Community Development Code: Pursuing a Better Way

Over the course of the past seven years I have given much of my personal and professional time over to the idea that today’s patterns for development need to be augmented and/or changed.  The current development system delivers results that are void of authenticity, socially homogeneous, and financially unsustainable.  My personal hope has always been that the “DNA” could be genetically altered, or even over-written, in order to deliver more viable and positively impactful results.

Much of the past seven years has been spent working on an alternative zoning & entitlement tool that I call a “Community Development Code” (CDC).  The CDC is a system built for community building – more specifically, the creation of complete neighborhoods and centers that utilize successful practices of historic settlement patterns while simultaneously accounting for both nature and existing/adjacent development.

Initially, work surrounding the CDC was intended to deal with aspects of how to best address and emphasize the impacts of the following:

  • Market – The wants and needs of the market in general are subject to fluctuation based upon such things as changing market demands and real estate cycles. Accounting for these types of fluctuations isn’t commonly part of what zoning contemplates.
  • Size – The size of a given piece of property brings with it factors such as those associated with aspects of scale. Larger pieces of property require scalability factors at the level of a neighborhood, where as smaller pieces may only have to account for block and lot scale issues.
  • Time – Time will have both direct and indirect aspects of the previous two elements (market and size), but its application also has its own aspects for consideration when viewed in isolation. For instance, when applied to the absorption horizon of a piece of property, time must be addressed relative to both developer and municipal government.

Simultaneously, the aspects of use would need to be reset within a more appropriate set of parameters in order to ensure a more correctly allocated role.  Aspects associated with use are too often addressed prematurely because design of present day zoning regulations.  The misallocation of use regulation tends to be front loaded in a process without direct accountability for traits of market, size, and time – thus, it is regulated ahead of when decisions should be made relative to their impacts on the implementation process.

The CDC process is intended to account for both when and how decisions are made based on a multi-step process which allows for specifics regarding certainty to be addressed while simultaneously allowing for developer flexibility through the offering of pre-approved choice.  This is done by first identifying the type of community to be developed, followed by the allocation and assignment of development intensity at the block level, and then later assigned to the individual lots.

The process begins through the identification and calibration of a community type.  A community type is a regulatory boundary of a definable settlement (historic) pattern or neighborhood (future).  Community types vary in size, population, intensity, and mix of uses.  They are structured by pedestrian sheds, which illustrate the time it takes to walk to a meaningful destination like a school, church, or park.  Intensity of use and population varies within a single community type and across different forms of community types.

Figure 1   – Community Type Examples

Figure 1 – Community Type Examples

A number of historical settlements were analyzed to identify the “metrics” associated with a given community types in order to determine how to allocate future community types of similar fashion.  This was done by identifying the lot patterns within a community type’s blocks and the associative intensity within the blocks.  (CLICK HERE to view examples of studied historic community types.)

As block types are allocated to a community type, such factors as context, intensity, mix of uses, and collective outcomes are taken into account in order to deliver the overall results of the community type being designed and developed. The output of the individual block types will determine the overall character of the community type.

Figure 2   – Block Type Examples

Figure 2 – Block Type Examples

(CLICK HERE to view examples of studied block types.)

With the regulatory aspects of each block type comes a correlation to associative lot types.  It is at the level of the lot that the magic happens.  Lot types are an important governing factor in correlating the relationships of such elements as open space, building types, and thoroughfare (street) types.  It is the degree of intensity of the different block types that actually gets specifically implemented at the level of the lot.

The comprehensive scope of the Community Development Code generates a new means by which development practices are reconsidered in terms of their final output.  The “genetic” code (DNA) of development can be used to deliver results that are more in line with what municipalities need in order to be fiscally responsible, while also providing more opportunity for what the market desires.