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Zoned In: Economic Benefits & Shared Prosperity with Form-Based Codes

Measuring the impact of form-based codes to encourage smart growth

Form-based codes are widely recognized as tools to improve the character of a place, encourage physical activity, and strengthen resilience to climate change. While most people who are familiar with form-based codes believe that the places these codes regulate tend to perform better economically than those regulated by more conventional, use-based codes, evidence to support this premise has been primarily anecdotal. This study uses both quantitative analyses—trends in land values, tax revenues, rents, and demographics—as well as qualitative approaches—opinions of public and private stakeholders in the study areas—to assess whether form-based codes have a significant, positive impact on their communities’ economic performance. The research team selected four case study jurisdictions in different parts of the country to compare demographic and economic trends over a 10-year time period in neighborhoods with and without form-based codes. These comparisons were then used to determine the extent to which the form-based codes have contributed to the neighborhoods’ economic growth and stability as opposed to their conventional code counterparts.

To complement the data retrieved from CoStar, Esri Demographics, and the American Community Survey 2019 (5-year estimates) and gain a more complete picture of the impact of form-based codes in the four case study jurisdictions, the research team interviewed a set of public officials, community leaders, residents, business owners, and real estate developers in each jurisdiction. Interviewees were asked to compare two select neighborhoods with regard to the quality of the built environment, changes to the public realm, the public response to development proposals, and the perceived impact of each type of code on the economy

This report summarizes those case studies and economic data to compare conventional versus form-based code. The three biggest lessons gleaned from this review are that form-based codes:

  1. Produce better economic outcomes for everyone involved
  2. Bring positive impacts for equity and equitable development
  3. Provide a regulatory framework for good smart growth development

This report is a joint report from Smart Growth America and one of its programs, the Form-Based Codes Institute.