Lean Code Tool

Writing a new zoning code is time-consuming, politically fraught with landmines, and therefore unlikely to happen in most places. But with a limited number of strategic adjustments, many zoning codes can be repaired to allow Lean Urbanism and improve or create walkable, livable environments.

The purpose of the Lean Code Tool is to repair zoning codes by removing barriers to small-scale, incremental development. Rather than rewriting entire codes, it focuses on targeted, strategic improvements, instructing experts and non-experts to identify the most common barriers and to repair the broken parts of their codes.

The Lean Code Tool begins with a focus on local capacity for change. It includes a Capacity Assessment Tool, which helps to determine whether the locality has the political support and staff capacity for minimal (S), moderate (M), significant (L), or progressive changes (XL). Issues are organized into categories, with a number of strategies offered for each issue. Strategies are labeled with the types of barriers they address, the contexts where they’re applied, and the capacity needed to implement them.

The goal for Lean code repair is not only revitalization, but also the creation of affordable neighborhoods. Lean Urbanism enables small developers, often residents themselves, to offer an array of lower-cost housing options for neighbors of varying income levels and stages of life. They also offer an array of commercial spaces, supporting local businesses. Lean Urbanism places particular emphasis on walkability. With streets that are pleasant and safe to walk, and with jobs and other daily needs accessible on foot, walkable places are not only more livable, but also help residents reduce transportation expenses, a major part of most household budgets.

When used for Urban Infill [Ui], with small lots and existing infrastructure, Lean Urbanism benefits municipalities by generating higher tax revenues and lowering costs of services. When used for Sprawl Repair [Sr], Lean Urbanism helps transform expensive sprawl into walkable, economically sustainable places.


Learn about Lean Urbanism and how to enable it by making strategic repairs to your code.

1. Procedures

Create processes that are efficient and encourage small-scale development.

2. Urban Form

Set reasonable standards to enable affordable, walkable places and build capacity for more substantial code reform over time.

3. Site Development

Allow infill on more sites and increase safety and walkability.

4. Parking

Reduce barriers to walkability and economically viable development.

5. Use and Density

Clarify the code, allow uses that contribute to good places, and employ proper controls.

6. Signage

Reduce the complications of sign ordinances.

7. Transportation

Set standards that reduce expenses for small projects and create streets that make good places.

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Matthew Lambert is a partner at DPZ CoDESIGN and an architectural and urban designer and planner with more than a decade of experience that covers a broad range of project types, from multi-county regional plans to new community and redevelopment plans and regulations, to affordable and modular housing design. He has managed projects for campus plans, hospital strategic master plans including program distribution, resort towns, and disaster recovery plans throughout the U.S., and he has worked with communities in the Caribbean, Europe and the Middle East. He also leads DPZ’s information technology team.

Lambert is active in the Congress for the New Urbanism; he is a founder of the CNU Next-Gen. As a member of the Transect Codes Council, he is contributing to the evolution of the SmartCode.

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Brian Falk is Director of the Project for Lean Urbanism and the Center for Applied Transect Studies. He lectures internationally on the topic of Lean Urbanism and offers technical assistance to municipalities that recognize the value of small-scale economic development and want to create Pink Zones to enable it in their communities.