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Form-Based Coding is a revolutionary tool that has the power to inspire walkable neighborhoods, resilient communities, and thriving cities.

Our architects and urban designers have been at the vanguard of zoning reform for more than 20 years. We don’t write form-based codes because they are trendy, but because they’re the most effective way to regulate walkable urban places. That’s what they were designed for.

We’ve helped modern cities write FBCs from Hawaii to Texas to Gabon, Africa. We were co-founding board members of the nonprofit Form-Based Codes Institute, created to advance the understanding and use of form-based codes worldwide. We didn’t invent form-based coding, but we literally wrote the book on it and have received more than two dozen awards.

We’ll assist you in laying a the groundwork for a new Form-Based Code, helping to train staff, review administrative procedures and examine relationships with existing codes. We’ll help co-ordinate a multi-disciplinary team that can handle challenges like parking and street design, and help inform community perceptions around density. In the end, we’ll help you translate everything into a high-quality built environment.

Extracting the DNA of Place as the Foundation for Your Code

At Opticos, we believe that you have to get to know a place intimately before you can write an effective Form-Based Code. 
All of our codes, whether project-area or city-wide, begin with an extensive analysis process that includes photo documentation, touring, and mapping analysis. Our goal is to extract the DNA of the existing place, and to make sure the code we write reinforces its unique characteristics. The result of this analysis serves as an excellent tool for communicating with community members, stakeholders, and decision makers throughout the code-writing process. It also serves as the foundation for the new form-based zones and supplemental form standards.

Integrating Building Types and Missing Middle Housing

Not all Form-Based Codes have Building Types Standards, but they are at the core of most of our codes. We believe building types are the building blocks of great walkable urban places. This is partly because because they introduce (or re-introduce) a broader range of housing types into local development, and also because they help ensure high-quality built results.

Many building types, including Missing Middle Housing, cannot be effectively regulated by conventional zoning. These building types often have medium or high densities, which excludes them from single-family use zones, even though they are house-scale. Meanwhile, their small footprints and lower heights don’t fit the parameters or intent of existing multifamily and medium-density zones. So we’ve developed an effective way to regulate for them by including building type standards within our Form-Based Codes.

Zoning for Missing Middle Housing (2:36)
Zoning for Missing Middle Housing (2:36)

Going Hybrid: Citywide Codes

Over the course of the past 15 years of integrating Form-Based Coding into citywide code updates, we know there are right ways and wrong ways to write a hybrid code. Simply adding form-based regulations to a conventional zone won’t work. As a start, an effective hybrid combines different types of zones for different types of places: form-based zones for walkable places, and conventional zones for auto-oriented places. Then every part of the code from administration and procedures to signage needs to be carefully vetted for these different types of contexts. Sometimes sharing systems and approaches and other times needing different approaches. We’ve learned from experience how to get it right.

Diverse Applications of Form-Based Codes

How We Can Help You Implement Form-Based Coding:

  • 1Write a Form-Based Code at any scale, from corridors, downtowns, and transit-oriented development areas to single neighborhoods and complete small towns, large metropolises, and counties.
  • 2Create a citywide hybrid code: Applying Form-Based Coding to walkable urban areas and refined conventional zoning to suburban areas.
  • 3Provide code review and diagnoses: Graphic assessment of existing zoning and likely build out.
  • 4Create a Form-Based Code bridge: Establishing a form-based framework for your comprehensive or general plan.
  • 5Advise on your Form-Based Code strategy and peer-review your code
  • 6Code for Missing Middle Housing

"Opticos was an invaluable partner in helping Cincinnati achieve its goal of ‘Thriving Re-Urbanization.’ Their Form-Based Code was remarkably easy to use and has spurred confidence within the development community. Thanks to Opticos, the focus neighborhoods are seeing private sector investment that has not been seen in over 40 years.”

— Roxanne Qualls, Former Mayor, Cincinnati, Ohio