Livability Solutions

Creating a Walkable Downtown with Character in Duncan, SC

October 2013


Update Forever


Form-Based Code



Duncan, SC, a community of 3,126 residents, was facing development pressure brought on by proximity to an interstate highway and the recent opening of an inland port which will generate an estimated 50 thousand truck trips annually. Duncan's zoning code and land use plan was insufficient to preserve the community's unique historical and environmental context and support the walkable development residents desired. Furthermore, the community lacked both staff capacity and expertise to revise the relevant plans and ordinances. Upstate Forever, a local non-profit organization, and Duncan sought technical assistance from Livability Solutions to update its zoning code.

Upstate Forever and the Town of Duncan, in collaboration with Livability Solutions' designated technical assistance providers (Lawrence Group and Project for Public Spaces), defined the following objectives for the requested assistance:

  1. Building capacity for form-based code (FBC) in Duncan and nearby communities.
  2. Facilitating a series of meetings/trainings, which: a) introduce participants to FBC; b) provide a vision of how FBC can be implemented and enforced; and c) move the audience's thinking beyond recently the adopted Streetscape and Pocket Parks Plan and the Pedestrian Overlay District.
  3. Facilitating at least one meeting/training developed to engage a broader audience than the Town of Duncan alone.


A two-day workshop was developed to expand the region's understanding of form-based codes. During the workshop, PPS, the Lawrence Group and Upstate Forever met with about 30 of Duncan's residents, elected officials, local professionals and regional stakeholders. PPS presented its Placemaking framework and processes for fostering great public spaces, and, with the help of the Lawrence Group, examined the community's assets of its rivers, school district and developable property downtown. Input for the community's vision and goals was gathered through specific stakeholder meetings and open public workshops, using tools such as word bubbles, visual preference surveys and idea maps.

PPS and the Lawrence Group also presented potential funding resources for Duncan's future work, discussed a problematic intersection downtown with South Carolina's Department of Transportation (DOT), and initiated a conversation between the DOT and the town's officials. The workshop resulted in recommendations to improve Duncan's Pedestrian Overlay District, to initiate a community planning process to develop a form-based code for the town, and to create a well-branded programming effort to leverage the town's assets.


Three nearby cities (Reidville, Woodruff and Malden), whose representatives attended the workshops, are investigating FBC. Duncan, following the workshop, made changes to its Pedestrian Overlay District as an incremental step towards FBC.

Ten counties in the region convened a "Ten at the Top" meeting to continue the conversation about best planning practices in the region, including discussion of the tools that were presented at the workshop.

Two parklets have also been created along a mile of Main Street, and the Town has applied for funding to create a third parklet.

Duncan's Main Street Program Design Committee developed design guidelines to recommend to the City Council for adoption. The guidelines: allow for greater flexibility in land use; encourage commercial and industrial development in and around the town; establish appropriate architectural standards; and create open space improvement and amenity standards for a range of quality public spaces.

Upstate Forever received $10,000 in funding through the Mary Black Foundation to support in part the development of form-based code policies in Spartanburg County.