Cincinnati debuts transect for developing form-based code

Cincinnati is a city and region rich in history that is often defined by its urban, or suburban, form.  When combined with the natural landscape, the built form of a community significantly helps to define who and what that community is all about.  In Cincinnati,  Jeff Raser from Architecture and Urban Design firm glaserworks is trying to champion just that by introducing and helping implement new form-based codes.

"This is about creating an approach that is about placemaking and creating more walkable places that people can use and enjoy," Raser described.  "The Cincinnati region will be well-served by form-based codes because it not only helps create the places we want to have, but also improve the places we currently feel could be better."

Raser and his team at glaserworks recently put together a Cincinnati-specific transect, commonly used in the creation of form-based codes, to help visualize the process for those living and working in the region.  The 'urban transect' is based on the transect more typically used in Biology to plot an ecosystem along a line.  The premise is the same, but instead the urban transect creates an abstract plan in elevation for which development can be modeled.

"We created the Cincinnati transect with photos and aerial images to help relate the diagram to people," said Raser.  "People can look at T-5 and say, oh that's Northside, I know what Northside is like, and can come away feeling more comfortable about what is being proposed."

Bellevue, KY is the furthest along in the region at implementing a form-based code.  Raser's team at glaserworks was selected to help develop the code which was recently completed and is now awaiting formal adoption.  Officials with the City of Cincinnati meanwhile have been traveling to Nashville, TN to see the realization of that city's form-based code and are currently on a process to create one of its own with the help of Opticos Design.

"We experienced a very good process in Bellevue where we got lots of great input from the community with a strong consensus about what they want and don't want," said Raser.  "They want to allow developers to develop walkable and dense communities, and they are comfortable with that because they see it everyday as they walk down Fairfield Avenue.  People in places like Colerain Township might be a bit of a harder sell as they might not be at the same level of understanding as those in Bellevue when it comes to creating communities like this."

The idea is a bold one for a region of more than 2 million people, three different states and a seemingly never-ending supply of diverse and unique communities, but Raser believes that with the support of the OKI Regional Council of Governments, Agenda 360 and other regional strategy plans that it can be possible to create form-based codes all over.

"Most of the people who start off opposed to form-based codes eventually realize that this approach tends to allow more densities and greater possibilities.  It shifts the focus from the mathmatical approach we currently use, to an approach designed to build great communities."

Writer: Randy A. Simes
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