The Local Life: Code will be roadmap for future growth

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The Local Life: Code will be roadmap for future growth

Voices from the Beaufort community
Steven Eames
stevene@scccl.org
Published Monday, November 28, 2011   |  835 Words  |  

I think we all noted that the United Nations reported the world's 7 billionth person was born recently. It has made me realize one unifying principle: That we must plan for growth within the context of the way we utilize land in the Lowcountry.

Growth is not just about demographic numbers. It's about where people live, how they are employed, where they play, pray and recreate; all this without spoiling our natural beauty. The link between growth and land is inextricable and part of history.

But how do make our growth "future-proof"? How do we balance the requirements for infrastructure and roads with our Lowcountry lifestyle? How do we share that lifestyle with those willing to contribute to our communities and nature? A "dollar-driven" approach will lead to sprawl and the destruction of our natural landscape.

Thankfully there are other, proven ways and we have started the process. At our county and municipal level, there is a growing recognition and indeed action on using a form-based code to look at what we have now, match that with our desired future and most importantly apply it to the natural landscape we live within.

Let me explain as best I can because form-based code can be confusing. A typical architectural or design mind-set is one of form follows function. That is, we as a community or an individual decide on the function of the building, road, park and we design its form to meet the functional requirements we have stipulated.

What is often forgotten with this methodology is the "where" the building or road will go. So if we don't have enough space we typically rezone or annex based on any land available. Moreover, we then have to drag expensive infrastructure and services to that place compounding harm to the environment.

Conversely, the form-based code accepts three things from the get-go:

  • First, where we are today in our development -- we cannot turn back the clock
  • Second, how we want to live in the future -- do we want to be able to walk to the park, river front, grocery store and school?
  • Third, the natural landscape.
  • A form-based code mixes, molds and melts all this together and produces guidance for growth that can be enshrined in a code. It is based very much on the natural "form" of our Lowcountry landscape as the key factor that underpins where we live and develop our communities. Unlike zoning it is not arbitrary in its application. It is not simple lines on a map that can be changed with political winds or a developer's money.

    But form-based code goes deeper still. It concentrates where we live in preferred nodes, it accepts higher density and mixed-use "nodes" in appropriate areas while protecting what we want as natural, rural or agricultural lands. It's about what we want: why not a small community farm with a food hub and commercial kitchen within an "urban" node?

    Form-based code gets to what we want by working through what are called "transects," which is a fancy word for natural zones that appear in our environment. These zones represent the natural environment as it should be, and then our input determines the community that we want and can grow in that zone.

    From this evolves a SmartCode to guide future growth. SmartCode asks where our communities should grow with higher density, mixed use, etc. We input which areas should be kept as farming, rural or natural and then the SmartCode protects them by design.

    In workshops I've attended, many folks have said they want to be able to walk to the park, grocery store and school, etc. The SmartCode can capture this and allow county and municipal planners to plan future transport, services and infrastructure with confidence, less risk of arbitrary change and less fiscal waste.

    I encourage everyone to participate in the county and municipal events on form-based code because that is exactly how the inputs make it into the final design.

    The very character of our Lowcountry makes it a destination for many who enjoy the natural landscape, water and weather. Community nodes can be developed in nature-appropriate areas, where there already is infrastructure (less cost), where we can live, work, pray and play. Other areas can be coded for recreation, farming, etc.

    But all this is moot unless one accepts the growth imperative in the first place. I hope the birth of the world's 7 billionth person has fixed in our minds that growth is inevitable. Growth is good for a vibrant economic, communal and natural future and form-based code provides us a road map to accept that growth and manage it. The time is now to put nature and our future communities in balance.

    Steven Eames is the south coast director for the Coastal Conservation League.