Reason says non-zoning helps Houston weather the housing storm
Sam Staley writes about Houston
in Reason's 'Out of Control' blog:
As cities across the nation reel from the steepest housing market decline since the 1930s, Houston’s real estate market is surprisingly strong. While new housing sales have fallen dramatically, they haven’t fallen as far or as steeply as in other cities across Texas or the nation. At least part of this resilience is due to the market-driven nature of the city’s land development process, including a real-estate market unencumbered by zoning.
More than 2 million people live within the city’s borders while another four million round out the metropolitan area. Houston may well emerge as the archtype city of the 21st century. Urbanist Joel Kotkin used the term “Opportunity Urbanism” to describe the city in a study for the Greater Houston Partnership, pointing out that Houston’s entrepreneurial drive, affordability, tolerance for diversity, and willingness to adapt to changing economic circumstance may well propel it to become the next U.S. megacity.
Underappreciated in the city’s success may be its uniquely flexible and adaptable approach to land-use regulation. Unlike every other major city in the US, Houston has shunned zoning regulation, preferring to leave choices about land uses up to the real estate market.
The benefits of this market-based approach are most apparent immediately adjacent to and inside the “Loop” (the I-610 beltway, a ring road about 10 miles from the city center). Redevelopment occurs at a rapid pace inside the Loop, creating a mix of land uses rare in most U.S. cities, where aggressive zoning segregates and highly regulates land uses. High-rise apartment buildings and commercial towers emerge on redeveloped property quickly, and notices of higher density and mixed-use redevelopment dot parcels of land throughout the inner-loop area.
Despite the lack of municipal zoning, land development is not completely unregulated. Houston has adopted several statutes to set standards for infrastructure, parking, building setbacks, and building location. More importantly, in many parts of the city, private deed restrictions that limit future land uses run with the land, not the property owner. Nevertheless, substantial amounts of land are unrestricted by private deed, and property owners aggressively promote the flexibility and economic opportunity resulting by the lack of regulation.
From there he goes on to talk about the Ashby controversy (and its reactionary risks to our system), smart growth and the 2009 mayor's race, and Fed writings on how we were able to avoid the housing bust. It's worth checking out the whole thing
Labels: deed restrictions, development, home affordability, opportunity urbanism, perspectives, zoning