Urban Design Form-Based Codes

Reversing the Trend in America’s Post-Industrial Cities

Can a Form-Based Code reverse the economic decline seen in many post-industrial cities? We think so!

In a recent blog post on urbonfile.com, Aaron M. Renn points to Cincinnati as a post-industrial city-to-watch, to see if public investment could turnaround several decades of population and economic decline—the population of Cincinnati’s core peaked in 1950. Even in 2010, while the total population of the Cincinnati metropolitan statistical area grew to well over two million, the population of the city itself dipped well below five hundred thousand. In fact, every decade since the 1970s has seen negative population growth downtown.

Recently, the city has made major efforts to reverse that trend: A highway that cutoff the downtown core from the riverfront was lowered, two new stadiums were built, a mixed-use development along the riverfront was completed, and work on the first phase of a new streetcar system that will connect the city’s major employment centers is underway.

To further spur neighborhood development and encourage people to return to Cincinnati, the city council adopted a powerful new Form-Based Code in early May. Opticos authored the code, which was part of the city’s Plan Build Live Cincinnati initiative—a project sponsored by the Department of Planning and Buildings that aims to improve Cincinnati’s land regulations and support economic development.

The next step is to map each of Cincinnati’s neighborhoods and have regulating plans approved. The first four neighborhoods to implement the code are Madisonville, College Hill, Walnut Hills, and Westwood, and some 42 other neighborhoods will be mapped in the near future. The benefit for the neighborhoods is that they will have a specific plan of what kind of development they want to attract, while for developers it will mean a faster project approval process.

“Cincinnati’s great neighborhoods originally were developed so that residents could walk to restaurants, groceries, retail, and meet their daily needs in their vibrant neighborhood business districts,” said Vice-Mayor Roxanne Qualls who championed the FBC effort.

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