Tuesday, July 12, 2022

New book: Houston as the bold case against zoning

This week we have excerpts from an excellent Fast Company article: A bold case against zoning - In a new book, M. Nolan Gray cites Houston as a model for rethinking zoning. These excerpts are great, but I highly recommend reading the whole thing, and even the book if you can!


"When the zoned American lands in Houston, they are liable to be struck by parking lots reinventing themselves as apartment buildings, by postwar subdivisions transforming into dense new townhouse districts, by old strip malls being reimagined as new satellite business districts. In the zoned city, any one of these developments would be a major ordeal, the subject of endless permitting and raucous public hearings—in Houston, it just happens.
Thanks in part to a lack of zoning, Houston builds housing at nearly three times the per capita rate of cities like New York City and San Jose. It isn’t all just sprawl either: In 2019, Houston built roughly the same number of apartments as Los Angeles, despite the latter being nearly twice as large. This ongoing supernova of housing construction has helped to keep Houston one of the most affordable big cities in the U.S., offering new arrivals modest rents and accessible home prices even amid seemingly endless demand.
Zoning critics rightly dispensed with the comforting myths surrounding zoning—that its purpose was to merely rationalize land use—and zeroed in on its tendency to restrict new housing construction, limit access to opportunity, institutionalize segregation, and force growth outward. Far from being duped, Houston’s working-class residents exhibited a subtler understanding of the purposes of zoning than many contemporary planners and rejected it accordingly.
Is this system of publicly enforced deed restrictions “basically zoning,” as some might argue? On the one hand, deed restrictions—like zoning—demarcate specified areas subject to a distinct set of stricter land-use rules. Both zoning and deed restrictions in Houston are enforced by the government, principally with the aim of propping up home values and maintaining a certain quality of life. Many deed restrictions even have rules banning apartments and enforcing a strict two-and-a-half-story height limit.
Yet, the similarities end there, and Houston’s system of deed restrictions is a significant improvement over zoning. For starters, deed restrictions only cover an estimated quarter of the city, largely in areas with low-rise, detached, single-family housing. Industrial areas, commercial corridors, mixed-use and multifamily neighborhoods, urban vacant lots, and yet-to-be-developed greenfields are virtually never subject to their provisions. This means that roughly three-quarters of Houston—including its more dynamic sections—are largely free to grow without anything even resembling zoning holding them back."

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At 1:57 AM, July 17, 2022, Blogger VeracityID said...

Tory: Here's a great piece on global cost of living and purchasing power. Houston is the Global number 1 in purchasing over with Dallas (2nd) and Austin (4th) while San Antonio is in the top 20. I'm surprised because i figured that since Kotkin's site last ran this comparison that the end of the oil boom would have pushed Houston down. I guess the city really is diversified after all. And of all the league tables in the world I think this one is the one to be number 1 in.

I think Texas cities dominance is due to many factors but probably the one thing that touches all the other factors is quality of governance at the state and local level. Texas government is far more responsive to middle and working class needs than most other states, with Houston doing the best among cities. And it shows up in standard of living. Imagine That !

This also explains why my friends from Singapore want to stay in Houston instead of going back home.


At 5:50 PM, July 18, 2022, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

This is great!! You're the second person to send me this (thanks!). 100% agree this is the best table to be #1 in. Unzoned Houston has the highest purchasing power at the lowest cost-of-living in the world... aka the highest standard of living in the world. More cities should use these indexes as their North Star metrics of progress.

At 6:46 PM, July 18, 2022, Blogger George Rogers said...

Wrong VeracityID was first, got it from him.

At 9:58 PM, July 18, 2022, Blogger Bill Reeves said...

Unfortunately I think I sent you bad data. The source is a global crowd sourced prices and wages tracker for 537 cities. The link I sent you gives a different outcome than when I go directly to the site. And because it is crowd sourced there are some wonky aspects. But it's the only broad comparison of actual take home purchasing power that I've seen. Sorry for the confusion.

Regards, Bill


At 6:43 AM, July 19, 2022, Blogger George Rogers said...

Bill, the reason is that there are various snapshots and the visualcapitalist chart uses the 2022 beginning of year one. https://www.numbeo.com/cost-of-living/region_rankings.jsp?title=2022&displayColumn=5&region=019


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