Code Free Zones Proposed by FEMA


 A congressional oversight committee recently leaked secret federal plans to institute Code Free Zones. These “zoning free” areas have been identified by the Federal Emergency Managment Agency (FEMA) which would strip thousands of pages of zoning regulations currently  implemented in communities across America. According to congressional sources, FEMA is prepared to implement these zones in the event of a planning emergency. 

The Code Free Documents outlined several conditions where FEMA could step in and implement these plans. 

  1. If a town is spending more then two years to discuss zoning changes
  2. If the current zoning code is divided into three or more volumes
  3. If the number of zoning categories exceed the maximum allowable residential density
  4. If the zoning map looks more like a mosaic than urban form
  5. If the planning language is jargon heavy or has Acronyms without definitions
  6. If it requires four or more staff members to determine compliance
  7. If the number of zoning requirements exceed your total population
  8. If every zoning discussion attracts more then 50 upset citizens or insights public protest and unrest

In the event of these planning disasters, FEMA could step in and remove all zoning by declaring a Code Free Zone.

Of course this has raised concerns from the American Planning Association (APA). The APA will share these concerns in their next issue of Planning Magazine. They are currently struggling with the selection of the appropriate cover image to represent their position. However, members of the APA have taken to social media concerned that Code Free Zones would result in planning zombies roaming the streets with nothing to do.

The building industry is applauding this broad overreach of government to deregulate zoning. Developers explained that finally the federal government is taking action, and the building industry would have the opportunity to return to market freedom to build American cities. The industry also asserted the need to have the Treasury included in Code Free Zones to remove federally backed loan requirements that support unsustainable  suburban development.

In the coming days more details will be released on this secret federal program. Until then, we just need to recognize that today is April 1st. Happy April’s Fools.    

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A Black Urbanist

I would like to share an amazing read from a fresh voice of urbanists.  A Black Urbanist: Essays Vol. 1 is a collection of essays by Kristen Jeffers which expands her writing as the Black Urbanist.

Jeffers is the author of the blog The Black Urbanist who I met several years ago through the Congress of the New Urbanism. She was invited to speak during an opening innovation session of the NextGen. She shared her story and perspective as a Black Urbanist, and how the world shaped her. It was a very thought provoking session, unlike any other session at the Congress.

I have continued to follow Jeffers on her blog, and was very excited to read this new book.  Jeffers invites us into her life, and how her life experiences shaped her perception of the world. These essays are not descriptions of projects built on the Gulf Coast, polemic discourses on architectural styles, or a how-to on placemaking.  Kristen’s writing provides the reader an insight to her community as a citizen. Through her experiences Kristen shares how to plan as a community as a participant.

A Black Urbanist: Essays Vol. 1 illustrates the broad discussions ongoing through the Congress of the New Urbanism, and amongst the brightest urbanists minds.

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Tactical Urbanism

 Tactical Urbanism: Short-term Action for Long-term Change teaches local citizens how to take back their streets, and aspire for better uses of their community’s public spaces. This is not a planning text book, but should be on every reading list of planning and public policy students. “Tactical Urbanism” shares a new approach to making better cities, utilizing citizens and small scale changes.

In 2011, I was part of a group of young urbanists who met in a small house in New Orleans to discuss the current state of urbanism. We were connected through the Charter of the New Urbanism, but we saw the world differently. Our impression and applicability of the Charter was different then the books and magazines on New Urbanism.

Mike Lydon shared some of his recent successes and his partnership with Tony Garcia. These two explained something they called Tactical Urbanism. Mike explained how they were working with communities through a grass roots approach to planning. Mike shared countless examples were citizens worked outside the normal formal planning approach to impact a neighborhood at the level of the street. These unsanctioned interventions started a larger conversation, and empowered residents to take action in their community. The following week, Mike published the first edition of Tactical Urbanism.

Since 2011, many have tried to box Tactical Urbanism rouge planning practice. They have attempted to place it on a planning spectrum, or used it to justify closing a street for a block party. Mike and Tony, have been on a crusade rising above the planning profession.

Lydon and Garcia provide a clear understanding of how communities can harness Tactical Urbanism to engage in creating better places. This in-depth study does not jump to solutions. Tactical Urbanism clearly explains the approach, philosophy, and success of Tactical Urbanism.

This is a must read, and I encourage sharing Tactical Urbanism with any residents that want to take real actions to improve their community. Tactical Urbanism is a book that will help your community organize into proactive changes. Grab a copy and share it with your neighbors. Get inspired to make a change in your community.

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Share Your Love

Happy Valentine’s Day! First, I want to make sure that you take a moment to share some love with your sweetheart. Your local drug store will continue to have Valentine’s Day’s candies and gifts through the day if you forgot to get the most basic memento for you love. No matter what your sweetheart says, they want some level of acknowledgment of your love.

The Restless Urbanist wants you to share your love today. Just like your sweetheart, your community wants to know you love it. Take a moment and share the places you love. Share your pictures and stories of the places that you love. Lets celebrate the great places we live, play, and work.

Have a wonderful Valentine’s Day and share your love for your favorite places.

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Diplomatic ties with Cuba

This month, President Obama announced that he would restore full diplomatic relations with Cuba. This is a significant change in foreign policy, and is part of many heated conversations throughout Florida.

I want to step back from the political ramifications and the emotional strain that this change in United States Policy has on so many people in both Cuba and the United States. I recognize the complexity of the situation.

I want to talk about the architectural and urban ramifications of this change in policy. These political changes will begin to open the door for American influence and exposure to Cuba. The America spirit was forged by pioneers, and this spirit will be carried to Cuba.

Last year, I wrote the post “Is Detroit the Testing Ground for Havana?” In this post I compared these two cities based on the recent planning work underway in Detroit. I want to share this post again.

The United States and Cuba have a lot architectural and urban lessons to offer each other. We need to explore each of these lessons so that we do not repeat our mistakes of the past.

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Merry Christmas

imageI would like to wish all of you a very merry Christmas. This is a special time of year to celebrate joy and to prepare for the coming new year.

Have a very merry and safe Christmas.

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Urban Details

The devil is in the details. Our work in urban environments require us to work in inches and and feet. When we lose track of the little details, terrible things can happen. Here is a picture I took showing one of these mistakes.


In an urban environment, we need to look beyond project boundaries and work between building faces. Every community requires the finished floor of buildings to be placed above the level of the street to protect buildings from flooding. In every community, including Florida, architects and planners must deal with topography. It is possible that one side of a building may be higher then the other side.

This picture shows a building where the street corner, is lower then the rest of the building. The architects or street designers have had to add a gauntlet of ramps and railings to match these grades, and meet federal accessibility requirements. During this design, I am sure that that architect and engineer spent hours cursing each other while sitting in their professional silos. This picture and built result also shows that these two never talked.

Urban conditions requires professionals to interact with the Urbs. These professionals may need to look beyond the property boundary or edge of the right of way to seamlessly  integrate these projects.

After having experienced this fail in my own work, I have had to change my scope for urban projects. When I am working on a roadway project, I request two things.

First, I request that the scope and project survey extend to the adjacent building faces. This allows for me to understand the adjacent conditions, and how the new streetscape will tie back into the adjacent properties. This broader scope also provides me the opportunity to have a meaningful discussion with property owners. I can discuss ways to transform parking areas or layouts, organize driveway access, and generally resolve the transition to the property.

Secondly, I request the existing finished floor elevation for every adjacent property. This is the only way that I can prevent steps or flooding on existing properties. I can build trust with my adjacent property owners because I can show that I have thought about their property. This not only builds support for the project, it generates a better project.

My photo example could have been prevented. As we move from suburban development to urban infill, we need to retool our craft. These projects are more complex, and require more information to get it right.

Posted in building, communities, Design, Infrastructure, The Profession, Urban Design | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Black Friday: Too Much Parking

imageHow was your Black Friday? Most of America’s asphalt fields were missing something: cars. This year our friends at Strong Towns documented the over parking of our country.

Black Friday is the marker our communities use to calibrate their parking rates. This is an exaggerated peak that is used as the base line. I need to state this again: The parking demands during the Walmart 1 Hour Guarantee on Black Friday is the standard that communities use for their parking requirements for the rest of the year.

For a second year in a row, citizens from across the country documented how this applies to retail locations across the country. I went to several locations throughout the day in my pursuit of holiday sales. I was not only able to find parking at every retailer, I had a choice of spaces.

I really enjoyed the recap from Walkable West Palm Beach. Jessie Bailey did a great job of documenting the the parking reality and called to task the local paper that over exaggerated the parking at the new Outlet Mall. West Palm Beach has a parking problem: they do not allow the context to influence the decision making. Developers have to beg for a lower rate in the walkable downtown, and the city has to beg to introduce the public trolley to the sea of asphalt on the edge of the city.

We all need to demand a complete rethink on our community policies on required parking.


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Black Friday Parking Event

Black Friday Parking Day

My friends at Strong Towns have just announced their annual Black Friday Parking Event. I encourage all of you to join in this annual event. Join Strong Towns this Friday for #blackfridayparking, a nationwide event to draw attention to the ridiculousness of minimum parking requirements.

Check out BLACK FRIDAY PARKING 2014 EVENT and share how ridiculous your community’s minimum parking standards are this holiday season.


Posted in Advocacy, Holiday, Parking, Public Policy | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

New Media Workshop

new-media-cover-416Today I will be attending the New Media Workshop hosted by by friend Steve Mouzon. This workshop will be jam-packed with the latest New Media know-how! Follow my tweets today to see what we are are working on.

I would encourage you to read through my review of Steve’s book New Media for Designers and Builders.

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