Livability Solutions

Rediscovering Urbanism with Form-Based Code: Omaha, NE

November 2013

   Host: 

City of Omaha

Tool(s): 

Form-Based Code

Source: 

Challenge

The City of Omaha requested technical assistance to investigate changes to its zoning code that would result in a greater diversity of land uses and move the city towards a more compact and sustainable growth pattern. Until the 1950s the city had a population density of 6,500 people per square mile; by the time of the Livability Solutions workshop the city's density had been halved. The Omaha Master Plan set a goal of increasing population density by 50 percent to 4,500 people per square mile by 2020.

Also driving the City to request technical assistance was its use of Neighborhood Conservation/Enhancement (NCE) and Area of Civic Importance (ACI) overlay districts which were created to incentivize walkable urban redevelopment. These districts were proving cumbersome, politically unpopular and incapable of producing their intended results

The City, in collaboration with Project for Public Spaces and Livability Solutions' designated technical assistance provider (Opticos Design, Inc.), identified four objectives for the requested technical assistance:

  1. Providing a technical review of existing form-based code (FBC) related efforts and making recommendations for modifying and/or improving existing practices and applications.
  2. Providing educational and technical presentations to city staff, elected officials, and key public stakeholders.
  3. Providing an informational public presentation to determine public opinion on the subject.
  4. Developing performance indicators to assess progress towards achieving desired goals for FBCs.

Process

PPS and Opticos Design, Inc., organized a two-day FBC workshop for the City of Omaha. The workshop was conducted by David M. Nelson (PPS) and Dan Parolek (Opticos Design, Inc); both are native Nebraskans and, as previous residents of Omaha, they were familiar with and knowledgeable of the local urban form.

PPS and Opticos dedicated the first day to making a FBC presentation to City Council, Mayoral staff, City Planning and consultants in the employ of the City. The afternoon included a site visit to the Benson neighborhood, where PPS and Opticos met with the Benson Business Association to discuss FBC. The City identified the Benson neighborhood as a potential pilot for form-based code, as the neighborhood is subject to increasing redevelopment pressure. The site visit, by exploring the commercial core and the residential fringe, allowed for relevant City staff to gain insight on coding existing neighborhoods to preserve their distinctive character and attract supportive investment.

The second day was spent in capacity and knowledge building meetings. Topics addressed included: FBCs explained, how FBCs differ from existing City practices, the benefits of adopting FBCs as a regulatory and incentive tool, and constructive dialogue and debate about implementing FBCs in Omaha. The day culminated with the Benson Neighborhood Design Workshop that was designed to gauge interest and support for FBC application in Benson's core. Public sentiment, both anecdotally and from material input, was enthusiastic and nearly unanimous in support of FBC in Benson. Public exercises also collected data which will be invaluable in determining the scope and extent of the actual coding process.

Outcomes

There is greater acceptance and understanding of FBC and how they could help Omaha to become more sustainable, vibrant, and economically secure. The City is looking for additional funding to move forward with FBC neighborhood planning.