Step 4: Make the Right Thing Easy
We are almost a third of the way through understanding the “12 Steps to Revitalization” as published by the Brookings Insitute. So far we’ve discussed and learned about “Capturing a Vision”, “Developing a Strategic Plan”, and “Forging Healthy Private/Public Partnerships.” Step four focuses on “Making the Right Thing Easy.” This may sound like a no brainer, there are often policies, ordinances, codes, or laws in place that make doing what is right for a downtown district and the community very hard.
The “12 Steps to Revitalization” highlights the city of Santa Fe, New Mexico to help us understand the concept of making the right thing easy. “If the downtown area of Santa Fe, New Mexico’s much beloved and vibrant 400-year-old Plaza burned to the ground – legally it would only be possible to rebuild commercial strip buildings, likely anchored by Wal-Mart Super Centers, Home Depots and the other usual suspects.” These large and sprawling commercial buildings do not encourage or provide the density of people and business necessary to a vibrant, walkable and welcoming downtown.
In order to ensure that doing the right thing is easy for communities, investors and developers Leinberger suggests that “rather than reforming the existing zoning codes – which can often make them more confusing and cumbersome – it is generally best to throw them out and start from scratch, putting in place a new code that will make ways to produce the density and walkability a downtown needs to thrive. He shares four ways to create the new code and therefore makes doing the right thing easier.
Delineate downtown boundaries: It is essential that this boundary encompasses the entire downtown. Creating a firm line and boundary will help to ensure that the character of the surrounding neighborhood remains intact.
Use “form-based” code: Form-based code focuses primarily on how building and entire blocks function and appear in relation to the street in front of it. This style of code is both “simple and allows for great flexibility.”
Re-establish the historic right-of-way fabric of the city: Many historic towns were built before the automobile; therefore, they had to be walkable. Re-establish this fabric will return downtowns to places that place the priority on people walking instead of people driving.
Adopt the new 2004 International Building Code: The new building standards provide opportunities for significant cost savings in both new construction and historic rehabilitation.
The four changes suggested by Leinberger take considerable planning and cooperation between public and private entities. However, these four strategies will likely have a positive impact for decades to come.
In Albion, we can consider ourselves lucky that much of our historic fabric is still intact. Our streets have not been converted to one-way to move traffic more quickly, and many of our historic buildings still remain along Superior Street. Transition to form-based code and adopting the 2004 International Building Code would be a more significant undertaking, however, in the long run, these changes can make building, development, growth, and prosperity more accessible for everyone.