how to get it right.
Want help with your citywide code approach?Request a Call
Diverse Applications of Form-Based Codes
How We Can Help You Implement Form-Based Coding:
- 1Write a Form-Based Code at any scale, from corridors, downtowns, and transit-oriented development areas to single neighborhoods and complete small towns, large metropolises, and counties.
- 2Create a citywide hybrid code: Applying Form-Based Coding to walkable urban areas and refined conventional zoning to suburban areas.
- 3Provide code review and diagnoses: Graphic assessment of existing zoning and likely build out.
- 4Create a Form-Based Code bridge: Establishing a form-based framework for your comprehensive or general plan.
- 5Advise on your Form-Based Code strategy and peer-review your code
- 6Code for Missing Middle Housing
Want Some Help?
Akanda SmartCode: Coding for Sustainability in Developing Countries
Sustainable development sits at the heart of President Ali Bongo Ondimba’s vision for the future of the Central African country of Gabon. In 2012, President Ondimba commissioned The Prince’s Foundation, along with Opticos and an international team of experts, to draft an Akanda Masterplan and SmartCode with the intent to establish a sustainable framework for the growth of Akanda, a 3,000-acre site at the northern edge of Gabon’s capital, Libreville, and adjacent to Akanda National Park, a lush, natural habitat of coastal mangroves, mudflats, wetlands, and patches of verdant forest.
The Top Seven Things I Teach About Form-Based Planning and Zoning
Having taught form-based planning and zoning academically and professionally over the past ten years, there are a few key concepts I make it a point to teach to my students. In many cases, these are holes that a traditional planning education does not fill; in other cases, these items are the sum of innovations by colleagues and simply reinforce practices that have successfully made their way into the mainstream since I’ve been practicing. Here are the key messages I bring to students.
Public Draft of Austin’s CodeNEXT Land Development Code Now Live!
After intensive public outreach, diagnosis, and drafting, the City of Austin recently released the public review draft of its CodeNEXT Land Development Code. As lead consultant for the project, Opticos introduced the code to the public at a meeting of the City’s Code Advisory Group on February 1st. (Teaming partners Lisa Wise Consulting and Peter J. Park were also on hand to unveil.)