Cracking the Code of Small Downtowns

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Lundberg, Per
Urban Planning , Urban Design , Form-based Code , Downtown Revitilization
From a case study of three communities and four study areas, the research investigates and evaluates four types of planning controls including a traditional zoning by-law (Township of Cramahe, ON), a hybrid form-based code/traditional zoning-bylaw (Truro, NS), a form-based code (downtown Sylvan Lake, AB) and an urban design guideline (50th Street, Sylvan Lake, AB). The research question asked is: What are the relative advantages of hybrid-zoning (HZ), form-based codes (FBC), and urban design guidelines (UDG) compared to traditional/Euclidian zoning for guiding the improvement of the built form of a small town central business district? The research method used is a qualitative case study research design using observation, interviews and document review to evaluate the built form and plan of each of the study areas. Five assessment criteria were developed primarily from the work of Philip Walker and Kent Robertson on the revitalization of small community downtowns. The existing built form of the study areas varied greatly from poor to very good as did the evaluated planning documents which varied from fair to very good. The traditional Euclidian zoning bylaw of the Township of Cramahe scored least well in terms of providing the type of physical design guidance necessary to improve the streetscape in accordance with the five principles of good downtowns developed for the research. The evaluated form-based code and hybrid-zoning of downtown Sylvan Lake, AB and Truro, NS, respectively, scored the highest. The report recommends that the Township of Cramahe adopt the type of urban design guidance provided in the award winning Town of Truro Land Use ByLaw. Form-based codes are the current ideal in terms of regulating built form to achieve a pedestrian-friendly streetscape but they are a significant change from the typical land use based zoning. Hybrid zoning maintains continuity with existing zoning practices while introducing urban design controls into a regulatory document similar to a form-based code. With its closer connection to existing zoning practices, hybrid zoning is likely easier for smaller municipalities with less resources to support and develop.
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