Avoiding Common Form-Based Code Mistakes, Part 1

Zoning Practice — May 2013

By Daniel Parolek


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Most cities have a broken zoning system that is not delivering the type of development they want or need to be able to respond to shifting market demands for walkable urban places or other trends that will enable them to compete as 21st century cities or regions.

There are two fundamental problems with Euclidean zoning: (1) separating uses and limiting density has led to excessive land consumption; and (2) proscriptive development standards have proven ineffective in protecting traditional urban neighborhoods from incompatible development. Consequently, it's no surprise that a growing number of communities have expressed interest in the formbased code (FBC) as a potential solution to the problems posed by conventional, Euclidean, zoning.

This issue of Zoning Practice tackles some common misconceptions about form-based coding and highlights some common mistakes communities have made when trying to harmonize form-based coding concepts with existing regulations.


Page Count
Date Published
May 1, 2013
Adobe PDF
American Planning Association

About the Author

Daniel Parolek
Daniel Parolek is an urban designer and architect, author, who was voted one of the "Top 100 Urbanists: Past and Present" in 2023. He is the founding principal of Opticos Design, a B Corporation focused on equitable urban placemaking, innovative housing design and policy, and zoning reform for walkable urbanism. Daniel and his work have been featured in many high-profile publications including The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Next City, Fast Company, The Wall Street Journal, and Curbed. Daniel has championed the Missing Middle Housing movement, launched missingmiddlehousing.com, and wrote the book “Missing Middle Housing: Thinking Big and Building Small to Respond to Today’s Housing Crisis.” As a thought leader in zoning reform efforts to remove barriers for walkable urbanism, Daniel co-authored the book “Form-Based Codes: A Guide for Planners, Urban Designers, Municipalities, and Developers,” with Karen Parolek and Paul C. Crawford (named one of Planetizen’s best books in 2009), and co-founded the non-profit think tank, the Form-Based Code Institute. His innovative work is diverse across public and private sector clients and includes the master plan, building type design, and architecture for Culdesac Tempe, which will be the largest car-free community in the country when complete, the country’s first Missing Middle Neighborhood in the Omaha, NE metro, which is redefining Class A multifamily, a downtown form-based code for Mesa, AZ that has delivered over $500 million in private sector investment in downtown, and a sustainable growth strategy for Libreville, the capital city of Gabon, Africa. Daniel is a frequent presenter and recently served as a board member of Transform. He has a Bachelor of Architecture from the University of Notre Dame and a Master of Urban Design from the University of California at Berkeley. Daniel is inspired by international travel, especially in Italy. The seeds of his passion for walkable urban places started while he was growing up in the small town of Columbus, Nebraska.