Karin Murphy’s job description includes, more or less, writing a new form-based zoning code for the entire city. It’s a daunting task, but, over the past month, the scope of Murphy’s work has cast an even wider net.
Murphy is the director of the city’s Urban Design Studio, which opened in late July and is located at the Federal Building. Along with principal urban designer Andrew Georgiadis, she’s taking a holistic approach to planning that goes beyond the development of new zoning regulations.
Murphy and Georgiadis aren’t just waiting to drop a new system on the city in a few years. The duo has divided the city into five districts — basically: north, east, south, downtown and islands. Within each zone, they’ve targeted a smaller catalyst area.
The catalyst areas, which Murphy emphasized are simply proposals the planning board and City Commission must approve, are segments the Urban Design team believes is suited for a more immediate implementation of form-based principles. That way, people in those neighborhoods can familiarize themselves with what a form-based code looks like in reality.
Murphy said they targeted areas that have been identified as priorities for developing in the city’s strategic plans. The goal is that there are immediate results for residents to gauge the effectiveness of form-based code.
“By trying to pick some areas that are having troubles in the existing code, that there is an interest in developing, our hope is that you will get that implementation so the neighborhood can judge pretty quickly,” Murphy said.
One of those proposed catalyst areas is centered on Water Tower Park, near the North Trail at 47th Street. It’s an example of how the work of the Urban Design Studio goes beyond just zoning.
Murphy called Water Tower Park a beautiful but neglected part of the city. One of the reasons for that, she said, is that it’s difficult to patrol due to a number of dead-end streets and blind spots. By connecting the streets and forming a viable grid, she said, crime will naturally fall.
Other areas of emphasis around Water Tower Park aren’t things one might immediately associate with zoning, such as building light-imprint stormwater management systems or removing overgrowth that’s choking some of the plants in the park.
This isn’t an accident. The Urban Design team went to individual departments and tried to overlay where individual master plans could complement one another to form a more cohesive plan. This aggregation plays to the strengths of the designers.
“Both of us do master planning,” Murphy said. “It’s nice to say, hey, we’re bringing all our skillsets together — here are things we noticed we think would help.”
The other important aspect of the duo’s work is outreach. They’ve got to deal with several layers of understanding among the general public — there are people who are passionate about making sure their pet issue is addressed in a new code, but there are others who don’t even know what a form-based code is.
The Urban Design team’s job is to address the concerns of both extremes, and everybody in between.
They will be making a presentation at the Sept. 7 Coalition of City Neighborhood Associations meeting, and an Urban Design Studio open house will be held Oct. 4.
Though one of the strengths of form-based code is that it provides predictability for developers, Murphy said meeting with the public was important so residents know what to expect, too.
In zoning charrettes, she said, it is common for people on all sides to think they know what everybody is talking about, only to be dissatisfied with the final project. Murphy’s goal is to thoroughly demonstrate what the Urban Design team is proposing.
“People can say, ‘Oh, I hate that, that’s not what I was thinking about,’” Murphy said. “Then, we can modify, really get the form down and then we code. That’s that certainty everybody wants, for the developers and anyone else.”
Contact David Conway at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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