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Zoning Rules!

The Economics of Land Use Regulation

William A. Fischel

July 2015, English

Lincoln Institute of Land Policy

Fischel . . . does for the housing debate what zoning once did for cities: brings order and coherence to what’s otherwise a mess.” — Ezra Klein, New York Times

This best-selling book describes how zoning has been overused by local communities to block new housing development in ways that exacerbate sprawl and social inequity. It lays out the history, motivation, structure, and impact of municipal zoning in the United States and offers more effective approaches for developers and public officials to consider when instituting new regulations.

About the Author

Bill Fischel has taught economics at Darmouth College since 1973, when he received his PhD from Princeton after receiving his BA from Amherst College. Fischel’s scholarship focuses on local government, especially land use regulation and property taxation. He has served on the Hanover, New Hampshire, zoning board and on the board of directors of the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy.


Fischel knows what he writes about. His expertise bridges municipal zoning law and economics. In addition to his position at Dartmouth, Fischel holds a chair in legal studies, even though he does not have a law degree. Zoning Rules! brings together his insights from some 40 years of analyzing zoning, dating back to his influential 1985 book, The Economics of Zoning Laws.”

— David R. Godschalk, Appeared in Urban Land Magazine

[Zoning Rules!] is one of the most important pieces of scholarship in years related to how government regulates land. The author is one of the most accomplished economists to study this important field, and gives insights that few others can.”

Nick Zaiac, Appeared in PanAm Post

Fischel’s new book is the definitive work on the economics of land-use regulation. In an engaging manner, Fischel lays out the history, motivation, structure, and impact of land-use regulation in the United States. It’s all here.”

Wallace E. Oates, Distinguished University Professor Emeritus, Department of Economics, University of Maryland

Written with wit and insight, Zoning Rules! provides the most persuasive economic, political, and legal account of how Americans control their most important personal investment—their home—by treating zoning as a collective property right. Zoning Rules! is both an accessible primer on local government law and politics for the layperson, and an exposition of a sophisticated political and economic theory about neighbors’ capacity to be a potent political force, shaping everything from taxes and environmental quality to schools and demography of American communities.”

Roderick Hills, William T. Comfort III Professor of Law, New York University School of Law

Zoning Rules! is much more than an update of Fischel’s 1985 classic, The Economics of Zoning Laws. An important addition, so relevant to today’s world, is his discussion of zoning as a mechanism for controlling suburban growth. Fischel deals with this topic and others in the same style that his readers have come to expect. He is a scholar, first and foremost, but he also knows how to tell a good story. My students will love this book!”

Jon Sonstelie, Professor of Economics, University of California Santa Barbara

Bill Fischel’s latest zoning masterwork is a wake-up call for an American public lulled into mass acceptance of zoning as an invisible hand. Fischel unfolds the many faces and consequences of zoning as a product of our own doing, showing that this American institution needs to be wrestled to the ground. The good news? We-the-people have the power to change it. This book is a necessary primer for plotting a realistic strategy.”

Emily Talen, Professor of Urban Planning, Arizona State University

Fischel’s highly readable review of how zoning became such a powerful governor of urban development and his identification of the effects of its ordinances provides the information base for dealing with one of urban America’s most important problems. For me personally, it has been a déjà vu moment.”

Claude Gruen, Appeared in Journal of Regional Science, Volume 56, Number 5, 2016

Everyone who cares about American cities and metropolitan areas—and the laws that shape their development—should read this excellent book. The fact that Fischel conveys his encyclopedic knowledge on a subject that is routinely considered too technical or too theoretical in such a clear, engaging, and accessible way is an additional delight to the reader.”

Sonia A. Hirt, Professor and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, College of Architecture and Urban Studies, Virginia Tech


Conservation, Conservation Easements, Dispute Resolution, Economics, Farm Land, Growth Controls, Housing, Land Law, Land Market Regulation, Land Use, Land Use Planning, Land Value, Land Value Taxation, Legal Issues, Local Government, Open Space, Planning, Property Taxation, Public Finance, Public Policy, Regionalism, Regulatory Regimes, Smart Growth, Suburban, Taxation, Urban, Urban Design, Urban Development, Urban Sprawl, Zoning