Happy 85th Birthday, Zoning

Let's see, we'll put the single family homes over here away from the commercial districts

The Urban Land Institute has reminded us that zoning law turns 85 this year; the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of local zoning law in 1926 with Euclid v. Ambler Realty.   Envision Minnesota juxtaposed Zoning at 85 with We need more zoning and asks “More zoning or no zoning?” but they got the question wrong since both articles favor more land use planning, but less emphasis on traditional zoning (no matter what the titles may read).

Zoning is an extremely blunt instrument – Euclidian zoning the bluntest of all since it does not attempt to regulate the relationship of buildings to one another and doesn’t usually reflect much in the way of community character or encourage innovation, but is primarily a government tool to prevent nuisances.  Form-based codes are slightly sharper by planning and regulating the physical shape and the relationships among buildings and to the street.

But the articles above (and many others) are starting to get beyond zoning and city planning to placemaking, a multi-faceted approach to the planning, design and management of public spaces.

But placemaking is not like more zoning or more top-down city planning.  We don’t need more zoning-like regulations, we need fewer.  Rather placemaking is bottom-up, grass-roots community building with an emphasis on improving the spaces we all share, like streets, parks, and public places.  Government’s role is to enable private groups to shape the vision and do the work.

If placemaking becomes the new model for development, will zoning live to be 100?




One thought on “Happy 85th Birthday, Zoning

  1. Yes … zoning will easily celebrate its 100th birthday…

    But now that there are other rules to protect from the health hazards of early factories, and the ‘organic’ growth of neighborhoods and cities is seen as desirable rather than chaotic, those earlier style zoning regs will diminish in favor of placemakng models.
    Northern European countries and some of our westernmost states are way ahead in the development of positive models, but as they grow they also start to identify problems.
    For instance , look at the many adjustments to Portland’s Green Belt…

    I suspect, as society continues to evolve, constant (albeit sometimes slow) change will be needed to accommodate new ideas and forms of living … and at what point is ‘planned’, too planned?

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