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.

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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.


Download the free pdf of the Lean Code Tool or buy the book and ebook.


May 5th, 2021

Lean Comp Plan Tool


States require local governments that have zoning authority to create comprehensive plans. While most comp plans establish laudable policies, they are often poorly implemented and can stand in the way of small-scale, incremental development. This tool outlines a Lean process that planning staff can use to reduce the expense of policy development and increase the likelihood that it will be implemented. For comp plans, Lean Urbanism is not only concerned with leveling the playing field for small-scale actors, but also with directing investments toward areas of greatest impact.

February 27th, 2021

Pink Zone Manual – Making Small Possible


Pink Zones are areas where Lean Urbanism strategies are implemented. They’re areas where red tape is lightened, where barriers are lowered, where it’s easier, faster, and cheaper to create small businesses and develop small properties. When tested and proven effective, those strategies can be applied to other parts of communities.

The Pink Zone Manual will guide you through sequential and detailed instructions to help you implement a Pink Zone in your community.

November 17th, 2020

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.

September 11th, 2019

House Hacking Catalog


Housing can create wealth for existing and new residents. It can also create opportunities for growing, improving, or preserving a neighborhood. House hacking is a powerful tool for Lean Urbanism. It helps overcome the barriers to entry, and accomplishes individual and community goals.

We created this House Hacking Catalog to show how it’s possible and to provide inspiration, information, and ideas to make it happen. It contains descriptions of the types of buildings, rentals, and construction that make good options for house hacking, plus issues to consider including financing and finding the right property, as well as additional resources.

October 31st, 2017

Savannah Pilot Project – Pink Zone Workshop


Savannah is hosting one of the national pilots by the Project for Lean Urbanism. The project sponsor is the Savannah Development and Renewal Authority, with support from elected officials, municipal staff, nonprofits, and neighborhood leaders. In Phase 1 of the pilot, a team from the Project for Lean Urbanism visited Savannah multiple times to identify obstacles to small-scale economic development. In Phase 2, a week-long workshop was held to establish an Action Plan and Lean projects in two Pink Zones within the city. This is the final presentation from the workshop.

November 23rd, 2016

Tool Survey – Existing and Proposed


Lean Urbanism is a way to restore common sense to the processes of development, building, starting small businesses, community engagement, and acquiring the necessary skills. The Project for Lean Urbanism is collecting and developing tools and daylighting techniques to enable and encourage those activities. This collection is the result of a survey to identify tools developed elsewhere and to track ideas for those that are needed. As tools are developed by the Project for Lean Urbanism, they will be made freely available on this website.

November 4th, 2016

The Pink Zone – Where Small Is Possible


The Pink Zone is a powerful tool for concentrating resources on the task of enabling small-scale, community-centered development and revitalization. It defines an area of focus, leverages a suite of available tools, and provides a platform for the community to gather resources, make commitments, and work together on projects that enhance community character and allow existing businesses and residents to remain and profit from the improved quality of life. The Pink Zone tool will be developed and refined in a series of pilot projects, and then released to the public.

August 18th, 2015

Lessons from PHX – Embracing Lean Urbanism


The City of Phoenix has become a model of Lean Governing, demonstrating the benefits of community revitalization when a municipality enables and encourages the work of creative entrepreneurs, small developers, neighborhood leaders, and community organizations. Along the way, it has employed and refined a number of principles and techniques that other cities can use to revitalize their neighborhoods. Phoenix is demonstrating that small projects can lead to big results.

August 13th, 2015

The Lexicon of Lean Urbanism


The Lexicon of Lean Urbanism defines the “terms of art” and other useful words and phrases that have emerged from extended discussions on the online Lean Urbanism discussion group and at Lean Councils. The first section is dedicated to these terms, and the second presents a selection of helpful quotations.

July 29th, 2015

The Katrina Cottage Movement – A Case Study


Appealing, context-aware designs for small-scale homes in small-scale neighborhoods grabbed national attention during the 2005 Mississippi Renewal Forum after Hurricane Katrina. Though it took far longer for the ideas to find traction than anyone imagined, trial-and-error progress has produced models worth emulating, and just in time to address new realities in housing demand in post-recession America.