Miami takes "giant step" toward being pedestrian-oriented city

Historic adoption makes Miami largest city to replace auto-oriented conventional zoning with new urbanist code

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Miami made history Thursday night by adopting "Miami 21," the most ambitious contemporary zoning code reform yet undertaken by a major U.S. city.

After a 4-1 vote by city commissioners, the city will no longer have the conventional zoning code that helped make much of the city chiefly navigable by car and created harsh juxtapositions between new high-rises and existing fabric such as bungalows and small storefront buildings. Replacing it city-wide is a new urbanist form-based code — based on the Smartcode model code template — that calls for convenient, walkable neighborhoods and gentler transitions between high-intensity and lower-scaled development. The new code known as Miami 21 "promises a healthier city and friendlier walking corridors," reported the Miami Herald in its coverage of the vote. The new code will take effect 120 days after passage.

The vote was a major victory for Miami's visionary Mayor Manny Diaz, who said the results of the new code will one day invite Miami to be considered alongside cities such as Chicago, New York, and even Paris that are famed for world-class urban neighborhoods. "I'm going to tell you that history will judge us right,'' he said.

The vote also caps off four years of tireless work (including hundreds of public meetings) by a team led by CNU co-founder Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk of Duany Plater-Zyberk and DPZ project manager Marina Khoury. Francisco Garcia of DPZ, City of Miami Planning Director Ana Gelabert-Sanchez and city planning staff also made major contributions to the successful effort. Goody Clancy supplied a landscape plan and other firms collaborated as well.

The difference between Miami's old and new code is fundamental. Like most cities in the mid-20th century, Miami had previously adopted conventional zoning regulations that disregarded traditional mixed-use patterns and divided the city into zones of preferred uses such as residential, commercial and industrial. By contrast, the new code encourages residences, schools, shops, parks and other amenities to be within walking distance. Instead of focusing on use, it guides the form of what's built, calling for storefronts, office entrances, house stoops and other active uses lining sidewalks, while pushing off-street parking to the rear of lots. Instead of separate use zones, Miami is now mapped with "transect zones" which describe the form and intensity of urbanism from close-knit neighborhoods of two- and three-story buildings to the high-rises of the urban core and of other waterfront areas.

Whether based on the Smartcode or other models, new urbanist codes have been catching on rapidly. Dozens and dozens of cities and towns have adopted them for targeted areas, while a few smaller communities — including most recently Pass Christian, MS —have gone the ambitious step of completely replacing existing zoning with a new code. Miami now joins them, with other major cities such as Denver undertaking similar projects that could have them following suit, pending favorable political outcome.

In a press release, Mayor Diaz declared, "This is a proud day for the City of Miami. I thank the Miami Commission for adopting Miami 21, our blueprint for a sustainable, prosperous Miami. For the first time in our City's history, we have a plan to guide reasoned, pedestrian-friendly, sustainable growth."

"This is a giant step forward for walkability, livability, preservation, green space, transit, job creation and building a better future for the next generation through the visionary Miami 21 plan," said City Commission Chairman Joe Sanchez.

The Miami 21 transect diagram shows a gradient from T3 sub-urban transect zones to the T6 urban core and a variety of T6 sub-districts, reflecting the large number of high-rises in Miami.