Reinventing Development Regulations
Development regulations determine the urban form of our cities, suburbs, and towns, and have a huge impact on the natural environment, influencing how, when, and where real estate development occurs and affecting the legal rights of property owners. For these reasons, development regulations can help solve pressing land use and environmental problems. But current regulations have structural deficiencies and biases that must be corrected for regulations to achieve today’s objectives for land use and development.
These deficiencies include zoning maps that follow a format devised in the 1920s and show only property boundaries — omitting topography and other features that are part of a living ecosystem. This bias makes it difficult to develop sustainably and adapt to the effects of climate change. Traditional zoning practices focus on the future development potential of property, and ignore the preservation needs of historic buildings and areas. In addition, undesirable suburban growth patterns — such as the ubiquitous suburban corridors along highways formed by narrow strips of commercial buildings surrounded by parking lots — have been shaped by zoning and subdivision requirements.
While some people assert that the answer is to throw out the entire zoning and subdivision system and begin afresh, the authors of Reinventing Development Regulations — Jonathan Barnett, one of the pioneers of the modern practice of city design, and Brian W. Blaesser, a land use and real estate lawyer — do not agree. They argue that keeping the existing regulatory framework with some changes will address most of the problems without disturbing the property values and public policies of cities, towns, and suburbs. The authors recommend improving six critical areas of zoning and subdivision regulations.
- Relate development to the natural environment.
- Manage climate change locally.
- Encourage walking by mixing land uses and housing types.
- Preserve historic landmarks and districts.
- Create more affordable housing and promote environmental justice.
- Establish design principles and standards for public spaces and buildings.
- Implement regulations while safeguarding private property interests.
About the Authors
Jonathan Barnett served as director of the graduate urban design program at the University of Pennsylvania and at the City College of New York. He worked in the administration of New York City’s Mayor John Lindsay and wrote Urban Design as Public Policy (McGraw-Hill), which helped establish urban design as a well-recognized profession. He also wrote City Design: Modernist, Traditional, Green, and Systems Perspectives (Routledge) and coauthored Ecodesign for Cities and Suburbs (Island Press), among other works. He has been design consultant to cities, communities, and suburbs in the United States, China, Cambodia, and Korea. He is a fellow of the American Institute of Architects and the American Institute of Certified Planners, and is a recipient of numerous awards for urban design education and practice.
Brian W. Blaesser is a partner in the law firm Robinson & Cole LLP, and heads the firm’s Land Use and Real Estate Development Group. He served as special assistant attorney general for eminent domain actions in Illinois and has extensive experience in state and federal trial and appellate courts in real estate and land use litigation. Blaesser coauthored Federal Land Use Law & Litigation (Thomson-Reuters) and Discretionary Land Use Controls: Avoiding Invitations to Abuse of Discretion (Thomson-Reuters), and coedited Redevelopment: Planning, Law, and Project Implementation (ABA Publishing) and Land use and the Constitution: Principles for Planning Practice (Planners Press). He was a lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Design in planning and environmental law and public-private development, a legal consultant on development regulations across the country, and a Fulbright Scholar.