This case study of Saratov sets a precedent for formulating and implementing form-based zoning codes in the Russian context, beginning the transition from the usage-based zoning model in use since the Soviet era. This zoning methodology based on spatial characteristics of the urban fabric to raise it’s quality in the foreseeable future.
Saratov is representative of cities around the rest of the country, with а historical core surrounded by low-rise, individualized urban fabric and sprawling Soviet microrayons, all dotted with modern infill. Its problems are representative as well: low-quality infill clashes with the surrounding urban fabric; development that is primarily car-oriented and single-use; and loosely defined, unsafe streets. To remedy this, the Form-Based Code (FBC) for Saratov incorporated principles for development rooted in New Urbanism: mixed-use, high density and human scale development; safety; connectivity; flexibility; comfort; and preservation of architectural heritage.
What kind of legislative challenges does the FBC for Saratov solve?
Extensive analysis identified several main legislative issues defining current practice in Saratov: outdated Soviet-era building standards, a lack of clear boundaries of public open spaces and frontage lines and inadequate parcellation. Existing codes lacked regulations to ensure urban environment quality in elements like road network density, street width, or block size. To solve these problems, zoning ordinances, landscaping rules and signage guidelines were combined into one comprehensive document: the Form-Based Code (FBC) for Saratov. Currently, federal standards and building codes are undergoing transformation to implement a new urban agenda based on UN Habitat and OECD programmes. This FBC translates nationwide development recommendations into a set of clearly defined parameters, carefully adapted to the local context.
The Form-Based Code: How does it alter existing zoning methodology?
The Saratov form-based code is a large-scale project involving all types of urban territories.
Zoning methodology in developed areas is based on a classification of existing types of urban fabric. Blocks were assigned in their entirety to different zones described by the FBC, based on the predominant type of urban fabric. This approach differs from existing use-based zoning regulations, where individual lots in a single block can be assigned to different zones and maximum allowable building height does not depend on character surrounding development.
In developing greenfield areas, the FBC introduces new rules, including maximum building block sizes and street network grid spacing to ensure that new development forms neighborhoods and districts while integrating with existing urban patterns. It ensures compact and pedestrian-friendly neighbourhoods. The maximum allowed building block size in greenfield areas depends on building height, and consequently on the number of dwelling units. This helps to create neighborhoods of optimal size and population while ensuring accessibility. Recommendations for greenfields include a short, step-by-step guide explaining the design process, street types, and the territory's relationship to its surroundings. These requirements are expressed clearly and unambiguously using quantitative parameters, allowing them to be incorporated into legislative documents.
What kind of elements of the urban environment does the FBC control?
Saratov’s FBC sets different parameters for each zone in order to maintain the existing environment’s character and strengthen its beneficial features. For example, the FBC also regulates building placement, forming perimetral blocks and providing clear distinctions between private and public spaces. Continuous street frontage accommodates retail and service public facilities, and inner courtyards provide community spaces and encourage citizens to take responsibility for their maintenance and development. Frontage parameters contribute to street character as well: minimal fenestration, limited blank wall width and zero-step entries create an interesting, pedestrian-friendly environment.
How does the FBC reflect the context of historical districts ?
In historical districts and blocks comprised of Stalin-era perimetral buildings, the FBC introduces parameters to preserve their characteristic features: lot width, facade width and facade height. Architectural design requirements, further developed by local heritage protection specialists, are applied to historical zones. They ensure an appropriate scale of architectural detailing and prohibit certain materials that contrast with the existing environment, but do not prescribe styles or shapes. Therefore, even contemporary architecture can emerge and contribute to the surrounding historical environment.
How does the FBC influence existing zoning practice?
Though FBCs are traditionally opposed to use-based zoning, Saratov proved that this practice may actually be left intact. The decision to keep both use-based and form-based zoning maps was grounded in existing local practice, since current code also includes two maps: use-based one and historical areas. The FBC extends this approach to the entire city, and is meant to be introduced into the existing legislative system in a way acceptable to all stakeholders. Currently workshops with local authorities on the means of FBC implementation are underway.
What are the economic effects of the FBC?
Developers were concerned about the new requirements, so an interview-based analysis of existing practices was conducted, evaluating the impact that FBC implementation may have versus total cost of the project development and realization. The study proved that the FBC increases the profitability of projects in low-rise and mid-rise areas by allowing a higher construction density by regulating lot coverage and building height instead of existing FAR-based regulation.
Strelka KB was founded in 2013 to offer strategic consulting and comprehensive urban solutions. The company is currently working across Russia and abroad as a multi-disciplinary and multi-national team, covering expert teams, with Centers for Urban Anthropology, Urban Economics, and GIS Analysis among them. It collaborates with both Russian and international experts from 45 countries. Landmark projects include a renovation program and development guidelines for 3,500 streets in Moscow, Integrated Guidelines for Urban Development and the data-driven Urban Environment Quality Index for 1,114 Russian cities, the functional model for Zaryadye Park and architectural competitions, including Nike’s outdoor sports center in Gorky Park, Moscow, and Tel Aviv University’s nano lab.