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Miami 21: Understanding The City of Miami’s Urban Outlook

Updated: Sep 26, 2023

by Jacob Rodriguez

Photo by Muzammil Soorma on Unsplash

The City of Miami, like most cities, is a part of a grander evolutionary process. Our city has grown to learn and adapt through the recent changes and new approaches to understanding the urban domain and supplanting the antiquated and unorganized systems of infrastructure and city building that have plagued our urban environment for the better half of a century. Like a brash and unruly teenager eventually matures into a civilized and structured adult, City of Miami has taken strides in ensuring that the future Miami is a place of prosperity, community, and organization. Through the adaptation and implementation of form-based code, the City of Miami has taken a whole new approach to city planning and sustainability that aims to not only improve city infrastructure and provide aesthetic and purpose to the urban livelihoods of City of Miami residents, but also set a national precedence within the realm of city code design and the implementation of “New Urbanism”.

Adopted originally in 2009 by the Miami City Commission, the Miami 21 form-based code made its official introduction to the City of Miami and did so with flying colors bringing in awards from the American Planning Association less than two years after its inception. The code was a complete juxtaposition, even inverse, to the Euclidean Codes Miami had been operating within since the early 1930s. Miami 21 was the first considerable urban planning and zoning overhaul for the City of Miami in over 80 years.

The Euclidean Codes, getting their namesake from the city of Euclid in Ohio, are a form of traditional zoning derived from the U.S.’s most early zoning ordinances that take a highly dogmatic approach to land use and are rooted mainly in low-density or reduced density land development. As a result, the Euclidean Code became a proponent of suburban sprawl and is a direct cause for the heavy road-reliance seen throughout most of the United States. The traditional Euclidean Zoning approach became legal precedent in the United States and was widely implemented in cities all over the nation including in our very own, City of Miami. Miami 21, being form-based, grounds its approach to zoning and land usage on the concept of creating an “urban form”. In other words, by better balancing the public sector (sidewalks, parks, public use areas, etc…) and the private sector (private homes or living areas, privately owned enterprises, etc…) a city may begin to develop a more organized, both visibly and in practice, urban environment and aesthetic. Furthermore, through the promotion of mixed-use land usage, that is inherent through the implementation of form-based code, road reliance becomes less prevalent and the walkability of the city and access to public transit become more focal. This will allow for easier and more efficient access for residents to their daily needs or routine stops and promote more sustainable methods of city operation and function. Essentially, the implementation of form-based code is a complete contradiction to the Euclidean Code.

While the Euclidean Code was successful in preventing overcrowding and creating a prosperous private sector in most major U.S. cities, the code widely disregarded the public urban realm leading to incredibly inefficient usages of land, illogical commute times, and generally “uglier” cities which have since become the legal precedence here in the U.S. Now, while the implementation of form based code may sound appealing when compared to the Euclidean consequences, it is crucial that residents and citizens visualize aspects of the zoning and land usage that will shift through its implementation. Before breaking down or analyzing key changes in City of Miami code, it is first important to understand the method by which zoning is quantified or gauged in the City of Miami. Through Transect Urbanism, or “the Transect” as it will be referred to in this article, the City of Miami has separated land usage into six major forms or categories that all constitute various purposes and come attached with their own respective guidelines for development. Titled T-1 through T-6 (Transect-1, Transect-2, etc…), the Miami 21 transect is outlined or best visualized through the Miami 21 Atlas which is a map showing exactly what areas are in which zone in the City of Miami. The zones are broken down by density and population with T-1 being the lowest density and T-6:80 (“80” being the number of stories a developer may construct) being the highest density with the allotment for the most units per acre. In T-1 there is no urban development as most of it is raw wilderness or preservation sites protected by the federal government or preservation institutions and T-2 is mainly rural areas which are reserved for farming practices or cultivation and are really only sparsely settled. The true metaphorical “meat” of the Miami 21 Code is seen in how it will affect zones T-3 and up in terms of creating “urban form”. In T-3 is where suburban low-density, single family development is encountered and is where the majority of the current Miami population resides and has been residing for the last 80 years. The reworking of this area is crucial in promoting the mixed-use mindset and providing residents with a reason to opt for more centralized and slightly higher density housing. T-4 is where mixed-use land usage begins to show its colors and a more varied and form-based approach to city design unfolds. Additionally, this is the first instance in the Transect where the new building setbacks (placing developments closer to sidewalks) begin to take precedence demonstrating a shift from City of Miami’s “Euclidean days”. This concept is further applied on a larger and more visible scale in stages T-5 and T-6, respectively the urban center and urban core zones, where high density and mixed-use developments hold the most precedence and frontages are essentially right on the sidewalks creating an outdoor space with form and consistency. The proximity of the building to the sidewalk shapes the outdoor room and maximizes land usage.

By consolidating land usage and adjusting the proximities of thoroughfares and sidewalks to buildings we are, in turn, centralizing our cities. Centralization is crucial to creating a close-knit and efficient urban fabric which allows for a more practical and accommodating public realm. Furthermore, the buildings may construct cantilevered awnings and thoroughfares and sidewalks may be adorned with trees and greenery which are important factors in promoting aesthetics and ensuring comfort is brought into the residents daily commutes and public space. The implementation of aesthetic and natural beauty into city design is almost as pivotal as the infrastructure itself. To create an efficient and well organized urban environment without utilization or promotion of trees or natural foliage to properly adorn thoroughfares and walkways is to have a body without any bones. Without any aesthetic guide or vision, the organization of the public realm is undermined by the drab and lackluster environment that surrounds it. So while Miami 21 ensures the City of Miami is adjusted to maximize efficiency and construct a true “urban form” it also ensures that the city remains beautiful by outlining landscape requirements that adhere to each transect zone.

The Miami 21 Code calls mainly for single rows of either single species trees or alternating species trees (depending on the type of thoroughfare) and also naturalistic clusters around the frontages of highways and major roads. When compared to Miami’s previous landscape ordinance, under Article 8.2 in Ordinance 11000 (Euclidian), Mami 21 provides a more direct and organized approach to landscape design which clears up much of the muddy water left behind by the previous ordinance’s more loose and interpretive approach. Take, for example, the previous ordinances zone based tree requirements which were minimally regulated and created generally unorthodox and sporadic natural landscapes mainly due to fluctuations in the character and layouts of neighborhoods. To regulate and organize the landscape in an already unruly and convoluted urban environment is a near impossibility. Through the implementation of ordered and natural rows along thoroughfares Miami 21 counteracts the more arbitrary procedures outlined in Ordinance 11000 leading to the creation of the outdoor room.

But, it is important not to rush. It is only through the development of new buildings and projects in accordance with the code that we will see the Miami 21 landscape ordinances take root. Essentially, they go hand in hand. The more development that occurs under the profile and procedures outlined in the Miami 21 code, the greater the shift in the natural landscape. The cliche: “Rome wasn’t built in a day”, rings particularly true in this scenario. The Miami 21 Code is not purposed in creating change quickly, rather it takes a more gradual approach. Over time the City of Miami will begin to morph into a form-based urban environment so as to not shock residents with constant and pestilent construction closages creating unsuitable environments to live and grow. Miami 21 is setting the foundation for The City of Miami to blossom over time with cadence and style, not burst with useless and poorly intentioned development over a period of a few years.

Equilibrium is the key to proper city creation and maintenance. To have a brilliant private realm and a dwindling public arena, or to have a dismal private realm and instead focus and allocate all resources to the public realm are both equally as sinful. The City of Miami, having copious development opportunities due to its transect diversity, has a tremendous amount of potential in being able to balance these sectors. By balancing the private and public realms residents are getting the best of both worlds in terms of being able to enjoy and feel comfortable in the city in which they work, live, and commute and, simultaneously, be able to return to their residences or homes and not feel as if the entire developmental focus has been focused entirely on creating the “urban form”. Private life matters. By providing individuals with certain measures of luxury and comfort within the private realm, mainly through implementing aesthetics and taking into consideration individuals or individual groups preferences, equilibrium may be met creating the most sophisticated and efficient form of city infrastructure. By instituting more mixed-use development and centralizing the urban landscape, thus granting more universal access to resources, residents may begin to see improvements in the organization and aesthetic of their physical surroundings and through the more prevalent balance between private and public realms they may experience a more refined and improved urban-living experience.

*Written with the consultation of:, Transect Urbanism: Readings in Human Ecology by Andres Duany and Brian Falk, and Town Planning in Frontier America by John Reps

Check out the Miami 21 Code website to take a deeper look at City of Miami development:

Check out the Miami 21 Atlas to see what Transect Zone you might fall in:

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