Friday, June 28, 2019

Canton CT Wins Planning Award

Two years ago I wrote a series of blog postings, based on site visits, about New England villages and the promise they hold for better, more sustainable land use forms for the future.  One of my subjects was Canton, CT, a charming town centered around a closed axe factory (!) with lots of potential (my blog posting here).  Clearly the townsfolk are pursuing that potential, including by adopting a “form-based design code” for four designated villages within the town.  That code was recently awarded a “Driehaus Form-Based Codes Award” by Smart Growth America (story and links here).
What is form-based code?  In a nutshell, I’d describe it as a zoning tool that concentrates on the location, size, shape, and look of buildings rather than their uses.  The general intent is to get away from rigid separation of land uses and instead encourage a mixture of commercial and residential uses (e.g., residential over retail) that make for livelier, healthier, more resilient communities.  Typically these plans have more images and less text than more conventional codes.  From a transportation point of view, this type of zoning promotes reduced automobile dominance, shorter trips, and more walking and biking trips. 
The Canton “Village Districts Form-Based Design Code” is only one piece of a whole suite of local plans and regulations intended to guide development and redevelopment in key areas of the town.  Just flipping through the document will give you a sense of what it covers: building form standards (frontages), urban space standards (street types, streetscapes, civic spaces, etc.), architectural standards (everything from windows to signs), adaptive reuse, affordable housing, and more.  Congrats to Canton for taking another step forward in revitalizing a very cool town!
And by the way, for transportation people, the best document to help towns tie mobility form planning and transportation planning is still (in my slightly biased opinion) Mobility and Community Form: A Guide to Linking Transportation and Land Use in the Municipal Master Plan.  This was published in 2006 on my watch at New Jersey DOT and is still available on the NDOT website (here).
Images below are: a building illustration from the Canton plan, a view of the same building from my 2017 blog posting, and the famous “Transect” image from the Mobility and Community Form document.

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