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The separation of incompatible uses by zoning has been an established land regulatory tool for the past eighty years. The Standard State Zoning Enabling Act was made available to states by the U.S. Department of Commerce in 1924 to provide state governments with standardized language with which they could pass legislation that would grant governments the authority to enact zoning ordinances to promote the health, safety and welfare of the public. The United States Supreme Court held up the legality of zoning with the landmark 1926 case of Euclid v. Ambler Realty. Since that time, zoning has been the predominant land use regulation tool in the United States. After World War II, many societal and demographic changes, in combination with government policy changes, the proliferation of the automobile and technological advancements in the construction and development industries has resulted in many residual effects beyond the initial intent of Euclidean zoning. Euclidean zoning is often linked to the rapid spread of fragmented, low-density, automobile-dependent development known as urban sprawl.
The criticism of Euclidean zoning, starting with the writings of Jane Jacobs and William Whyte, has been growing since the 1950s. The basis of much of the criticism centers on the inability of Euclidean zoning to allow the mixing of land uses within the same zoning district. As a result, “traditional” patterns of development in the United States, consisting of a mix of housing types, near-by commercial uses and multi-modal thoroughfares, became nearly impossible to build under the regulations of Euclidean zoning.
Recently, trends in planning, most notably the New Urbanism movement, have renewed interest in “traditional” development patterns. To produce “neo-traditional” neighborhoods or redevelop existing urban areas, communities have turned to emerging alternatives, modifications and supplements to Euclidean zoning. Possibly the most promising of these new tools is form-based coding. This regulatory device changes the hierarchy of Euclidean zoning to emphasize form over use. Form-based codes elevate urban design within the planning profession in the belief that a more cohesive public realm can improve the quality of life of citizens.
This project examines the evolution of land use regulation in the United States and the validity of form-based codes as an alternative in areas where a community desires a finer mixing of uses and stronger public realm than Euclidean Zoning allows or promotes. Four case studies then examine the experiences of communities that are using form-based codes. Finally, the project places form-based code within the context of the dynamic planning process and applies a hypothetical form-based code to a redevelopment project in the city of Lincoln, Nebraska.