Making Main Street Legal Again: The Smartcode Solution to Sprawl

50 Pages Posted: 17 Aug 2007

See all articles by Chad D. Emerson

Chad D. Emerson

Faulkner University - Thomas Goode Jones School of Law


For those concerned with the sustainability of today's land development patterns, there looms an unfortunate yet eye-opening reality: presently, if a developer wants to develop a project similar to classic American communities such as Charleston, Savannah, Key West, or Alexandria, in most jurisdictions, doing so would be illegal under existing zoning codes. Similarly, if a developer sought to develop a neighborhood with a traditional corner store or a classic American main street where the shopkeeper lived about her shop, many existing zoning codes would legally prohibit such a result.

The stark reality is that, in most jurisdictions within the United States, traditional town and neighborhood planning techniques are illegal because many of today's conventional zoning codes either prevent their use expressly or by effect. And, even worse, this is not a recent phenomenon but rather the result of an outdated zoning scheme that dates back to the early 1900s. A zoning system that, as this article will show, has now outlived much of its original purpose and usefulness.

Fortunately, a growing group of land planners and attorneys have developed a comprehensive legal response to this unsustainable reality - a response whose leading purpose is to legalize the use traditional planning techniques in our regions, communities, neighborhoods, and streets. Known as the SmartCode and developed by leading town planner Andres Duany, this response is not simply an abstract theory or proposal, but rather an actual regulatory document that can be adopted by local jurisdictions to enable the legal use of traditional planning techniques. At its core, the SmartCode is "a fundamentally different vision of how cities should be coded" as it codifies many of the traditional planning techniques that today are advocated by the New Urbanism movement - techniques such as mixing uses, utilizing interconnected street networks, and designing compact, walkable, and environmentally-sustainable communities.

This article will analyze the format of the SmartCode and, since the SmartCode is a model code that must be legally customized for local jurisdictions, the article will further explain the legal steps that communities must take in order to implement the SmartCode as a zoning option. While doing so, the article will also examine how the strict Euclidean structure of today's conventional zoning codes has necessitated the creation of the SmartCode in order to allow communities to legally utilize traditional town and neighborhood planning techniques.

Keywords: sprawl, smart growth

JEL Classification: K32

Suggested Citation

Emerson, Chad D., Making Main Street Legal Again: The Smartcode Solution to Sprawl. Missouri Law Review, Vol. 71, No. 3, 2006, Available at SSRN:

Chad D. Emerson (Contact Author)

Faulkner University - Thomas Goode Jones School of Law ( email )

Montgomery, AL 36109
United States

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