Title page for ETD etd-05122004-113700

Type of Document Major Paper
Author Burdette, Jason Todd
Author's Email Address jaburdet@vt.edu
URN etd-05122004-113700
Title Form-Based Codes: A Cure for the Cancer Called Euclidean Zoning?
Degree Master of Urban and Regional Planning
Department Urban Affairs and Planning
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Richardson, Jesse J. Committee Chair
Katz, Peter Committee Member
  • traditional neighborhood development
  • form-based code
  • urban design
  • land use planning
  • Euclidean zoning
Date of Defense 2004-04-19
Availability unrestricted
Zoning is premised upon the segregation of land uses. Rudimentary zoning ordinances originated in New York around 1916 as a means of separating the lower class fabric markets from the upscale retailers of 5th Avenue nearby, and to reduce density. The Standard Enabling Acts of the 1920s granted governments the broad authority to enact zoning ordinances to reduce population densities in cities for the purposes of health, safety, and well being. The United States Supreme Court upheld this authority as constitutional in the landmark case of Euclid v. Ambler Realty (1926).

In the roughly eighty years since the Euclid decision, zoning has become the planning profession’s primary tool to regulate land use. While an effective policy response to issues at that time of a rapidly industrializing America, Euclidean zoning has unintentionally shaped the US landscape into a sprawling, auto-dependent society characterized by segregated communities of isolated populations.

Euclidean zoning makes it extremely difficult to mix uses. As a result, “traditional” development patterns with high-density housing, nearby commercial, and pedestrian-friendly walkways are virtually impossible to create. Many critics suggest that zoning promulgates sprawl. In short, Euclidean zoning prevents “good” urban design.

In recent years, new trends have emerged to address these problems to varying degrees of success. Form-Based Codes are one of the most recent planning innovations. With origins in the New Urbanist school of development, Form-Based Codes elevates physical design in city planning, as opposed to the “use-based” restrictions of Euclidean zoning.

This paper examines whether or not Form-Based Codes could be a viable solution to the ills associated with Euclidean zoning. Benefits and drawbacks of both Euclidean zoning and Form-Based Codes are debated, including a case study analysis, as well as a discussion of legal ramifications and future scenarios in land use planning.

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