Ban Zoning

Perhaps the simplest way to take advantage of the insights we’ve been learning in this site would be to simply end zoning. After all, what better way to make use of market signals than to just let the market do its work without restriction? Why go through complicated mechanisms just to let the market do what it wants? There’s a lot of allure to this approach: no matter how well you define your market rules, time and clever actors will reveal ways to take advantage of them that you haven’t thought of. Nevertheless, there are major disadvantages to simply eliminating zoning, or else to advocating for zoning elimination as your only platform for housing reform, so this page will plays devil’s advocate and enumerate the problems with this as a solution.

Zoning regulates far more than density

The popular story of zoning is that it restricts incompatible uses: for example, dangerous and polluting chemical factories should be zoned far from school buildings. Only those knee-deep in land use debates begin to realize that the vast majority of zoning regulations focus not on avoiding these sorts of incompatibilite uses, but rather on separating out densities of residences. Nevertheless, zoning codes really do separate incompatible uses.

Not only that, but zoning also regulates a myriad of other things that people like regulated, like water runoff or the interface between private property and the streets. Anybody who has ever attended a land use hearing has heard flooding, traffic, shadows and other problems disingenuously invoked in service of fighting against housing so often that folks can forget that some of these regulations genuinely were created to serve real purposes.

Zoning is immensely popular

Even if you don’t believe that zoning regulations serve useful purposes, they are immensely popular. Only one major US city (Houston) lacks zoning regulations altogether and almost every small city has them as well.