Henderson on Gray’s Arbitrary Line

“Zoning gone bad is not a good institution. … By contrast, zoning is a system of exclusion that tends to inflate property values, slow the pace of new development, segregate cities by race and class, and hold the detached single-family home as the exclusive urban norm. So wrote M. Nolan Gray Inn Arbitrary Lines: How Zoning Broke the American City and How to Fix It.

This quote is a strong condemnation of zoning. Does Gray, a scholar associated with the Mercatus Center, successfully make his case? She does. I admit I was a little unsure about this before cracking the book. Decades ago, I read a 77-page article by legal scholar Bernard Sagan, who made the case that Houston, one of America’s major cities that avoided zoning, was doing well. Gray is quite familiar with Houston and, in fact, devotes an entire chapter to describing what Houston does well.

Gray does more than just discuss Houston. He delves into the history of zoning, which began nearly a century ago, to show that the way it creates racial and class divisions and increases property values ​​is not the accidental byproduct of a deliberate process gone wrong. They are, instead, what the early proponents of zoning wanted. To put it in current vernacular, for early proponents of zoning, these ill effects are a feature, not a bug. Gray zoning makes a strong case for making it less bad and an even stronger case for ending it. Unfortunately, he recommends that local governments impose price controls on a portion of the new housing stock.

These are David R. The opening 3 paragraphs of Henderson, “The Case for Abolishing Zoning,” Am. My fairly comprehensive review of Nolan Gray’s outstanding book arbitrary line. It appears in the Autumn 2022 issue Regulations.

Another quote:

When I visited my grandparents in their 700-square-foot Winnipeg home in the early 1960s, I almost always ran into their tenant, Mr. Woolridge. He was a nice old retiree who rented a bedroom of about 40 square feet and shared my grandparents’ kitchen and bathroom. This type of arrangement, which Gray calls “single-room occupancy” (SRO), was then somewhat common for low-income landlords and tenants. They are now illegal almost everywhere. SROs, Gray notes, “serve as the bottom of the housing market.” Banning them, he wrote, “has played no small role in driving the contemporary homelessness crisis facing the city.”

I have very fond memories of Mr. Woolridge; He was like an extra grandfather. I agree with Gray’s bottom line on this: I think this ban is one of the main contributors to homelessness.

Read the whole thing.

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