New Guide Steps You Closer to a More Walkable, Successful Community

By Luke Forrest

Enabling Better Places coverWalkable downtowns and main streets are highly desirable qualities in today’s communities. But how do you move your community in that direction?

A good place to start is by updating your zoning code.

On Sept. 21, at the League’s annual Convention in Grand Rapids, we will debut a new resource for community leaders: Enabling Better Places: User’s Guide to Zoning Reform. This publication is a how-to manual of practical, realizable steps for local governments to take to make their communities more walkable and economically successful.  It’s the product of nearly two years of collaboration between the League, Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU), Michigan Association of Planning (MAP), and Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC).

The League, MAP, and MEDC are proud that Michigan is serving as the proving ground for the Project for Code Reform, CNU’s national initiative to support cities and towns as they reform outdated zoning codes to promote walkable places. CNU worked with its Michigan partners to create the new guide, focusing on downtowns and main streets in small and medium-sized towns and cities in Michigan. The cities of Albion, Kalamazoo, Muskegon, Saginaw, and Traverse City served as test markets. But the lessons learned are easily translated to towns and cities in other parts of the state and the country. The guide was made possible by financial support from partner organizations and technical support from nationally acclaimed code experts from DPZ CoDESIGN, Ferrell Madden, and PlaceMakers, LLC.

The guide—which is linked to MEDC’s Redevelopment Ready Communities® program—focuses on the “how” of the process of code reform rather than the “what.” It gives communities wide latitude to create solutions that are unique to their needs and circumstances. The emphasis is on incremental change to enable a community to adapt and digest an update in a single neighborhood or district before moving on to other reforms. This helps governments test approaches, build political will, and gain community support as they go.

Other project partners for Enabling Better Places include AARP Livable Communities, The Richard H. Driehaus Prize at the University of Notre Dame for Contributions to the Public Realm, and the Michigan State Housing Development Authority.