News & Opinion

Paul Crawford, 60, Planner Turned New Urbanist

Paul Crawford, a nationally known expert on form-based codes and a practitioner admired among new urbanists, died of a brain tumor on May 21 at his San Luis Obispo, California home. He was 60.
A partner in the planning firm Crawford, Multari & Clark Associates, Crawford died shortly after this spring’s publication of Form-Based Codes: A Guide for Planners, Urban Designers, Municipalities, and Developers, written with Daniel Parolek and Karen Parolek. New Urban News called the book a “major advance” in the field. Congress for the New Urbanism cofounder Stefanos Polyzoides said the book is “a significant contribution — beneficial and earnest.”
After graduating from Cal Poly with a city and regional planning degree in 1971, Crawford had a highly successful planning career with several distinct phases. First, he started in the public sector, becoming, at 33, the youngest county planning department director in California, according to the website Then, after a decade on the job, which included rewriting the county land-use code, Crawford co-founded his firm and wrote zoning codes for more than 100 cities, according to partner Chris Clark.
Twelve years ago, Crawford met Polyzoides while creating a plan for Oxnard, California. That sparked the final phase of Crawford’s career — when he became immersed in New Urbanism and made a mark nationally. He and Polyzoides worked on a code for Sonoma, California, and Crawford collaborated with other leading California new urbanists. Crawford chaired the board of the Form-Based Codes Institute. He worked on the Central Petaluma Code in 2002, the first SmartCode in California and one of the first in the nation.
In a 2002 presentation to New Urban Council IV in Santa Fe, Crawford termed himself “a born-again new urbanist.” After writing so many zoning codes that separate land development by use, he joked that he would start the presentation by saying, “Hello. My name is Paul. I’m a planner.”
Most new urbanist practitioners are trained in architecture and urban design, not planning. So According to urban designer Laura Hall, Crawford was helpful as an advocate who spoke the language of planners. “He was the bridge,” she said. “He was articulate. All the rest of us started as new urbanists. He had been a conventional planner for many years, and we all needed him to translate and fit this square peg into a round hole.”
Polyzoides said, “Having someone with his knowledge and experience on our team was extraordinary. … He knew where the skeletons lay with the existing zoning — where to find them and how to deal with them.”
Crawford’s personal qualities drew widespread admiration. “His most notable attribute was kindness and thoughtfulness even under pressure, the hallmark of an honorable and accomplished gentleman — a rare combination,” said architect Steve Coyle in an email. In addition, Polyzoides said Crawford retained the best qualities of those who came of age in the 1960s in California. “He was as open, trusting, curious, and loving as possible.”
Crawford was also an accomplished photographer. He was in Italy on sabbatical taking photos, touring, and relaxing in 2006 when he fell ill. Crawford is survived by his wife, Linda, and their children and grandchildren.
The family asks that remembrances be made to the Paul Crawford Scholarship Fund at Cal Poly for City and Regional Planning students. Checks should be made payable to the Cal Poly Foundation, noting the scholarship fund, and mailed to the City and Regional Planning Department, Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, CA 93407.