Form-Based Codes Institute

The Form-Based Codes Institute, a program of Smart Growth America, is committed to the development and implementation of form-based codes.  Subject Matter Experts serve on our Steering Committee and Resource Council and advance zoning reform by providing world-class Form-Based Codes education, reviewing, drafting, and adopting of Form-Based Codes, and providing world-class technical assistance to communities interested in or in the process of adopting FBCs.

What is a Form-based Code?

Form-based codes (FBC) are a land development regulation that fosters predictable built results and a walkable public realm by using physical form—rather than separation of uses—as the primary basis and focus for the code and standards. Communities can apply form-based codes in different contexts and scales. Form-based codes are legally-binding regulations, not optional guides, and offer municipalities an alternative to conventional zoning for shaping development. FBC primarily differs from Traditional Zoning in how uses and the form of the built environment are considered; traditional zoning is defined by the separation of uses which has led to auto-dependant development patterns, whereas FBC focuses on the form and shape of the built environment and focuses on creating mixed-use, people-oriented development patterns.

FBC Standards of Practice

There have been many codes adopted that include some elements of Form-Based Codes, but, to be truly considered a Form-based Code, the following elements must all be included in the code (while this is a lengthy list, a true FBC has all of these elements):

  1. A DETAILED PHYSICAL PLAN AND CLEAR VISION, which has been developed and adopted through an inclusive community engagement process.
  2. A STATEMENT OF INTENT AND PURPOSE, which ties the code to the vision or plan and sets parameters for development of and a framework for waivers and exceptions.
  3. BUILDING FORM STANDARDS with specific requirements for building placement and building frontages that will shape public spaces.
  4. A REGULATING PLAN that establishes a specific set of standards for each zone shown on a regulating plan.
  5. CLEAR AND OBJECTIVE STANDARDS with limited or no discretionary review.
  6. PEDESTRIAN SCALE THOROUGHFARE STANDARDS that promote and/or conserve an interconnected street network and pedestrian-scaled blocks.
  7. PREDICTABLE PHYSICAL OUTCOMES, which are determined by standards and parameters for physical form–build-to lines, frontage type requirements, and open space features–rather than standards with highly unpredictable physical outcomes–floor area ratio and density­­–which result in a high-quality urban form and public realm, while still allowing for variety in the size and shape of urban spaces and the design of buildings.
  8. COMMON-USE LANGUAGE, GRAPHICS, AND DIAGRAMS, which are unambiguous, clearly labeled, and accurate in their presentation of spatial configurations and relationships.
  9. DIVERSITY OF USES AND HOUSING TYPES incorporating standards that encourage this diversity

FBCI’s Mission

We believe that the streets of our cities and towns must allow all people, regardless of age, ability, income, race, or ethnicity, to safely, comfortably, and conveniently access homes, employment centers, schools, shops, health facilities, and other destinations by foot, bicycle, public transportation, car, or truck. The mission of the FBCI is to advance zoning reform through the use of form-based codes that empower communities to achieve their vision of livable places, healthy people, and shared prosperity. We develop standards for form-based codes.

A cadre of experts continually reviews and writes codes, gathering an enormous body of knowledge and expertise that puts us among the world’s leading experts on form-based codes (to learn more about these experts navigate to the Steering Committee and Resource Council. We advance the field by educating the community about what is a FBC, showcasing the best versions of FBCs, and working with communities to adopt and advocate for FBCs via our technical assistance programming.

FBCI’s Work

Our world-class instructors (professional architects and planners, engineers, elected officials, and citizen volunteers engaged in planning for their communities) educate interested parties about Form-Based Codes while also serving as sounding boards for questions about FBCs. We continue developing new educational approaches and techniques to further spread knowledge of form-based codes.

Learn more about our classes