New Codes Address Need for Reserving Civic Space

Public gathering are a vital element of any well-functioning community. Unfortunately, the planning practices of the past 50 years have failed to provide civic space in a comprehensive, systematic way. Towns usually have too little civic space; even when it is provided, it is often located haphazardly on leftover sites. The opposite extreme is also a problem—large, single-use civic areas that remain deserted most of the time.

Municipalities across the nation are addressing the need for dedicated civic space with new urbanist zoning codes. One example is the SmartCode produced by Duany, Plater-Zyberk & Company. The SmartCode establishes a Civic Space (CS) zone in each type of neighborhood. At least 5 percent of every pedestrian shed must be permanently dedicated to open space, with at least one principal civic space near the center.

The character of the civic spaces is also be appropriate to the surrounding neighborhood. For example, the SmartCode specifies greens and playgrounds for sub-urban zones.

A truly public space is accessible to the community, not hidden behind a row of private lots or relegated to a distant highway frontage. Under SmartCode zoning, at least half of every civic space’s perimeter must face a throughfare. Every lot must be within 800 feet of a playground.

Going beyond design, civic spaces require public support to flourish. The cost of construction and maintenance should be met through annual fees levied by a homeowner’s association, property taxes and volunteer efforts. When the entire neighborhood contributes to its common spaces, that contribution becomes an investment in local pride and cohesiveness. - Laurence Aurbach Jr.

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