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Vallejo Rising: Discover the potential of form-based code

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Welcome to the latest edition of Vallejo Rising - our ongoing series highlighting projects that are designed to reinvigorate the city of Vallejo.

"Form-based code" - For most Vallejoans these two words are not likely to evoke a visceral response. After all, city codes, while the basis for defining and often limiting the shape and future growth of cities, are usually considered the purvue of planning departments. In this posting however, we argue that there are plenty of reasons why Vallejoans should get excited about these words. The implications are at the heart of part two of the Sonoma Boulevard Specific Plan which swings into gear next week.

At these charrette sessions Vallejoans are invited to become acquainted with how these two words may permit dramatic changes to the Vallejo community. In advance of these sessions, we had some questions for the staff from Opticos Design, the folks who are facilitating these workshops. And we figured if we had these questions, most likely they would be similar to your own. So in this post and a few that will follow, we are sharing the feedback we received from Tony Perez, Opticos Design's director of form-based coding.

VCIE: "What are the main differences between form-­based code and conventional code?"

Perez: "Conventional or ‘Use-Based’ Codes originated from needing to separate harmful things from one another. Their first purpose was to protect public health. A very good purpose. However, the first codes were focused almost entirely on keeping bad things from occurring and were effectively silent on what the codes advocated or were trying to generate. Over the following century, conventional codes have become more sophisticated but still lack a system, let alone, an understanding of the built community and its realities and needs. Conventional codes cannot see the very communities they regulate because they are a tool aimed at preventing rather than generating and supporting.

In contrast, Form-­‐Based Codes (FBC) are entirely intentional about the environment and activities they are supporting or generating where none exists. This is precisely because FBC’s are organized on the principle of physical character that happens to include and accommodate ‘land use’. Because FBC’s are developed in response to the realities and needs of each community, a FBC can provide very detailed requirements for one place, say an historic center or neighborhood while providing less detailed requirements for another place in the same town, say an average neighborhood or corridor. This ability to articulately respond to physical realities and policy direction is possible because of FBC’s modular system of components that are based on the physical realities and land use-needs of each place in each community."

Stay tuned to our next related posting when Tony Perez offers a very vivid way of understanding how FBCs can shape and reinvigorate Sonoma Boulevard. You will also hear in future postings about how other Bay Area cities are leveraging form-based codes to express their aspirations for vibrant and purposeful communities.

Upcoming Design Charrette 2 will be held on July 22 to 25, 2014 at 415 Virginia Street in Downtown Vallejo at 415 Virginia Street.

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