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Codifying New Urbanism

By Buck Abbey, ASLA, LASN associate editor for ordinances






New Westminster, Burnaby and Vancouver, B.C. are three Canadian municipalities cooperating on the Greenway. Civic space, composed of parks, greens, squares, plazas, playgrounds, walkable/bike-ridable streets and interconnected neighborhoods are essential landscape aspects of new urbanism that all landscape architects might embrace.


Landscape Standards

One of the really great things about new urbanism is the zoning philosophy provides additional design standards for landscape architects. In a field where design is often "as you want it," it is wonderful to have specific standards that many can agree to as a theoretical basis for landscape architecture design.

In the years following the creation of Seaside, Florida in 1981 (see the March 2007 column), many books, columns and articles have been published about new urbanism and its essential definition.

New urbanism stresses community design and comprehensive planning from the regional scale to the disposition of the downtown lot. New urbanism principles seek to promote social togetherness, urban livability, reinvestment in the city center and the abatement of urban sprawl. It also seeks to decrease separation of land uses based upon race, income, automobile usage and environmental deterioration--all symptoms of poor land use planning.

New urbanism zoning is based upon the SmartCode. This code displays zoning in section view called the Transect. Design tables are part of this code and set standards for architectural, landscape and environmental design. This form-based zoning method places emphasis on the design of the region, city and town as well as the neighborhood, district, corridor and street. The block, the building and pedestrianism rather than "carism" are other central concerns of new urbanism. Natural areas, rural production areas and civic space are three important focus points of this approach to urban design. Compact, mixed-use neighborhoods are fundamental. Civic space, composed of parks, greens, squares, plazas, playgrounds, walkable streets, interconnected neighborhoods are essential landscape aspects of new urbanism that all landscape architects might embrace.

The new urbanism seeks to promote social togetherness and reinvestment in the city center. It also wants to decrease separation based upon race, income and environmental deterioration, all symptoms of zoning by use. Form-based zoning principles in the SmartCode places emphasis on the design of the region, city and town as well as the neighborhood, district, corridor and street. The block, the building and pedestrianism rather than carism are other central concerns of transect based zoning. But how do landscape architects understand new urbanism and make use of the special design standards contained within the realm of new urbanism?






The downtown development design for Columbia, Md. In 2001, Maryland adopted a statewide model to allow local communities to revise their land development regulations to include New Urbanism. This model code creating smart neighborhoods is voluntary (visit mpd.state.md.us/sgresources.htm)
Credit: Design Collective, Inc.


The Reference Guide to New Urbanism Zoning

A wonderful resource has been published by the American Planning Association. Codifying New Urbanism is a reference guide to drafting new urbanist zoning codes. The guide contains useful information that can assist communities in drafting new code language for new urbanist land development regulations. This document, published with the support of the Congress for the New Urbanism, consists of notes on regulatory reform, recommended code drafting principles and case studies of communities in which new urbanism form-based zoning has been worked into local development codes.

In addition, codifying includes information on the SmartCode, and the Charter of the New Urbanism, both used to set new urbanist regulatory objectives (see "SmartCode," LASN, April 2007). Finally, this document provides a Summary Table of New Urbanist Land Development Regulations that can act as a code roadmap to new urbanism development around the nation.

New Urbanism Case Studies

Perhaps the most important part of this well-researched document is the careful analysis of some of the community codes from around the country that embrace the urban design principles of new urbanism. This selected palette of new urbanist communities illustrates how communities can adjust, adapt or revise their community codes to allow this innovative form of zoning. Lets look at a few samples.

Maryland

This is a statewide model code adopted in 2001 too allow local communities to revise their land development regulations to include new urbanist developments. Some states require legislation to allow local communities to make changes to zoning. This model code creating smart neighborhoods is voluntary and can found at www.mpd.state.md.us/sgresources.htm

Atlanta, Georgia

Atlanta has an infill ordinance that creates four new mixed-use zoning districts. Each district sets forth the relationship between building, streetscape, parking and other urban street elements.

Belmont, North Carolina

The SmartCode was used to create a traditional neighborhood development district that sets forth design standards for public and civic space, as well as shop fronts along walkable streetscapes.

Gainsville, Fla.

The Gainsville land development code has been revised to allow new urbanist overlay zoning to effect changes to underlying traditional zoning requirements.

Gresham, Oregon

The development code in this community has been revised to allow transit, mixed use and pedestrian-oriented development.

Pasadena, Calif.

New regulations specific to multifamily buildings and open space created around new urbanist thinking builds upon local California building and landscape traditions.

Skaneateles, New York

New urbanists theory was worked into the community code to allow for redevelopment of existing urban village center.

Sonoma, California

Sonoma completely overhauled its land development regulations to incorporate new urbanist principles and guidelines for streetscape, block structure and mixed-use districts.

As you can see from these examples, New Urbanism is rapidly finding its way into local codes and standards. Landscape architects would be well advised to look carefully into the principles of New Urbanism to determine how the principles of landscape architecture design and our understanding of natures systems within the city can help build better new urbanist inspired communities.

Communities around the country, practicing landscape architect and students should study the structure, content, and technical information set out in Codifying New Urbanism.






D.G. "Buck" Abbey, Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture at Louisiana State University, is LASN's Associate Editor for Ordinances.




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October 15, 2019, 5:30 am PDT

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