If Zoning Laws were abolished and ordinances requiring density limits were abolished, it would lower unemployment until housing was so affordable, eveyone could easily afford to own their own dreamhome / condo


In times past, when America was growing, unemployment wasn't even considered an issue.  We NEEDED so many people to fill roles working that there was always some way for people to make themselves useful.


Now, technology has improved our productivity to the point that it has made us a paranoid nation.  This is reflected in the professional world, and the built environment.  As a result, it has even become nearly impossible to become employed in the areas which seem to be the most productive.  Everyone is afraid of loosing what they have, and the gears of the system are set up in a way which inspire insecurity in all of us.


If housing prices decrease and we have to move, how will we ever dig ourselves out of the mountain of debt left over from the loan on the house?  Unfortunately because of this very real fear, I feel America has begun to 'race to the bottom' instead of shooting for the top.  We prefer to keep our housing stock at the lowest quality and the unemployment rates higher in order to avoid the free market's terror.


To me, this is a very disturbing reality.  We would love to eliminate poverty, economic struggle, and unemployment from our society, but we are so entangled in the current system that the fear of disobeying it causes everyone to prop it up at the expense of society's standard of living.


Yes, I do know that Houston has no zoning laws.  They do, however, have regulations in many areas that have effectively outlawed row-housing development (which has done the most significant damage to the beauty of the city).  Also - housing in Houston compared to wages is significantly lower than in most other cities giving validity to my theory.


I would just like to open up a discussion about how everyone else feels on the issue.  Personally, I don't think zoning should be completely disbanded (we should still keep waste disposal and hazardous factories in appropriate places), but I do feel that it would be healthy for our economic wellbeing to significantly downsize the scope of most cities' current zoning laws.


What does everyone else think?

Nov 11, 13 11:45 am

This post is almost as stupid as zoning itself. 

Nov 11, 13 11:59 am

I think all cities need an Urban Growth Boundary and we build NOTHING beyond it ever.  Immediately stop all sprawl and focus on renovating existing buildings or doing smart infill.

Also, the tap water should pour wine on demand.

Nov 11, 13 12:10 pm

Donna speaketh the truth, as ever.

Nov 11, 13 12:27 pm


I applaud you for making some interesting realizations about the dysfunctions related to zoning and its adverse effects on urban economies and the many people who have been priced out of affordable housing near city centers. It's basically what a libertarian would say, which is considered heresy in Archinect forums.  If you want to be popular here, you'll need to tow the line by first pontificating how things should be, that it's for the greater good, and that coercive planning policies are the best way to get there (re: Donna Sink's comment). Then you make fun of anyone who speaks favorably of laissez-faire, while belittling the dimwitted people who live in sprawling suburbs.  Rinse and repeat.  

Nov 11, 13 1:28 pm

homme, can you give us a concrete example of how ZONING led to outrageous pricing in an already densely built area vs. the market leading to it? Or is it a combination of those two, plus other, factors?

Nov 11, 13 2:13 pm

It IS a combination of zoning and market forces.  Any zoning restriction, particularly Urban Growth Boundaries, will inevitably lead to higher prices since you are restricting the availability of building sites which leads to higher prices for the ground that is buildable.  It's simple supply and demand.  The more desirable a location is, the higher the price.

Nov 11, 13 5:17 pm

the water tap should also be able to produce beer for all us Redneck Archinects...

Nov 11, 13 5:49 pm

is this actually based on research, or is it just an internet tangent?  how exactly would getting rid of zoning codes "improve the economy?

if you want to decrease the prices of houses, then you start with the financial institutions and the government sponsored enterprises that make it possible for houses that cost so much to be sold to average people.  See:  2008.  then, if you don't want prices to fluctuate so much, stop allowing real estate to be sold in as commercial backed securities in a highly volatile exchange similar to the stock market.  and none of this (fyi)  would make the economy better.

some other things:

1.  you can't get rid of unemployment, poverty, and economic struggle.

2.  as far as unemployment never being an issue... are you just referring to the 1990's?  unemployment has always been a problem.

Nov 11, 13 6:53 pm
Them mudderfudders at city hall sed I can't park the manure spreader in the front yard no more dadgummit!!
Nov 11, 13 7:31 pm

A few years ago the town supervisor established a law prohibing hanging laundry in a front yard. Apparently he didn't like seing it on his way to work. It has since been rescinded.

In protest I wanted to hang the biggest pair of bloomers ever made in my front yard but the lady of the house wouldn't let me. 

Nov 11, 13 7:37 pm

Zoning in New England assures  small select towns  a weapon for  keeping the poor out. Minimum Lot size  5 acres, and other tactics such as using soils types to determine areas where one might build, along with the overlay of  excessive setbacks, inland wetlands, and  septic system design and septic system reserve areas, distance to wells from  septic systems.  Na we don't need  no fricking  zoning.

Nov 11, 13 8:44 pm

We've actually got minimum square footage requirements. Can you spell exclusionary?

Nov 11, 13 9:17 pm

I know Urban Growth Boundaries supposedly lead to higher home prices.  I also know no one is making any new land.  

Nov 11, 13 10:16 pm

isn't a lot of the Netherlands from people making new land?  some of Louisianan too?  i thought i read japan built an airport by creating a new island of the coast a ways?

paolo soleri was going to build a spaceship i thought.  would a habitable space machine count as new land?

Nov 11, 13 10:26 pm

I thought Japan had no zoning?  I would think that abolishing all zoning would improve income diversity but not sure how it would affect price.  

Nov 12, 13 1:42 am
curtkram that's not additional surface area in The Netherlands, etc. The only way to build additional surface area is to stack square footage on top of square footage.

Otherwise we spread single family homes and strip malls like peanut butter from one side of the country to the other.
Nov 12, 13 6:30 am

Since my employment is now located there, I am trying to move into a community that has an UGB. The average house price is $500,000! Most of the residents are independently wealthy. It makes for a very nice community though. 

On a somewhat related note, since there is demand for infill lots, some developer tried to build a multi-family unit on an old plutonium processing site and it was only shut down after an old guy that used to work at the site made a fuss about it. Completely missed in the permitting process?

To the OP, about unemployment, my thoughts are that it isn't like there isn't any work to do. Know what I mean? There is plenty to do. I don't think it is regulation (zoning) in the way of doing more than it is lack of confidence

Nov 12, 13 7:27 am

an economic argument against sprawl (which could partly be addressed with things like urban growth boundaries) is that leapfrogging new greenfield development require extension of public infrastructure, with a diminishing return of the value of that infrastructure back to the public good. the more dense development can be, the more efficient the use of the infrastructure investments already made. 

with the levels of disinvestment in many urban areas, it's simply a fallacy that its more expensive to develop in-town than out-of-town. harder, yes. development can't take the simplest cookie-cutter patterns, replicating what has become habit. 

removal of zoning won't give any incentive to anyone to change destructive habits/development patterns. will business thrive? maybe, short-term, the removal of zoning restrictions might help some cheap service businesses build more dryvit boxes for minimum wage jobs, creating more dixie highways and veterans boulevards stretching into the exurbs across the country.

but this kind of development would do the opposite of what so many metro areas are trying to do right now: attract high-skilled workers who locate themselves based on how they want to live, those who choose based on quality-of-life opportunities. 

and then there's this, a good article, despite the unnecessarily provocative title (which only sort of even addresses the articles best points):

Nov 12, 13 7:32 am
won and done williams

I tend to agree that most zoning ordinances are out-dated (e.g. parking minimums) and byzantine (e.g. conditional uses), and fully support most ordinances being rewritten from scratch rather than being revised. (Revisions tend to make these problems worse by adding more layers of rot to an already convoluted mess.)

However, Steven's point above, and one I'm sure toasteroven would make if he were reading this, is the economic benefit of exurban development needs to be balanced with the public cost to provide supporting infrastructure. In many communities, it's a lifestyle decision that has a broad impact on economic development and public cost to provide services. While some municipalities may favor urban growth boundaries and investment in transit, others may favor minimal zoning and road construction. If you compare two cities like Portland and Houston, you begin to see the economic impact of those decisions (higher density, higher home prices in Portland; lower density, lower home prices in Houston). From an overall market standpoint, I'm not sure one has a significant advantage over the other. While Houston pushes supply higher and higher (new construction), its prices stay proportionately low. While Portland limits supply, its prices rise with demand. My feeling is that in the long run the lifestyle decision is most critical and will determine the future viability of the two models. Will Houston be able to sustain demand for low density exurban development in 20, 50 years? Or will demand for dense urban development continue to increase (driving up prices)? Or is there room for both?

Nov 12, 13 9:16 am

Um, Federal mortgage insurance has more to do with inflating housing prices (thus creating unaffordablity) than any zoning law.

Eliminate the fact that they government will bail out any bank that buys up mortgages (regardless of how shitty they are) and then watch housing prices freefall.

Nov 12, 13 9:40 am

I'd pay not to live in Houston. A lot.

Nov 12, 13 9:52 am

You already do, Miles. 

Nov 12, 13 9:56 am

i agree with miles.  money well spent.

Nov 12, 13 11:20 am
Non Sequitur

what was this about wine pouring out of my domestic tap? We should be lining up dump trucks filled with money in front of that research centre.

Nov 12, 13 11:40 am


Sorry for my belated response, but I've been busy at the office.

Though Euclidean zoning was initially thought to have been about keeping out nasty land uses from residential areas so as to promote the health and well-being of residents, it was also just as much influenced by the desire to preserve and maximize land values for an area. Not having a smelly factory next to one's house made that house a bit more desirable, and the more desirable, the more demand for it increases. Naturally supply for such a desirable good would keep up, and prices would be influenced by supply, demand, on what the market in that area at that point in time could bear.  Zoning, which limits what can be done on a site, naturally constricts supply for a demanded good.  Virtually all pricey real-estate markets share the common feature of artificially constricted supply via various modes of regulation-Zoning by limiting FAR, Urban Growth Boundaries, Rent Control, and certain NIMBY inspired ordinances.

Urban areas that were very dense before the arrival of modern zoning codes at the dawn of the twentieth century were the result of a lot of factors having to do with industrialization, where jobs were, and what available means were available to move around. Given the fact that walking and slow-moving carriages and trams were the preferred means of travel, density was very desirable to much of the public. Assuming the that urban economics before the twentieth century was laissez faire for the most part, the resulting density that was experienced in most major American cities was more or less a natural outcome of market forces and its attendant speculation, coupled with an unusual egalitarian block grid system, and geographical  constraints such as coastlines and steep mountains (NYC, LA, Chicago, San Fran, etc.)  Zoning would later freeze this development in place and artificially restricted supply, leaving these city centers pretty unaffordable to the masses, forcing them to look for property at the periphery where supply was less restricted and regulated (sprawl).

Density can be achieved by two means: market forces (like my example above) or government coercion, whether democratic or authoritarian (e.g. Soviet era new towns, Chinese new towns, French suburban new towns, or basically anywhere where urban planners can implement their visions with state support).  In most instances, the governing entity establishes the ground rules for private developers to follow, with every layer of regulation increasing the cost to develop a site in order to conform with the rules, whether through creative design and construction or by having to take time and money to figure out what  is and is not allowed.  Regulations on property thereby favor big developers which can better afford the cost of compliance, while marginalizing small players who don’t have comparable resources.  These developers then pass on the cost to consumers via high prices.

Urban growth boundaries marginalize the average consumer even more, by freezing the supply of land available for building which incentivizes builders to build denser by partitioning off lots and existing buildings into smaller  dwellings. It also incentivizes rapid sprawl  outside the greenbelt of the urban growth boundary, thus solving the “problem” of affordable housing by making it go elsewhere.   Portland, OR and Boulder, CO are excellent examples of this.  In the latter, the city achieved a picturesque and ideal low-density character, and decided to freeze this in place, making housing prices extremely elevated compared to the rest of the metro Denver area.  More traditional  sprawling suburbs developed right outside Boulder’s greenbelt, namely the city of Broomfield.  Things are even more extreme in the UK, which enacted restrictive land-use laws in 1947 to preserve “open space”, thus making the entire country an unaffordable place to live. Sydney, Melbourne and Vancouver have also done this, and have become among the most expensive cities to live in.  Virtually any place that has experienced exorbitantly high real-estate prices that  can’t be justified by visible in-migration or rapid job growth is evidence of highly restrictive regulations and codes (e.g. California, Portland).  Houston and Dallas, which have led the nation by a pretty wide  margin in in-migration and job growth somehow haven’t exhibited that much of a rise in housing prices. It’s a given that those places have plenty  land and nothing all that scenic, but could the lack of restrictive land-use regulations have also something to do with it?

It would be an interesting experiment to see what would happen if we were to suddenly suspend all zoning regulations in a dense city.  Maybe places would become more affordable, giving greater choice and value to the middle class and especially to the poor. However, this is a political non-starter.  Our country, along with most developed countries,  have too much vested in the current status quo to overturn it. Architects, who tend to cater to the rich, are against it.  Property-ownership has become democratized to a significant degree here, and it would seem foolish to do away regulations that function mostly to preserve and maximize property values for the majority. It’s better to keep what we’ve got by zoning in favor of the haves, and keeping out the have-nots. It’s no secret the most highly-zoned cities in the world are among its most segregated.   Zoning and other land-use regulations, like environmental protection, incur a cost that countries rich enough to afford it are more than happy  pay for, otherwise you end up with the teaming chaos of cities like Jakarta, Sao Paulo and Kinshasa. 

I’m fine with zoning, and I don’t deny that I benefit from it as a homeowner, but I think it would be worthwhile to see how deregulation, or at least permitting greater flexibility in property development would help the property-less.  It sure beats throwing money at the problem by endlessly enriching rich developers by subsidizing them to build for the poor.

Nov 12, 13 12:35 pm


right on the money

no pun intended

Nov 12, 13 12:49 pm

The OP confuses macro-economic issues that have actual affects over unemployment and economic growth with the local impacts of zoning. Banning zoning would do little to lower employment. It would just allow disparate uses to be next to each other. New Orleans is transitioning from the traditional zoning regs that a majority of cities use to a form-based CZO that concentrates on infill, density, human scaled development, etc. But NOLA is already a dense city because it's geographically locked in by a lake, wetlands and an encroaching shoreline. The city is a mid-size city. Always will be and won't ever get to it's former size regardless of zoning or no zoning. There are other factors that would make the city attractive for business growth and quality of life for those choosing to stay.

Houston is the worst example of a city. It has no 'there' there and nothing about it is remotely attractive. I guess if you like to drive everywhere and be beholden to a car it is the place for you. If you like strip malls backing up to your $1M home or a strip joint next to your bungalow then Houston has all the amenities you need. Houston is cheap because like the rest of Texas believe no regulation is good regulation. Of course in the process of making it easy for large corporations to flourish with tax-free giveaways and loose regulations, the population pays for it in other ways. Texas undermines it's public education system by giving away corporate tax breaks (that would otherwise fund education), it ranks poorly in healthcare access, and as far as income inequality, Houston consistently ranks among the top least equitable cities. 

I'd say Denver has done a pretty good job of looking at restructuring it's zoning regulations to encourage TOD and infill and getting the adjacent suburbs to cooperate in a broader masterplan that encapsulates density at transit stops, revitalization of previously "dead" suburbs and redevelopment of once dead and abandoned strip malls into mixed-use developments. The greater metro area is still affordable and has plenty of existing housing stock and the economy is mixed and not heavily reliant upon oil & gas like it was in the 80s when it turned into a veritable ghost town with a dead downtown.

City of Boulder has a growth boundary that was put into place in the late 50s to address explosive population growth but also to limit the expense of utility infrastructure - particularly water and sewer. The growth boundary also was created to save green space (a model copied by a lot of cities moving forward). Jump to the 90s when the overall economy in Boulder county itself and adjacent cities grew, that growth ring spurred growth in what were originally little rail-line towns like Niwot, Longmont, Broomfield and Superior to see significant development and economic growth along the Boulder turnpike.

So one could say that restrictive land use spurred economic growth as much as non-restrictive land use spurs economic growth. 

The real reason for all that growth? Economic demand nationally and internationally, the explosive growth of Web 1.0, the transition from a single-industry economy to a mixed economy helped the the front range cities grow and continue to grow (even with the slight downturn of the Great Recession).

The reason that communities enact zoning and land use regulations is to eliminate the nuisances of none that resulted from the early American city. Thanks to zoning I don't have an open-pit latrine in my backyard, my neighbor doesn't burn his lead paint in the backyard incinerator and my other neighbor isn't operating an abattoir while I bbq during the Saints' games.

Houston can remain that grand experiment and continue to gobble up and sprawl endlessly into the Texan sunset. I find it to be a pretty soul-less place when I visit, the 'arts district' notwithstanding. Sure it has nice "pockets" of houses in older parts of the city and some really great examples of mid-century modernism but those are outnumbered by the overwhelming mass of crap that's developed around them.

If anyone thinks zoning retards the 'quality' of architecture and holds up no-zoning Houston as a model needs to have their heads examined because lack of regulation doesn't equal better taste or better quality architecture.

Nov 12, 13 1:01 pm

I think there are only two other  over extending  areas of  the "Big Hand" that bug the heck out of me... and that Is  Historical Architectural Review Commissions and  Local Zoning Board Architectural Review Commissions.  Simple resolve it to require Architects on every project and let them do as they please on a professional level.  Architects need to stop bending over for the public know it all, wanta be....designers... It is time we take back, "Our Profession."

Nov 12, 13 5:32 pm

iamus...I was wondering is  Cheyenne is now a  Burb of Denver?

Nov 12, 13 5:34 pm

There was an article in the NYT today....seems like a lot of Cities are making new land, by tearing down the not so desirable.  We had that situation here in Connecticut a number of years ago. The City of Stamford took out a lot of  private low income housing and developed offices, forcing relocation. The brought in  TV Studios, and Banks and anyone else they could grab by the "-ALLS."  The mayor of that Fine City is now  the Governor of our State.  I would really like to sit down and have a conversation with him about his big plan for the State of Connecticut.

Nov 12, 13 5:45 pm

It would be an interesting experiment to see what would happen if we were to suddenly suspend all zoning regulations in a dense city.  Maybe places would become more affordable, giving greater choice and value to the middle class and especially to the poor.

Hahahahahaha. Let's eliminate taxes on the rich while we're at it. Oh, wait - we already have.

Nov 12, 13 9:48 pm

"I'd pay not to live in Houston. A lot."

No worries, Miles. There are plenty of people who are being paid very handsomely to come and work in Houston.  There are more who aren't but are coming anyways so they can actually work and earn a living.

"Houston can remain that grand experiment and continue to gobble up and sprawl endlessly into the Texan sunset. I find it to be a pretty soul-less place when I visit, the 'arts district' notwithstanding. Sure it has nice "pockets" of houses in older parts of the city and some really great examples of mid-century modernism but those are outnumbered by the overwhelming mass of crap that's developed around them.

If anyone thinks zoning retards the 'quality' of architecture and holds up no-zoning Houston as a model needs to have their heads examined because lack of regulation doesn't equal better taste or better quality architecture."

I normally try to stick up for my hometown, but there hasn't been much said substantively that I don't agree with.  Houston is not a lovable-at-first-sight kind of place, and I was born and raised there.  Yet, even the dreck here is really no different that the rest of the US.  Still, Houston is the bustling 4th largest city in the US and is successful in many ways despite its lack of zoning.

Nov 13, 13 12:13 am

The criticism of Houston is over done.  It may not be incredibly charming but most places aren't.  As TYP. says, it is nevertheless a big city with big city amenities where a person with middle class job credentials can get employment and live a reasonable middle class life.  That ain't nothing to sneeze at in the current economic environment.  New York and San Fran can't say that.

Nov 13, 13 1:51 pm
On the fence

I like sprawl.  Probably why I live in it.  Im all for no restrictions for you city folk.  Stack em, pack em and rack em up as high and as full as possible.

Nov 13, 13 4:52 pm

Alright everyone - sorry for not getting back to this for a very long time..  I got a little distracted.


A little background - I grew up in Oklahoma and now live in Washington DC working for a small firm here.  I consider myself a fan of urban development, and live a 3 minute walk from a metro station.  Changing zoning policies probably wouldn't have a huge impact on my personal job prospects, however, it could open up opportunities. 

Here is what I think alot of people missed:  DC has exploded with new apartment buildings in recent years.  The rents have exploded as well, and it was nearly impossible to find an affordable apartment to move into in a decent area when I first came to the city.  Now, because of all the new construction and slowdowns in government spending, there is alot of talk of rent prices softening because of a glut of new construction entering the market.


The other thing - I've been doing research on open lots in DC (just because I've realized the value of the developments).  Just about every lot in a decent area that is zoned for multifamily is being built out, or already has been built out, to its maximum zoning potential.  The best way to continue development in the city is to buy low density housing and convert it to apartments, but zoning restrictions won't allow that.  The rental market prices are propped up by the restriction of supply (this city isn't really that big, in DC itself). 


So - in actuality, I want to support both urban development and loose zoning regulations, because they go hand in hand.  Dense urban development will take place naturally in a city like DC without overbearing zoning regulations.


By the way I wouldn't want to live in Houston, either (its kind of a nasty city everytime I've been there).  I do think it has promising potential with its zoning code, though.  I've heard many new condos and urban development have been coming that way...

Dec 1, 13 4:23 pm

Another thing regarding sprawl: What upsets me is how much the suburbs are subsidized.  The metro system must charge a fee every time you use it, allowing it to become self-financed.  But, all of the roads are financed by taxes levied on everyone, despite the fact that they might not have a vehicle.  I'm for a gas tax to support the roads.  Also - parking requirements on new construction subsidize the cost of owning a car in the city.  If they didn't exist, developers would build parking according to the demand for it, then charge how much the infrastructure is worth.

Dec 1, 13 4:43 pm

Finding an "affordable" place to live in DC was insane. I'll probably be gone by the time the market softens but it's a good thing that it is since people are being priced out of the city. 

I think a big factor to the prices is the height restriction... but I like the restriction because it gives DC it's humanistic scale.  I also don't like the architecture being created by these developer-driven architecture firms. Brookland is being gentrified with a synthetic "historic" style. Ewww.  

Dec 1, 13 4:45 pm

I know what you mean about the pho-historic styles... Although there is a bit of charm to urban theme of Rockville town center - its also kind of disneylandish.  The historic preservation board might have a hand in it - but probably not in Brookland.

Dec 1, 13 11:41 pm

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