Orderly, But Dumb

16 thoughts on “Orderly, But Dumb”

  1. Interesting, but fails tom mention an important little details: minimum lot size and single family zoning rules are the completely “standard” restrictions used to prevent dark-skinned families from moving into a “respectable” area, by effectively imposing a floor on house prices and rents.

    Perhaps because they are so “standard” everybody was supposed to understand that without explanation.

    There is an excellent comment about zoning in “freedom loving” Texas that makes the point that in zoning-free Texas actually middle and upper class areas are heavily zoned using the “deed restrictions”, it is where the poor live that there is free-for-all:


    «Outside of a few cities, there ain’t no zoning in the grand land of Tejas.
    Oil fields next to middle schools, refineries next to residential cracker boxes. Middle and upper classes know this and pay their premiums to become part of deed restricted communities, while the tired, huddled and poor get close-up views of the cracking stacks. Take a look at SW Houston on Google satellite.
    This modern-day absurdity is by “freedom-loving” conservative design. Developers know only morons and moochers would live somewhere where there is no zoning. They make sure guv’mint stays of the backs of thems morons in the name o’ in-amiable rights, while being sure to peddle their de facto zoning (only petunias in the buffer zone) to the captive audience of above-average barely sensible homeowners. ‘Course in Texas them Morons–above average or otherwise–vote for Cruz.
    Oh yeah, and no building codes either. House built in 1999 has 2×4 exterior walls with 1/2″ hard foam insulation and 1/8″ glass windows. That in a land where summer temps cool to 85º 70% humidity at night.There’s a freedom-loving reason why the mid/south west burns coal…»

  2. Johnny, This was a nice read, especially one who is new to your site. I tend to agree with your general overall thesis. That said what is a city like Cincinnati or some other city to do with your investigations? We can’t go back to the Wild West with no zoning code. How do progressive munis foster organic, human scale growth that leaves room for unpredictable whimsy that brings little surprises to the lives of people? These are hard things to legislate.

      1. The codes we have now were put in 100 years ago because the free market failed in terms of nuisances and certain aspects of community. The “Tieboutian alt-marketplace” that has replaced it fails by failing to provide for LULUs (Locally Undesirable Land Uses) which is almost anything except single family on large lots. So the alt-marketplace has to be regulated a bit now – hopefully at the county level, not the state.

        1. The nature of the current regulatory and political framework is to make absolutely everything illegal, but to allow the rules to be overcome when enough money and consultants are applied to a particular (large) project. Anything small is dead before it even starts.

  3. One of your best posts, Johnny. Filing this one in my list of resources to share with our current clients and other communities that are looking to trash their 6-inch thick code and start over.

  4. I generally give Cincinnati’s zoning code an “OK” grade because it in general conforms to what’s already built, rather than making whole neighborhoods non-conforming. It’s still mostly Euclidian (except in the commercial districts which also have form-based types of coding like build-to lines and minimum window requirements, etc.), but it’s better than what I’ve seen in places like Indianapolis or any of Cincinnati’s surrounding suburbs.

    That said, it’s still a highly balkanized code with way too many zones and the zones being horribly micromanaged on the map. The zoning map actually looks a lot like the CAGIS land-use map instead, so it’s mostly freezing what’s already there in amber, and not allowing any growth or redevelopment. It also stomps out the 2-family and 4-family apartments that are currently perfectly compatible with the single-family zones they’re already in, and individual stores or live/work type units also fall through the cracks. Sad, but it could also be much worse.

  5. Euclidean “exclusive use” zoning should be banned. It is frankly malicious. I don’t know how it’s survived this long. It dates from the period in the 1950s when US government was clinically insane (the “nuclear reactors in every back yard” period). I don’t know why it has survived.

  6. “just for the record, many aging middlebrow suburbs in the region are beginning to fail in spite of the fact that they conform to every last rule in the zoning and code books.” Have some citations for that? I’m no fan of zoning and land use restrictions, myself, but this claim would be awfully…convenient…for me to believe, and to repeat. 🙂 So it would be helpful to have some sources backing that up.

    1. We’re now getting in to the “which statistics and which sources do you think are credible” territory.

      Here’s the deal. 85% of everything ever built in North America was build since 1945. And almost all of it is low density car oriented suburban development. That’s now where the overwhelming majority of the population lives.

      The contraction and bifurcation of the American middle class is no secret. A small segment of the population has been getting much richer and migrating to fancy country club enclaves in premium suburban locations (or moving to crazy expensive inner cities like Boston, San Francisco, and NYC.) A much larger chunk of the population is treading water and slipping a little bit farther behind each year. They live in the fair-to-middling subdivisions that are attempting to keep up appearances on a tight budget. And another sizable portion of the old middle class is outright falling into poverty. The downwardly mobile live in suburbs that are in the process of becoming the new slums. There’s also a geographic/demographic shift in some locations as inner city ghettos are gentrifying and the poor are being pushed out to cheaper declining suburbs.

      Here are some basic sources: Time. The Economist. The Atlantic. The Rockefeller Foundation. CNN. The Pew Charitable Trust. This information isn’t hard to find.







          1. This article assumes 60’s-ish homes are too small for modern tastes and need enlarging. But more likely those living there can’t afford larger homes or upgrades. An effect of concentration of declining incomes. As no secret folks segregate by income as well as race/ethnicity. So the proposed fix is a non sequitur.

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