Published July 9, 2019
The City of Buffalo’s Green Code, developed with support from the School of Architecture and Planning’s Urban Design Project, has been recognized nationally for its standard-setting support of walkable, livable communities, as well as its strategic integration with the city’s comprehensive plan.
Smart Growth America and its Form-Based Codes Institute presented the City of Buffalo with the 11th annual Richard H. Driehaus Form-Based Code Award earlier this month at the annual conference of the Congress for New Urbanism in Louisville, Ky.
Passed into law in 2017 after seven years of intensive community engagement across the city, the Green Code marks the first rewrite of the city’s zoning code since 1953, replacing an auto-centric regulatory framework for development with a streamlined code that emphasizes context-sensitive urban form.
The code evolved through two mayoral administrations under the direction of Buffalo’s Office of Strategic Planning and builds on two decades of broad-based community engagement that reached thousands of city residents.
In the mid-1990s a series of neighborhood and downtown development summits laid the groundwork for a new approach to land use and urban improvement as part of an agenda for the rebirth of Buffalo. In 2006, the city’s comprehensive physical plan, Queen City in the 21st Century, called for the modernization of the city’s zoning code and alignment with principles of smart growth and sustainability. Today the Green Code is a linchpin in the city’s place-based development strategy and the continued implementation of its comprehensive plan.
Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown made its passage one of his top priorities: “Through the Buffalo Green Code we are able to further promote private and public sector investment, facilitate job creation, restore the environment and continue to improve Buffalo’s quality of life for residents,” he said. “This document represents the best ideas, creates more modern development standards, and preserves and builds upon Buffalo’s strengths as a diverse and inclusive 21st Century city that can compete head-to-head with any city in this country while being a place of opportunity for all.”
“The Green Code codified the citizens’ vision for how the City should develop and provided straightforward administrative rules, thereby providing a clear vision and path. The public process that led to the final product emphasizes the value of deep community engagement and the application of time tested planning practices."
Nadine L. Marrero, Director of Planning, City of Buffalo
The School of Architecture and Planning and its Urban Design Project (now aligned with the UB Regional Institute) has been involved every step of the way. For the Green Code, the Urban Design Project led community engagement efforts as part an extensive consultant team including Camiros, Ltd., a Chicago-based urban planning firm, Fisher Associates, Code Studio and Watts Architecture & Engineering. The public engagement program included a city-wide citizen advisory committee, community workshops in nine neighborhoods across the city, and continuous web-based outreach. The Urban Design Project also supported drafting of the code’s technical language and development of a complementary Land Use Plan.
“We gave people maps and markers and asked them to describe the strengths and weaknesses of their neighborhoods, block by block.” Bradshaw Hovey, senior fellow of the UB Regional Institute, said. “What we understood, and what was translated into the new code, was that Buffalonians want their city to be pretty much the way it was, only much better.”
The Green Code is a direct extension of the city’s Queen City comprehensive plan – also nationally recognized by the Congress for New Urbanism – through its support of mixed land use, compact building design, housing choices, walkable neighborhoods, and communities with a strong sense of place.
“The Green Code codified the citizens’ vision for how the City should develop and provided straightforward administrative rules, thereby providing a clear vision and path. The public process that led to the final product emphasizes the value of deep community engagement and the application of time tested planning practices,” said Nadine L. Marrero, director of planning for the City of Buffalo, who is also a 2003 graduate of UB's MUP program.
“It was an enormous privilege to work with literally thousands of citizens, the creative staff at the City of Buffalo, the faculty and staff at the School of Architecture and Planning, and our students building the planning infrastructure of the City,” said Robert Shibley, who as director of the Urban Design Project from 1990 through 2012 played a lead role in the formulation of the Comprehensive Plan and supporting physical plans for the city’s downtown, waterfront and Olmsted Parks system, as well as the Green Code.
Sharing the Driehaus Award with the City of Buffalo is the Lafayette Downtown Code of Lafayette, La. The Canton Village Districts Code of Canton, Conn., received honorable mention.
The winning codes were selected by a jury of code experts and practitioners as model form-based codes for other communities.
The Driehaus Award jury lauded the Green Code in particular for its progressive abolition of minimum parking requirements for new developments. Buffalo was the first major city in the country to abolish parking minimums at the time of the Green Code’s adoption. Instead of requiring new projects to build more parking, the Green Code uses a process called transportation demand management which allows developers to factor in nearby transit lines, bike paths, or other alternative forms of transportation to mitigate anticipated travel demand.
In announcing the award, jury chair George Proakis shared, “The code legalizes existing desirable but non-compliant development and replaces cumbersome parking requirements with an innovative transportation demand management system. City staff deserves significant credit for their persistent effort to achieve the difficult balance of developing an exemplary code that is also politically acceptable in a complex urban community.”
“We gave people maps and markers and asked them to describe the strengths and weaknesses of their neighborhoods, block by block. What we understood, and what was translated into the new code, was that Buffalonians want their city to be pretty much the way it was, only much better.”
-Bradshaw Hovey, senior fellow of the UB Regional Institute, said.
“It was an enormous privilege to work with literally thousands of citizens, the creative staff at the City of Buffalo, the faculty and staff at the School of Architecture and Planning, and our students building the planning infrastructure of the City."
- Dean Robert G. Shibley, who served as director of the Urban Design Project from 1990 to 2012.