Code Reform


CNU Atlanta is proud to endorse the City of Atlanta’s Zoning Ordinance Diagnostic, a first step towards modernizing the City’s outdated zoning code that puts cars over communities and the people that inhabit them. The preliminary findings of the Diagnostic are guiding the city and Department of Planning and Community Development towards a smarter, community-oriented, form-based approach to zoning for future development and growth that simultaneously honors and preserves Atlanta’s past. CNU Atlanta will continue to advocate for zoning that promotes building better places as the diagnostic process continues.

One of the key obstacles to improving the quality of communities in the Atlanta region is the presence of codes that often make it illegal to build new urbanism. Collectively, zoning, building, subdivision, public works, fire, and similar codes shape our communities more than almost any other factor. Oftentimes, this occurs in a way that perpetuates conventional development patterns; is unresponsive to changing markets; and contrary to community desires.

CNU Atlanta believes that the reform of the region’s local codes will play a central role in improving the quality of life in our region. Although other forms of local planning initiatives can remain influential for several years at a time, codes often remain in effect for decades. This allows them to fundamentally reshape the way communities develop or redevelop at little to no cost to public coffers.

In the Atlanta region, code reform must tackle seven fundamental issues:

  • Transportation, which regulates the design and use of streets and other public ways;
  • Zoning and land use, which affects the development of private land and the character of new buildings on it;
  • Subdivision, which shapes the way that land is subdivided;
  • Emergency access, which impacts community design and public safety;
  • Environmental, which broadly impacts all scales of place making from the building to the region; and
  • Building Codes, which control how buildings are built and renovated, and can directly impact decisions to renovate or demolish existing buildings.

Fortunately, dozens of communities across the region have been working on code reform in recent decades. One example is the City of Woodstock. For nearly a decade Woodstock has been a leader in implementing progressive codes aimed at legalizing the development of new urban communities. This includes its Downtown Code – a form-based district for the city’s core – and more recent initiatives in the Riverwalk area. Through its code reform efforts, the community has demonstrated how progressive codes can enable the thoughtful, market-responsive development of our communities.

CNU has long been an advocate for all areas of code reform, but has been particularly involved in the area of transportation. In order to develop guidance for specific design criteria, CNU partnered with the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) to develop the manual Designing Walkable Urban Thoroughfares: A Context Sensitive Approach. The manual covers the specifics of geometric design and network planning with topics such as:

  • Sidewalks
  • Lane Widths
  • Bicycle Lanes
  • On-street parking configuration
  • Midblock crossings
  • Transit stop configuration
  • Parking
  • Planting strips
  • Alleyways
  • Interparcel connectivity
  • Network connectivity

For more information on this manual and to download a free copy go here.

Along with code reform, it is often important for communities to also establish guiding policies that will influence decisions around public infrastructure. CNU has taken on this issue at the national level by developing a guiding set of principles for transportation networks  that highlights the importance of the relationship between the community and its transportation system. More locally, communities around the metro Atlanta region have started adopting complete streets policies. A complete streets policy is a formal statement issued by the governing agency that directs their transportation planners and engineers to consistently design and operate the entire roadway with all users in mind – including bicyclists, public transportation vehicles and riders, and pedestrians of all ages and abilities. Some example communities include Cobb County Complete Streets Policy and the City of Roswell Complete Streets Policy. There is also additional information on the creation and necessary elements of a complete streets policy at the website for the National Complete Streets Coalition.

An additional transportation element that should be addressed by codes but occurs outside of the standard right-of-way is the management of parking in an urban activity center.  The cost and availability of parking can have a major impact on vehicular travel demand, especially when other alternatives exist in a given area. For information on the management of parking in an urban setting, check out this article from the New York Times as well as this book on the subject.