Buffalo links smart growth to place-based city planning

Fri, 2014-06-20 06:00 -- Doug Cooley

Smart technology solutions alone rarely make cities more livable or sustainable. They need to happen within a city's overall development policies. The city of Buffalo, New York is a good example of how this works.  In its effort to effectively implement the smart growth called for in its 2006 comprehensive plan, the city is now putting the finishing touches on its Green Code. 

The Green Code, as the Congress for New Urbanism (CNU) reports, represents Buffalo's move to "place-based planning.” It will supplant the single-use zoning code that has regulated building in the city for the past 60 years. The old code established use-separated zones that promoted low-density, car-dependent designs and one-story businesses surrounded by parking. With place-based planning, the focus shifts to ensuring development has the appropriate form, scale and character. As the draft land use plan states, the Green Code aims to create “great places” that consist of “mixed-use neighborhoods, transit and bicycle networks, heritage and environmental assets, and civic spaces and parks that create value and attract and retain a talented workforce.”

In the CNU report, Buffalo city planner Chris Hawley says there was widespread consensus that the long-standing zoning regulations promoted divestment in the city and made mixed-used projects difficult. The new code will make it easier to renovate and redevelop in Buffalo, and “fill in the gaps between buildings.” Hawley notes that another advantage of Buffalo’s new code is that it uses everyday language and avoids legalese. Moreover, the overall size of the document shrunk from 1,800 to 300 pages.

The placed-based planning concept is also known as as "form-based codes." The Form-Based Codes Institute has more information. To get a better handle on the necessity of city planning and roadmaps in developing smart cities, check out our free Smart Cities Council Readiness Guide.