Case Study: Miami Overhauls its Zoning to Regulate Growth


Case Study: Miami Overhauls its Zoning to Regulate Growth

Miami is instituting a complete zoning overhaul. Dubbed Miami 21, it is the largest and most comprehensive example of form-based code (code based on physical form rather than on use) to date, and the most ambitious zoning revision in the country. If passed, it will codify the principles of smart growth, creating a legal framework for a pedestrian-oriented city that can benefit citizens and developers alike. Miami’s experience provides an example of writing form-based code on an unprecedented scale, of the benefits of comprehensive rezoning, and of the importance of gaining public support through aggressive outreach and marketing.

Miami is an international center of trade, business, finance, and entertainment, and home to one of the largest urbanized areas in the country. The city is also growing quickly: the U.S. Census Bureau estimates 11.5 percent population growth between 2001 and 2006. This combination of wealth and rapid growth over the last decade has fueled the the largest development boom in the city’s history. Only in the wake of the recession has development slowed.

Current Context

Miami’s current land-use code, a traditional “Euclidian” model last revised in 1991, has proved insufficient in managing the degree of growth the city has experienced. Its antiquated parking requirements and inflexible separation between the places where people live, work, and shop encourage automobile dependent communities, traffic congestion, and urban and suburban sprawl. Under the code, mixed-use development projects require special amendments and the creation of Special Districts, which are unable to keep pace with rapid development. In addition, the code allows only consideration of the designated use of a development proposal, rather than factors such as neighborhood character or walkability.

Adoption of Form-Based Code

Miami pursued a form-based code in order to establish zoning based less on how land will be used, and more on the physical form—the look and feel—of development. Emphasizing the relationships of buildings to the streets, to open space, and to each other, form-based code is imagined as a physical blueprint for how the urban landscape will look, and as the context into which all development will fit. Miami valued this variety of code because it believed that it is best oriented to pedestrians, providing for neighborhood centers within walking distance of all suburban zones. The code would enforce smart growth by concentrating development along transportation corridors, neighborhood centers, and urban cores. It would also ensure that there is more of a 'transition feel' among development zones. The code is also much easier to comprehend than traditional, amendment-heavy models, allowing for greater public input its crafting and perhaps making compliance easier. The new code would also provide a predictable physical result, easing concerns about density, infill development, and changes in the character or livability of a neighborhood.

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