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Form-Based Codes and Traditional Neighborhood Development

This page provides an overview of traditional neighborhood development and form-based codes, including helpful resources and examples of local codes.


The "traditional neighborhood development" and "form-based code" concepts both seek to provide alternatives to auto-oriented development patterns typical of post-World II suburbs:

  • Form-based codes (FBC) emphasize the physical form of a place as the basis for code provisions, de-emphasizing the separation of uses.
  • Traditional neighborhood development (TND) focuses on compact, mixed-use and pedestrian oriented development that is exemplified in traditional towns

In practice, there may not be clear distinctions between one community's "traditional neighborhood development" code and another community's "form-based" code. The Form-Based Codes Institute offers definitions and checklists to identify codes that exhibit key FBC characteristics, even though they may vary in significant ways.

Form-Based Codes

In contrast to conventional zoning, form-based codes (FBCs) focus on specifying the physical form and design of development and public spaces that matches the community's vision. For instance, conventional zoning codes typically establish a minimum distance that buildings must be set back from the street and neighboring property lines. In contrast, a form-based code may specify a "build-to" line that new buildings must align with to fit community patterns. Form-based codes can be stand-alone codes, but are also often used as a specific regulatory approach to implementing the principles embraced by traditional neighborhood development (TND) proponents.

In their purest application, FBCs de-emphasize regulation of land uses. FBC advocates argue that tighter environmental controls have reduced the need for separation of different land use types. Instead, the FBC focus on the relationship of buildings to each other, to the street, and to public spaces, as well as assuring greater compatibility than produced by conventional zoning. FBCs use “transect zones” to identify and describe the gradual transitions between high intensity downtown development to rural and natural landscapes. Transects zones can be used to organize FBC code provisions as an alternative to use-based zoning districts.

Urban-Rural Transect. Image credit: Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company

More and more, many local governments are incorporating elements of FBCs into their “conventional” zoning codes, such as creating mixed-use districts or implementing design guidelines/standards. These codes that borrow elements of FBC but still designate use districts are sometimes referred to as “hybrid” zoning codes. These hybrid options can be good incremental steps for jurisdictions that want to achieve better design outcomes and a mix of land uses. Hybrid codes are also discussed in greater detail in MRSC’s blog post A Hybrid Approach to Form-Based Codes in the Northwest.

Examples of Form-Based Codes

The following examples demonstrate a variety of approaches local jurisdictions take to implementing form-based codes. Many of the examples implement FBC in specific subareas like downtowns, with a few implementing citywide codes. Additional recommended resources for developing form-based codes can be found near the end of this page.

Washington State

Other States

Model Code

Traditional Neighborhood Development Codes

As the downsides of “old style,” traditional zoning that separates land uses into separate zones have become more apparent, many communities have rediscovered the traditional town as a desirable model for what citizens want in a community. The “traditional neighborhood development” (TND) concept offers a blueprint for neighborhood development, based on traditional town patterns, before the era of spread-out auto-oriented development.

TND codes emphasize compact, mixed-use, and pedestrian-oriented development. Neighborhoods, sized for easy walking distance, function as the basic building block. TND plans emphasize human-scale design, town and neighborhood centers, public spaces, civic uses and other features that foster a sense of community.

TND is also characterized by an interconnected street network that provides a variety of routes for vehicle traffic while facilitating walking, cycling, and transit. Narrow residential street widths, on-street parking, and street trees reduce traffic speed and create a safe, attractive environment for pedestrians as well as cars.

The earlier TND codes tended to rely on design guidelines and standards to achieve the above objectives, and many retained some degree of land use restriction.

Examples of Traditional Neighborhood Development Codes

Below are a few selected examples of traditional neighborhood development codes. Additional recommended resources can be found near the end of this page.

Washington State

Other States

Model Codes

Recommended Resources

Related Topics

MRSC also provides information on a number of other topics related to form-based codes and traditional neighborhood development, including:

Last Modified: December 07, 2018