#12.005 FBC ChampionPosted: 1 May 2012 | Author: bcooper | Filed under: Uncategorized | Leave a comment »
“We don’t have to build faux-old neighborhoods on greenfield sites.” – RQ
Presenters continuously echoed the sentiment that Cincinnati’s diverse neighborhoods have great character on Saturday morning at the opening of the Form-Based Code (FBC) charette. The Form-Based Code is meant to maintain and enhance these characteristics and give residents a chance to create a sense of place.
Dan Porolek made it known that Cincinnati has neighborhoods that other city’s envy, “You have what they want.” Porolek is Principal of Berkeley, California based Opticos Design, the city’s consultant for the new FBC. He has worked all over the country helping cities with revising zoning code and on urban design projects.
The FBC is intended to build off of the current zoning code, which Porloek likened to trying to fit a round peg in a square hole. The current zoning code has the intentions of FBC with the language and requirements of a conventional use-based code. Instead of regulating use, Charles Graves, Director of the Department of City Planning and Buildings said “The new way is thinking about form of property, form of use, form of buildings and where they’re placed.” The use of a building can contribute to a place, but FBC places importance on the physical built environment, from facade to facade, in order to create great places.
The quote above is from Vice-Mayor Roxanne Qualls during the morning’s introduction presentation. I had the chance to speak briefly to her about FBC and its character:
Bradley Cooper: How does FBC make it easier for architects and developers to produce quality buildings and places rather than “faux-old neighborhoods on greenfield sites?”
Roxanne Qualls: FBC is a tool that allows us to create great places. It is about working with the fundamental character of the place. It takes that character and says that it is the value of that place. How do we make sure that new development is consistent with that character and not imitate necessarily? It is concerned with how we ensure the historic assets that are functional and the character are able to be preserved.
That’s the biggest threat to a lot of historic architecture. It may be historic but because of traditional zoning codes, as well as sometimes building codes, those buildings are not easily adapted to new uses or multiple uses even though originally they may have been built for multiple uses. FBC recognizes that the more flexible you can become in terms of allowing older buildings, particularly in business districts and traditional neighborhoods, to be much more reflective of a multiplicity of uses will allow them to adapt to different markets over time.
BC: What exactly is the form in Form-Based Code addressing?
RQ: Form deals with massing and with positioning, proportions in relation to street and sidewalk. You can get into architectural standards if you want to, but that’s a choice. FBC itself is much more from the perspective of urban design, what it takes when you’re looking at the space from the front facade of public or private buildings and the public right of way, which includes the sidewalk and street. FBC is primarily concerned with that realm, not what occurs behind the facade. FBC will aid the creation of a public realm and civic space that actually allows for all of the valued characteristics of walkability and mixed-use, but also in a way that is economically viable and socially lively.
BC: Are architectural standards being included in Cincinnati’s FBC?
RQ: There has been some discussion, but part of what we’ll have to do is determine whether we really want to get into that, or if it becomes more a matter on a neighborhood by neighborhood basis. I’m not too sure that the city-wide code could actually get into architectural standards because depending on the time the particular community was built the standards vary, the typologies vary. If anything what you’re trying to do is get to the basic fundamental good design of street frontages relationship to street the type of flexibility for a mix of uses creating that public realm or semi public realm that actually determines the vitality of a community.
BC: As the code becomes finalized, will different neighborhoods have the option of adopting it?
RQ: City-wide code that sets the standard, every neighborhood would have to apply and calibrate it, because of the particular characteristics of the neighborhood or vision. That’s a voluntary process, just as right now a lot of neighborhoods do adopt plans. The difference from the plans they would have traditionally adopted and this, is the process. Once it goes into place, it is not a guideline but a regulating plan, that’s a distinct difference. If you’ve gone through this process, a neighborhood charette, and you’ve pulled in participants, not only is it reflective of a community’s vision of place, it also says to any developer you build according to this. You have as of right development rights. You agree to build this way.
BC: Do you think FBC gives developers or architects more freedom, as long as they are within its constraints?
RQ: As long as they’re in those constraints, they can build. There will still be some underlying traditional zoning uses, but not a gradation of uses as we see now within retail. This is the form, the place making characteristics, massing, proportions. If you do this investment, the great news for you is that someone can’t come along and devalue your investment by building junk next to you. If you’re going to do something that is high quality you also want to have a predictable public realm so that you don’t have a package liquor store going in next to you.
BC: Will FBC make the city a more desirable place to live, and continue to bring more people back into the city to live?
RQ: There is interest in general from people across the country moving back into urban centers and Cincinnati itself has experienced it. What we know is that empty nesters, and Gen X and Gen Y, have a very strong preference for living in urban centers and in close proximity to the urban core. Because of what those traditional neighborhoods offer, our biggest challenge beyond just developing a FBC and reinforcing character and all that stuff is actually to work with public transportation agencies because another preferred lifestyle choice is that these neighborhoods are transit friendly and that people have choice in transportation options as well as housing and neighborhood options.
The new form-based code should offer guidelines, within which the built environment will perform. It says not what you look like or sound like, but how you should act, which is to say be a productive member of the built environment and enhance the character of a place. The sentiment throughout the day was that Cincinnati has some great places. The hope would be that the FBC helps invigorate development of existing buildings, streets, and other infrastructure to create greater places.
Special thanks to Roxanne Qualls.