Buffalo has rewritten its zoning code. While that might normally be a great cue for an afternoon nap, this update has a bunch of smart and practical requirements that will transform the city into a place for humans, and not just for their cars.
The idea behind the new code is to make the city walkable, to promote mixed-use developments, and to push mass transit. And perhaps the clearest statement of Buffalo’s intent comes from the removal of a minimum parking requirement for new buildings across the entire city.
Instead of forcing developers to include parking spaces in their plans, with allocations based on a formula that depends on the kind of development being built, the new Buffalo code could let people build with no provision for parking at all. Many cities have phased out minimum parking, but Buffalo is the first to do it citywide.
For large projects, over 5,000 square feet, each case will be considered on its own criteria. Perhaps parking will be required, but other forms of transportation will also be taken into account. “Now we can be more efficient with land, because we’re not dedicating more space than is needed for parking,” executive director for the Office of Strategic Planning Brendan Mehaffy told the Buffalo News.
Other changes dictate how downtown buildings must look, and be placed. Convenience and drug stores, for example, must be built close to the street, with any parking tucked away out back, a model that looks much more like a walkable European city than it does the usual U.S.-style car-centric plan.
Overall, the plan is to address the needs of a modern city, while respecting its historical aspects. For instance, solar panels are now permitted, as is wind power, and urban agriculture. Also written into the new laws are requirements for public consultation. That is, before a project is given the go-ahead, local residents will be brought into the review process.
“How you design a street has a significant impact on the neighborhood that surrounds it, including businesses and residents,” Mehaffy told Buffalo News. “Where the curb cuts are. Whether you have benches or what the lighting will look like. The bike lanes. The bus stops. Before there were ad hoc meetings, but now it will be part of a formal review process, so the community can look at the whole picture, including the streetscape, and not just the buildings.”
The changes seem fantastic and are already influencing the zoning codes of other cities. Zoning codes are a way that a city can really take control of itself, and the people-centric nature of Buffalo’s new code shows just what the city considers important.