Creating places that matter

This weekend, the City of Cincinnati and the Cincinnati chapter of the Urban Land Institute (ULI) will convene the Building Valued Neighborhood Conference at the Duke Energy Center, a two-day open exploration of government, community, and development imperatives for implementing form based codes (FBCs) to develop "places that matter".

As reported in an earlier Soapbox feature story, FBCs are a unique combination of regulations that create a predictable public realm by dictating the form and scale of the built environment, as well as the relationships of buildings to the street and their surroundings.

J. Scott Golan is on the executive committee of ULI Cincinnati, whose group is working to facilitate discussion and educate stakeholders about FBCs and reports they can be a useful tool in returning Cincinnati’s historic business districts to the thriving nodes that they were built to be.

"The reason form based codes work is because they create walkable neighborhoods," he says.  "They emphasize how buildings relate to pedestrian traffic -- first-floor retail, the position of the building to the street and sidewalk.  It's a place-creating framework."

Best seen in person
In addition to sponsoring the upcoming conference, Golan and ULI representatives are part of a group of more than two dozen individuals on a FBC steering committee. "We're looking for ways to actualize opportunities and continue the conversation," he says. The group, which includes representatives from the City of Cincinnati, planners, developers, architects, and financiers have made two trips to Nashville to see the codes in action.

"It's one thing to hear about it," Golan says.  "It's quite another to see it in person."

Areas within the city of Nashville that have FBC overlay districts were readily distinguishable from those that weren't, and they made quite an impression on Golan.

"The impression on me is that it has increased awareness of the importance of zoning on development," he says.  "For example, the project in the Gulch, which is in an area roughly equivalent to Queensgate, has $100 million put into it.  It's all been driven by zoning."

The Icon in the Gulch is a 22-story, 424-unit residential tower that includes 26,000 square feet of street-level retail with most units in the Icon priced below $300,000. The project sold out within 48 hours.

"The Icon is a beautiful development, and it sold out at prices we don't see in this market," he says.  "And what's interesting about it is that the parking garage is wrapped by affordable housing."

Developers have jumped at the chance to add infill development into areas that were no longer suffocated by outdated land use constraints.

"The Gulch development was the most impressive because, literally, it was $100 million based entirely on conviction," he says.  "And the market supported that conviction."

Not just for inner cities
In South Nashville, Lenox Village, a 208-acre project comprised of approximately 1,200 residential units surrounding a commercial village square, is a more suburban yet traditionally-styled New Urbanist development.

"Its distance to downtown Nashville is approximately the same distance as Forest Park or Fairfield are from downtown Cincinnati," Golan says.  "But it's designed to be more walkable than what's typically built that far away from the city center."

Golan believes that there’s no reason that such projects can thrive in our suburban areas as well.

"It allows you to design and build at a pedestrian scale, and to develop a place that matters," he says.  "It just goes to show you that if you develop in that way, people will come, and the market will respond."

Golan also left impressed with the way the Nashville government worked together to allow new development to happen.

"The other thing that struck me was the talent and the vision of the planners in their government," he says.  "Because they have a metro government, they're able to share resources at the city and county level.  There's a lot of wisdom among those people."

The making of a magnet
Communities and buildings following FBCs are said to be magnets for talents and energy. "This is one of those subtle sounding issues that’s one of the most important that our community needs to consider," Golan says.  "It's not sexy, and it doesn't grab you.  But it's very important, and very impactful."

The City of Cincinnati is considering an update to its comprehensive plan that could include the implementation of FBCs, and neighborhoods such as College Hill, Madisonville, Pleasant Ridge and Westwood have expressed interest in having overlay districts established. Golan believes that FBC overlays will allow Cincinnati's neighborhoods to prosper, one building at a time.

"With form based codes, you don't have to tackle the whole neighborhood at once," he says.  "It opens up the market to smaller developers."

The codes also set standards that everyone is expected to abide by, meaning less risk to developers.

"Developers know what's going to happen around their properties," Golan says.  "They know that their investment will be matched because of the code.  That's so important."

The Friday afternoon portion of the conference should be of particular interest to developers.

"On Friday, we'll talk about the economic imperatives for form based codes," Golan says.  "A speaker from ULI will talk about placemaking.  The development community from Nashville will talk about how form-based codes have allowed them to make more money and have more success."

On Saturday morning, the discussion will focus on how governments and communities can nourish community character by emphasizing neighborhood spaces.

"Part of what we're trying to do is to connect neighborhoods to the development community and to the people who write and enforce the building and zoning codes," Golan says.  "We'll be bringing in a lot of people from Nashville to talk - people from (planning) and developers.  We just want to make sure that the decision makers are engaged in the process."

In addition to future education efforts, ULI Cincinnati plans to apply half of its profits from the conference to an actionable neighborhood FBC project.

"This will not be just a 'one and done'," Golan says.


To register for the Building Valued Neighborhoods Conference, visit or call (800) 321-5011.


Photography by Scott Beseler

The Quarter, Vine and 12th st

Walking traffic, Fountain Square

Icon in the Gulch courtesy of Metropolitan Nashville Planning Commission

Lenox Village courtesy of Metropolitan Nashville Planning Commission

Walking path through the flowers, Eden Park

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