• Brownfield Redevelopment
     • Green Building Standards
     • Accessory Dwelling Units

     • Historic Preservation
     • Main Street Program

     • Alt. Energy Ordinances
     • Stormwater Management

     • Smart Growth Code Fixes
     • Form-Based Codes
     • LEED-ND
     • Transit Oriented Dev.
     • Zoning Ordinances
     • Scenario Planning

     • Agricultural Security Areas
     • Clustered Subdivisions
     • Official Map Ordinance

     • Access Management
     • Complete Streets Policy
     • Impact Fees
     • Traffic Calming
     • Walkability

Form-Based Codes

Form-Based Codes (FBC) are an alternative to traditional use-based zoning. They use the physical form as the regulating principle instead of use.

There are five main features of an FBC:

  1. regulating plan, which designates the character of an area;
  2. public space standards, specifications for sidewalks and parks;
  3. building form standards, specifications for frontage and broad use requirements;
  4. administration, application and project review process;
  5. and definitions[i].
Drawing of a neighborhood layout

A main purpose of the FBC is to create an appropriate form and scale for a corridor, neighborhood or entire municipality. FBCs are presented in both words and images which can help facilitate understanding for the developer, community members and reviewing staff.

The regulating plan is the organizing feature of the FBC. Generally using the Urban-Rural Transect theory, developed by Andres Duany, the FBC regulates by starting with the most densely populated areas and continues outward to the most rural[ii]. Using the Transect allows the FBC to create different regulations for different types of development. Instead of following traditional zoning which regulates use, this FBC is based on what the development looks like.

The process of creating an FBC requires a considerable amount of public participation. It is not uncommon to use a local storefront to encourage walk-in opinions as well as scheduled events. The advantage of public participation during the development of an FBC is increased levels of comfort with modified densities or building styles.

The integration of the FBC into a traditional zoning ordinance is possible. If the Code is to be used in a district or specific corridor, the regulations can be spliced into a larger zoning ordinance. This allows for a municipality to adopt an FBC without a complete rewrite of their zoning regulations. Flexibility in the application of the FBC allows it to be a dynamic tool. Generally, FBCs work best in more urban areas that are currently under-used, have development pressure, have a distinct character or history and where there is disinvestment. The wide range of locations where FBCs can be used is a product of how successful and adaptable the FBC is. The idea that “form follows function” has so far defined the built environment; FBCs flip this theory on its head by contending that “function follows form."


  • Actively solicits significant public opinion and participation throughout the Code development process.
  • Creates pedestrian-scale communities, promotes mixed-use development.
  • Can protect the historic character of a community without making development impossible.
  • Uses easy to follow visual regulations instead of complicated ordinance language.


  • Significant upfront costs including the drafting of the code and holding public charrettes and other meetings.
  • Gaining the buy-in from the community and developers is key to the success of a FBC and can be difficult if the Code does not represent the interests of the community.
  • Accepting that the predetermined form will not necessarily prevent development from occurring.

Practical Tips

  • Define a clear area that could benefit from a Form-Based Code.
  • Use the resources available to promote to the community the idea and benefits of a Form-Based Code.
  • Contact a consulting firm that specializes in the development of Form-Based Codes.



[i] Form-Based Codes Institute. “What Are Form-Based Codes?” Accessed 12/28/11.
[ii] Parolek, Parolek, and Crawford. Form-Based Codes: A Guide for Planners, Urban Designers, Municipalities, and Developers. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.: Hoboken, 2008.