Land Matters Podcast: The Quest for Zoning Zen: How Land Use Rules Are Poised for Reform
Zoning may not be something most people think about every day. But behind the scenes, local land use rules have been blocking affordable housing, hindering climate action, and exacerbating racial segregation, according to advocates for reform.
In this episode of the Land Matters podcast, city planner M. Nolan Gray, author of the recent book Arbitrary Lines: How Zoning Broke the American City and How to Fix It, and Sara Bronin, professor at Cornell University and founder of the National Zoning Atlas, talk about how zoning can be tweaked for better outcomes.
This conversation comes at a time when at least 10 states are moving forward to modify zoning at the local level—to remove restrictions on multifamily housing development near transit stations, for example. The rationale is that there’s not nearly enough affordable housing, and local land use regulations skew toward single-family homes on large lots, which are inevitably more expensive. That’s just one example of the kind of overhaul being proposed.
“I would argue that zoning is the most significant regulatory power of local government because it [not only] governs where we can put housing and factories and parks and shops . . . but it actually has significant impacts on the economy, and even I think the very structure of our society,” said Bronin, who has been a leader in a zoning reform effort called Desegregate Connecticut.
Why all the attention to zoning now? Gray, who has been active in the organization California YIMBY (Yes in My Back Yard), says many Americans are frustrated with the lack of affordable housing, and have been motivated to understand the factors behind that shortage.
“There’s a huge appetite from across the political spectrum for reform ideas here,” he said, as the affordability crisis intensifies not only in California but throughout the country.
The reform measures have included eliminating single-family-only zoning, clearing the path for modest increases in density where it is currently not allowed; lifting prohibitions on accessory dwelling units, such as carriage houses or apartments over garages; and reducing or eliminating excessive requirements to build parking at new developments, which drive up construction costs.
Cancel Zoning: If We Want to Fix the Housing Affordability Crisis, Segregation, and Sprawl, Zoning Must Go (The Atlantic)
National Zoning Atlas (Cornell University)
President’s Message: Zoning’s Asteroid Moment (Land Lines)
Zoning Rules! The Economics of Land Use Regulation (Lincoln Institute of Land Policy)
Anthony Flint is a senior fellow at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, host of the Land Matters podcast, and a contributing editor of Land Lines.