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In this multi-part series, we join an analysis of a novel database of municipal zoning reform efforts across the United States with an argument for the necessity of a tenant-inflected zoning reform, as a method and approach to ground future zoning reform efforts and the horizons of the movements that contest them. Part 1: The Destabilization of American Zoning,1  provides a quantitative descriptive overview of local zoning reform efforts across the nation.

Zoning reform efforts have been proliferating across the United States. More people seem to be cognizant of and talking about zoning in the housing political discourse and we are situated in a historical environment where this cognizance presents new opportunities for political movement, and, in all kinds of brusque honesty, it also represents another case and affirmation of a wariness that mere knowledge of a problem domain will not alone prevail against the political desires that have hitherto defined that domain. Nor, by extension, does this newfound cognizance, of whatever grounds it does have, and the solutions that flow from it, seem to be at all yet sufficient to confront the historical product of the effects of these desires that have shaped what is all around us for the last hundred years.2  What we know, though, is that zoning has become a site of multi-directional political interest and that its direction has been altered in some form in recent years; or at the very least it has been destabilized.

In looking particularly at the status of regional planning at the local and state levels across the United States, as well as at the media and academic interest in responding to a host of problems through the reexamination of zoning, it is quite easy to tell that a kind of change has taken root. What can be agreed on by actors in the housing political infrastructure—not that this agreement is at all necessary for certain things to be named as legitimately real—is that in the present socio-political context, there is no longer a determinative taboo or prohibitive rule that expresses the nonstarter of the alteration of zoning and the possibility for an intervention into the historical interests (the white proprietary interests) that have determined zoning policy across the nation. By this, I mean to say that zoning is now on the political table and as such, it is destabilized and pliable all while still being troubling.

As a matter of fact, it is quite clear that zoning and land-use are no longer "safe" as objects of political noncritique. This shift from a position of entirely unethical safeguarding towards a position marked by an increased acknowledgment of the necessary changes that must be made to zoning, in the face of demand and social need, will only continue to grow in due time. So we know that the burgeoning nature of zoning altering efforts isn’t all mere talk or theoretical knowledge. We are amidst a period of change. While this is the case, what remains unclear is the status of such changes over time, the breakdown of the kinds of reform that we’ve seen thus far, and the spatio-regional demarcations of such reform. Clarifying this aporia is the limited intention of this written piece.

Outlining Zoning and Land-Use

But before we go further: What in fact is zoning? How is it distinguished from land-use? And how are both important for urban and regional housing policy and people’s lives in general? To begin, zoning itself is the municipal declaration of what kinds of uses (e.g., residential, commercial, industrial, open space) can be instituted in what particular parts or spaces of any given jurisdiction. In another way of saying this: local jurisdictions get to decide what gets built and where certain things can be built, and zoning is this regulatory power. In addition, zoning does not merely refer to use types alone, but immanent to zoning as well are also a host of other developmental standards: maximum building height, maximum density (du/ac), developmental intensity (FAR), front-side-and-rear setbacks, minimum lot size, minimum parking requirements—the list can continue, but these items constitute some of the most important and common developmental standards that one can find in zoning codes.3 Lastly, there are also procedural mechanisms that determine the feasibility of certain uses being realized.4  These procedural mechanisms include whether a development is subject to a project review, a mandatory public hearing, or whether it qualifies for a ministerial or automatic mechanism of approval.5 All of these developmental standards and procedural mechanisms plus the use type at large, determine the state of the built environment. Land-use, which is not entirely the same as zoning, is the guiding feature of any jurisdiction’s comprehensive plan—which itself is the long-term guiding document that all zoning codes in certain states must be in accordance with.6  If one wants to imagine it: the general or comprehensive plan is the roadmap with its associated land-use types, and the zoning code is the practical articulation and municipal statute that expresses what can formally be instituted on account of that prior formed roadmap, through certain use types, developmental standards and procedural mechanisms. To simplify matters, we will merely refer to this whole system as zoning from here on out.

The Racial-Aesthetic Calculus in the History of Zoning

Zoning on its face seems like a tool of governance that is mere common sense: one should zone the industrial plants away from where people live, from a lens of public health, in order to prevent the overlapping nature of uses that could negatively affect one’s constituency. However, this is merely the reasoning behind a color-blind and apolitical historiology of the lineage of zoning.7  While zoning does indeed have a history that prioritizes a reasoning of use separating intent by recourse to public health, it is both far too common as well as naïve and occlusive, to make the history of zoning a sanitized product of public health decision alone.8  This is particularly so when one falsely imagines that this notion of public health is itself distinct from an anti-Black and anti-Asian racial calculus that was also inflected by tenure type (i.e., a calculus in which the apartment and the renter constitute, respectively, both morally and economically infectious built types and denizens).9  What we know, surely, is that the explicit racial zoning that was first instituted in the American South persisted alongside this logic of zoning for public health, nuisance, and otherwise neutral seeming developmental archetypes.10

In addition, we know that Black communities were more likely to both reside in and also be zoned as industrial/commercial use districts, and were more likely to be adjacent to environmental sites of pollution—whether this had taken the form of the toxic waste plant, the power plant, or the interstate highway.11  These impacts and those generated throughout the 20th century as well, still preside over such communities to this day. While the white-exclusionary homeowner bloc12  sought to protect its property values through zoning policy that was beneficial to its social segment, this was done conterminously with zoning policy that sought to keep particularly Black migrants from the inter-state Great Migration out of their jurisdictions, or to keep Black communities already established within such jurisdictions closer to nuisance use types that were deemed a risk to white demography from a public health perspective.13  Given this, any pure history that separates nuisance or public health uses of zoning in the early 20th century from its racial calculus seems to fall flat on how the former was indelibly linked with just this racial calculus, particularly as it was inflected by tenure type (and hence social class). We could say that a desire for racial expulsion not only functioned coterminously with the desire to maintain the exchange values of the white single-family edifice but that it was, even more considerably, an inseparable and co-constitutive associate of that end.14

Yet even if zoning’s history were revealed to indeed have regional distinctions and did not in every case, region, state, and locality have an entirely racial origin—this would still not gainsay the fact that land-use proliferation throughout the 20th century was perpetuated largely on the lines of racial-aesthetic judgments. Nor can it ever be said that land-use politics has at all been outside of the constitutive racial mesh of the United States. In fact, any tool that is cognized in an environment of predisposed drives, even when it is made under a certain form of neutrality (accepting the supposed neutrality of its inception), may impossibly become caught by that order in which it finds itself produced. And, even further, if the object is found to not in fact be neutral in inception, then this condition of being caught is already instituted at the get-go and may only grow in intensity from then onwards. In returning to the statement: wherein I note how "racial-aesthetic judgments" are ineluctably related to land-use, I also specifically mean to point to—outside of a more explicit form of racial prejudice and intent—how forms of aesthetic preference often obscure and conceal a more subcutaneous racial prejudice. For instance, what is denoted as a preference for certain elements of "community character" in the discourse of the white resident is oftentimes mere recoded racial-demographic slights that cover themselves with the veneer of preferences for certain built types, noise patterns, parking arrangements, and clearances of natural light. “I don’t want noise,” “I don’t want shadows over my home,” and “I don’t want rowdiness in the neighborhood,” are all statements that say so much while saying, strategically, so very little. Insofar as exclusionary low-density spaces are exclusive because they only accommodate a single use type, most commonly exorbitant single-family homes, and apartments are a means for procuring not only tenure diversity but also racial demographic variety at a spatial level15 —then such slights against the apartment and its aesthetic concomitants deliberately work as racially coded signifiers that serve to cover up a more explicit racial judgment.

I make an effort to specify the function of this calculus, particularly because certain actors are often all too apt to let this calculus be void of a lexicon in their diagnosis.16  What happens is that, in lifting up a purely economic arrangement of the problem of zoning, such actors come to lead us along a route where a certain kind of schematic for altering zoning is already proposed, right along with the statement of the problem. It is not even that this contributory lack is a surprise, but rather that it’s a core and prolonged feature of how many agents view the limits of zoning and the problems associated with it. To the extent that our lexicon of the problem affects our prognosis, we can view not merely the racial history of the institution of zoning (motivated by white proprietary and state intention), but also the erasure predicated on a solely economic and therefore racially occlusive conception of zoning (and the solutions expressed therein), to both constitute two particular forms of problems in themselves.

Frames of Zoning Reform

In brief, zoning has been used historically by state actors to demarcate people from one another and to expose certain racio-ethnic subpopulations to environmental contaminants that poison the body on an aggregate demographic scale. But this is also not the whole of the matter, though it is undeniably consequential. In addition to this, zoning and land-use policies have been the drivers of urban sprawl,17  transport-associated climate pollutants,18  the lack of multifamily housing,19  and higher median rental housing costs in metro regions across the United States.20  Amidst these problems, a variegated set of actors have stepped into the mix in order to change the heretofore nature of zoning. While there are problems here with what has been asserted thus far as the rationalities and content of a justified zoning reform (as they are predominantly market-capitulatory and deferential mechanisms), we will leave this matter latent for the moment and return to it post facto and in due time.

Most popular in the public mind when the matter of zoning reform arises is often the frame of the necessity of “removing single-family zoning.” At once, this is a hazy idea that nevertheless comes about a crucial intention. What is unclear here are the following questions: What does it mean to end single-family zoning? Can the permitting of accessory dwelling units (ADUs) on prior single-family zoned land amount to the end of such a single-family zoned use? Does Plex reform (2-4 unit development) or Multiplex reform (5-12 units) represent the definitive end of single-family zoning? Is it so that single-family zoning "ends" if such textual changes are made and then no developmental responses actually occur, and the built environment continues to be out of line with its maximum developmental capacity allowed by such textual change? Does a focus on the single-family district alone not totalize zoning reform and blot out the possibilities of commercial-to-residential zoning? How will such units built following any given zoning reform effort ensure their affordability? And what can be done about speculatory risks for low-income communities of color, once such single-family district change provides a developmental surplus in the valuation of certain buildings—and how do such linguistic political references towards "ending single-family zoning" address these risks, which arise in the case of certain policies? These are tricky questions that get lost in some of the public discourse on the end of single-family zoning and seem to misrepresent the fact that zoning reform comes in many formats and often has complicated and multi-directional products that should be taken into account in their design. This piece will not cover the latter consequences, but will rather seek to clarify the breakdown of zoning reform addressed in the first several questions: looking at the aggregate and descriptive typological breakdown of the actual reforms enacted thus far.

In our framework at the Othering & Belonging Institute, we have defined municipal zoning reform as such: a substantial change in the zoning code or general/comprehensive plan of a municipality, with such change having implications for reducing the exclusionary basis which has been constitutive of single-family zoning, or general land-use provisions, historically. We have also created four major classes of reform types,21  which we list below:22

  • ADU Reform: Accessory Dwelling Units, Granny Flats, Secondary Units
  • Plex Reform: Duplexes, Triplexes, Fourplexes, 2-4+ Unit Multi-family Housing
  • TOD Reform: Transit-Oriented Development, Transit-Specific Density Bonuses
  • Other Reform: Form-Based Code, Parking Reform, Non-Transit Based Inclusionary Zoning, (+)

In creating the Zoning Reform Tracker,23  we sought to uncover the scope of municipal zoning reform efforts across the United States. Along the way, it became apparent that what was required of us was a presentation and more organized analysis of such reforms, and that this presentation should perhaps clarify the state of zoning shifts across the country through the utilization of our organizational typologies. From this very basis, we sought to understand the change of zoning reforms over time, their typological breakdown, and their location across the nation. If zoning reform is indeed growing and spreading quickly across the country, then it is important to know the status of these changes, and what policies constitute such changes—in a descriptive manner at the very least.24 This piece will review the trends of local zoning reform efforts in the United States and seek to understand their typological breakdown over the last two decades.

General Findings from the Zoning Reform Tracker

Our Zoning Reform Tracker covers 148 reform efforts across 101 unique municipal jurisdictions.25 The dataset spans 17 years, with the earliest zoning reform initiative we track occurring in 2007, and with the latest reform initiatives leading up to 2023. To populate the tracker, we decided on a hybrid independent research-and-crowdsource model, and we also sought to use this method to continually expand the database and make it relevant and timely. This model relies on both our independent tracking of reform efforts, as well as the local knowledge of users across their communities (such local users have included general residents, housing policy researchers, and local planning department staff).

The reforms represented herein include those related to minimum parking requirement removals, the replacement of single-family zoning with Plex zoning, form-based code provisions, and accessory dwelling unit (ADU) policy for low-density zoned parcels.26

The top states most represented in our tracker, insofar as we record the number of approved or ongoing municipal reform initiatives within each state, are as follows: Washington (15), California (14), North Carolina (9), Minnesota (9), and Michigan (6). In addition, the top 10 most represented counties, insofar as we record the number of approved or ongoing municipal reform initiatives within each county, are as follows: King County, WA (7); Hennepin County, MN (6); Alameda County, CA (4); Kent County, MI (4); Salt Lake County, UT (4); Wake County, NC (4); Cook County, IL (3); Fulton County, GA (3); Pima County, AZ (3); San Diego County, CA (3). These figures do not necessarily represent the quality of the reforms enacted therein and their effectiveness; they are merely tabulations derived from a spatial analysis of approved and ongoing reforms from our tracker.

To move towards our analysis, as part of the tracker, we created three typologies: 1) the reform mechanism typology,27  2) the reform phase typology,28  and 3) the reform type typology. The first category: reform mechanism, uncovers the political mechanism through which a given zoning reform effort has been furthered; the second category: reform phase, encodes the temporal state of a given zoning reform effort, and the last category uncovers the specific type of zoning reform enacted therein. These typologies are disaggregated below.

Figure 1

In examining Figure 1, the majority of the reforms in the tracker include approved reforms instituted through the singular municipal ordinance mechanism, and taking the reform type of an ADU or a parking reform (the latter being most representative of the Other subtypology). The time shift of these zoning reforms is quite telling, as well. From 2007 to 2015, there was a fairly low count of zoning reforms that occurred regularly each year (around 1), but in 2016 (n=3) one can observe a consistent upward trend which was followed by a fairly large jump in 2018 (n=8) and another especially large increase in 2019 (n=20). From 2019 to 2022, an average of 20 approved reforms occurred each year.29

To specify further the types of zoning reform, the most represented is clearly ADU reform (n=75), and this reform type is followed closely by the Other reform subtypology (n=61) (this reform, once more, is made up on the whole by parking reforms and then a small segment of form-based codes). Following in their stead are Plex reform (n=41), and then TOD reform (n=20).

Regional and Temporal Distribution of Zoning Reform Efforts

In addition to this more general description, it is important to not merely understand how zoning reforms are broken down by the typologies we’ve created in an aspatial or way, but to characterize the nature of their spatial concentrations and more disaggregated time-based shifts across the country. Such findings can help elucidate questions surrounding the regional growth of zoning reforms in general as well as questions of growth related to particular subtypological categories over-time.

To display the first, we have geocoded each reform effort, summed them up by their state, and made this viewable in the backdrop of the regional (i.e., West, Midwest, South, Northeast) administrative borders of the nation. Though these maps have regional backdrops, they are aggregated on the spatial unit of the state. Moreover, we demonstrate both the spatial concentrations of reform types and reform phases across the nation, using the Getis-Ord Gi* Hot Spot statistical technique.30

To begin, in Figure 2, we demonstrate the spatial concentrations of the subtypological representations of the zoning reform phases that we track in our dataset. A common trend is that the West seems to be an active location for approved and ongoing reforms, while the middle of the nation (in a negative diagonal form) is generally representative of the cold spots of active and completed reform efforts. The Northeast segment of the South seems to be a site of much ongoing zoning reform. Lastly, the South seems to be a site of most of the spatial concentration of denied/rejected or reversed zoning reform efforts—though the low size of this category (n=5) may make it tough to generalize this finding.

Figure 2

To continue, in Figure 3, we demonstrate the spatial concentrations of the subtypological representations of the zoning reform types that we track in our dataset. Once more, this subtypology tracks the specific type of zoning reforms that are approved or ongoing. A common theme is the general representation of different types of zoning reforms that are clustered in the West, as well as the fact that Plex reforms are clustered both in the West as well as the Southeast. The latter finding is particularly interesting, given our prior review of denied/rejected or reversed reforms: it appears that the South is a geography where certain reforms may be more likely to fail, while it is also an environment where reforms are being pushed for – both in an approved and ongoing capacity. Moreover, the reform type that sees a hotspot (or positive clustering, in particular) forming in the South, is the most contentious reform type included in the tracker: Plex reform. In general, we can note that the West seems to lead as a site of the spatial concentration of municipal zoning reform efforts in the United States, thus far. This is particularly so in the case of the Pacific-Northwest (i.e., Washington and Oregon).

Figure 3

Concerning the distribution of reform types, ADU reforms are clustered in the Northwest, Plex reforms are clustered in the West and the Southeast, TOD reforms are clustered in the West and marginally in the Midwest, and parking reforms (as the most predominant Other reform subtype) are the most spatially homogeneous of all reform types, and have light hotspot clusters in every region except the Northeast. While municipal zoning reforms are distributed across the United States, it seems that approved and ongoing reforms are more sparse and less spatially concentrated in the middle of the nation.

Next, we’ll examine Figure 4, which demonstrates the regional breakdown of reform types across the 4-regions of the United States. These findings are granular and outline the divergent nature of different policy types that constitute municipal zoning reform across the United States. There are three keys, or forms of relation, which it may be important to draw one’s attention to concerning the visualization below: 1) the ranking of certain reform types compared to others within a region, 2) the relation of a given reform type subtypology across regions, using the pooled/average count for a given subtype (denoted by the dotted lines), and 3) those reform types that are least represented within a given region.

Figure 4

The most apparent findings from Figure 4 are as follows: the South has an above average count of Plex reforms (n=18) and parking/Other reforms (n=20), and the West leads with accessory dwelling unit reforms (n=31). Additionally, what’s most striking is that the Northeast seems to only have a representation of ADU reforms and parking reforms while lacking the more politically trying and contentious Plex reform type. The Northeast also seems to lack substantial TOD reform, as well.

To continue, Figure 5 demonstrates the temporal or time-based shifts in zoning reform efforts by region over the last two decades. A common trend is that the West and the South have been leading the magnitude of reform efforts in recent years, with either having an average of 9-10 approved or ongoing reforms a year (in the last 3 years). These findings point towards the regional direction of municipal zoning reforms in the future and show that it appears that the West and the South are the predominant locus for such efforts. However, this can surely change in the future and doesn’t necessarily reflect certain state-level zoning reforms that have taken effect in recent years across the nation.

In addition to this, the Midwest and Northeast appear to have had particular years of greater reform: just after the middle of the decade for the Northeast (Other reforms and ADU reform), and then a year before the pandemic for the Midwest (constituted by Minnesota and Michigan reforms) – but these regions fall fairly close to or below the cross-regional average throughout the entire timeline. The Northeast has a declining relationship with the cross-regional average in recent years, while the Midwest hovers around the cross-regional average more generally throughout the time period.

Figure 5

Finally, we will look at Figure 6, which demonstrates the temporal or time-based shifts of municipal zoning reform type subtypologies on a regional basis over the last two decades. A general theme is that ADU reforms constituted the whole of the first segment of the rise of zoning reform efforts beginning in 2016 and seem to be rising in recent years. Additionally, both parking reform (as Other reforms) and Plex reform in recent years are above the cross-typology average and seem to hold the defining status as the future of municipal zoning reform efforts in the coming years.

Figure 6

While parking reform and Plex reform seem to be rising recently, it is likely that ADU reforms and parking reforms will realistically have a greater magnitude than Plex reforms in the long run. The reason for this is that both of the prior is easier to institute (though still difficult) and usually incur less resistance from a municipality’s exclusionary homeowner bloc than the wholesale removal of single-family use types and lower-density, which is constituted in Plex reform. On the other hand, in returning to Figure 6, it appears that the magnitude of TOD reforms has indeed been rising in recent years across the nation, but despite this, the TOD reform type is the least representative of reform efforts across the nation. It usually hovers below the cross-typology average over time.


By way of conclusion, we have finished analyzing the makeup and trends of local zoning reform efforts across the United States over the last two decades. In doing so, we have conducted a general review of zoning reform efforts, as well as viewed the spatial clustering of certain reform phases and types, the tabulated breakdowns of reforms by reform type, and the timelines indicative of regional reform efforts in the nation. These are the major findings from this analysis:

  • Municipal zoning reforms have grown in the last decade, and particularly in the last 8-years – beginning considerably around 2016 with a significant upshift in reform efforts
  • Approved and ongoing reform efforts are largely concentrated in the West, and the South, and these may be the regional locus of reforms in the coming years; at the same time denied/rejected or reversed reform efforts appear to be concentrated in the South, though the size of such denials/reversals may be too low to generalize this finding
  • The most popular municipal zoning reform efforts are accessory dwelling unit (ADU), minimum parking requirement, and Plex reforms; in the West, the most represented reforms are ADU reforms, and in the South, the most represented reforms are parking and Plex reforms
  • ADU reforms have defined the earliest part of the rise of reform efforts, and while ADU figures are still high, recent years have seen the proliferation of parking and Plex reform across the country

It is clear that local zoning reform efforts are on the rise in the United States. The observed increase in the magnitude of zoning reform efforts, some of which increase allowable density and possible tenure diversity in areas that were previously low-density or single-family homogenous, puts pressure on the long-held haven of zoning as a mere reifying device of white-landed proprietary (or homeowner) interests.31  For a long time, and persisting to today, exclusionary zoning has served as a tool that has both limited the institution of multi-family and affordable housing across regions that need them, and it has also greatly artificially inflated the value of single-family homes in regions with widespread low-density residential zoning.32  Yet as the price of rent continues to rise across the nation, and home price continues to commensurately rise—it has become impossible to view the drastic extensibility of low-density zoning as nonfacilitative of either trend. Moreover, these two ends are in direct conflict with one another. Expulsory zoning contributes to higher property values for scarcity focused single-family owners (which is a benefit to them), while it also contributes to rising rents and therefore rent burden and the human problems associated with it, which on the whole is clearly a basis of the lattice of problems that affect tenants. We should connect these two trends and truly be asking: How worth it has this approach of unqualified single-family subsidy been throughout our history?33  The recent shift in zoning reform trends seems to highlight how this question has been somewhat implied in regional planning across the United States.

In general, the reins on zoning seem to be loosening, and the destabilization of this important feature of municipal and regional politics appears to be an empirical one just as much as it is an apparent one. To be sure, there are still challenges here. A trajectory of growing local reform does not recount the majority of cases wherein zoning is static and unchanging in its expulsory nature—and it cannot be said that this unchanging nature is anything less than a majority of cases. For this not to be the case, state reform as well as more generalized local reform would be required. Federal zoning reform policy thus far has yet to significantly impact the housing landscape and remains caught at the level of superficial incentive.34  Beyond this, and in going back to the question of local reforms, a mere quantitative rise does not tell us about the impact of such reforms enacted therein; for that, we would need to look elsewhere.35

Furthermore, a set of questions remains: What are the impacts of these policies? Would it be too early to celebrate this quantitative rise of zoning altering efforts (in a sort of triumphalism) without an understanding of their impact, the reasoning behind them, and the movement that is responsible for them? And indeed, what movement is behind the rise of these efforts and what are their principles, origins, and logical assumptions? In the next parts of the series, we’ll take the pro-housing space as an object of analysis. To understand the trends of zoning reform, I argue that we must understand this movement, its different strands, where it came from, and what it believes. In doing so, we will begin to form an argument on the need for a tenant-inflected zoning reform, which I propose as a guiding precept into the debate surrounding the utilization of and place for land-use shifts in a progressive housing political project.

Editor's note: The ideas expressed in this blog are not necessarily those of the Othering & Belonging Institute or UC Berkeley, but belong to the author.

  • 1The author would like to thank Maile Munro for their sustained thoughts and cross-programmatic conversation throughout the formulation of this piece, as well as an assortment of other reviewers for their feedback on longer versions of this project: Wendy Ake, Nicole Montojo, Eli Moore, Yonah Freemark and Diana Drogaris.
  • 2Zoning is not the beginning of "land-use", and inequities related to land and land-use. Zoning is merely another form of the technocratic state administration of land, and it cannot be separated from the way in which the United States has parceled out land, formed treaties, displaced from land, distributed land to private actors, and practiced wordlessness in land contracts, all throughout much of its history. The technology of land surely does not begin with this iteration and subcategory of 20th century land-use, but we can view this technology as a kind of sedimentation and formalization of the intra-polity governance of land that has already been transformed into land from mere "ground" and then taken from its rightful stewards, recursively, following this transformation. See Robert Nichols, Theft Is Property! : Dispossession and Critical Theory (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2020).
  • 3Sara C. Bronin, Scott Markley, Aline Fader and Evan Derickson, “How to Make a Zoning Atlas 2.0: The Official Methodology of the National Zoning Atlas,” SSRN Electronic Journal (2023), https://doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4476927.
  • 4Sara C. Bronin, “Zoning by a Thousand Cuts,” SSRN Electronic Journal (2021), https://doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3792544.
  • 5Amy Dain, Exclusionary by Design: An Investigation of Zoning’s Use as a Tool of Race, Class, and Family Exclusion in Boston’s Suburbs, 1920 to Today (Boston Indicators, November 2023), https://www.bostonindicators.org/-/media/ indicators/boston-indicators-reports/report-files/exclusionarybydesign_report_nov_8.pdf.
  • 6The American Planning Association’s (APA) survey of state planning and land-use reveals that 11/50 states in the US mandate the jurisdictions therein to adopt a comprehensive plan to guide their local planning efforts. Though there appears to be a low degree to which this mandate is required across the United States, it is still clear that most states require localities to plan for their land use policy through other means, or at least strongly encourage it. We say this to note that in some cases, zoning isn’t always steered by a comprehensive plan. See “2022 Survey of State Planning Laws: Land Use, Hazard Mitigation, and Climate Action,” American Planning Association, September 26, 2022, https://storymaps.arcgis.com/stories/142eec1ae7fe42be915b6767ac811e40.
  • 7William Fischel, Zoning Rules!: The Economics of Land Use Regulation (Cambridge, MA: Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, 2015).
  • 8The mayor of Baltimore (MD), where the first racial zoning ordinance was instituted in the early 20th century, declared that “Blacks should be quarantined in isolated slums in order to reduce the incidence of civil disturbance, to prevent the spread of communicable disease into the nearby White neighborhoods, and to protect property values among the White majority.” In this statement, we can note the racial calculus expressed therein. It is also helpful if we view this not as the reasoning expressed in an isolated case, but rather as a form through which we can analyze the white logos of its particular historical moment. In such a kind of reasoning, the intention of the spatial-demographic expulsion of Black communities from white residences (or such ascribed spaces) mixed frames of racial and epidemiological fear with proprietary fear. To make our point, the distinction between politically neutral and sanitized "public health" and its supposed opposition to racial anxieties doesn’t at all hold up through an historiology of technocratic land-use in the United States. See Richard Rothstein, “From Ferguson to Baltimore The Fruits of Government-Sponsored Segregation,” Economic Policy Institute, April 29, 2015, https://www.epi.org/ blog/from-ferguson-to-baltimore-the-fruits-of-government- sponsored-segregation/.
  • 9Emma Newcombe, “How States Used Land Laws to Exclude and Displace Asian Americans,” Governing, November 23, 2022, https://www.governing.com/context/how-states-used-land-laws-to-exclude-and-displace-asian- americans.
  • 10California Reparations Task Force, “Chapter 5 - Housing Segregation” in California Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans: Final Report, p. 203, https://oag.ca.gov/system/files/media/full-ca- reparations.pdf.
  • 11Ibid., 204.
  • 12This is often known as the "home voter" in the social science literature – though we use this signifier above for the reason that it is both racially explicit and that it also implies that the method of cognition behind this particular home voting segment in municipal politics, is one of expulsion and preemption.
  • 13Christopher Silver, “The Racial Origins of Zoning in American Cities,” in Urban Planning and the African American Community: In the Shadows, ed. June Manning Thomas and Marsha Ritzdorf (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1997).
  • 14David Imbroscio, “Race Matters (Even More than You Already Think): Racism, Housing, and the Limits of The Color of Law,” Journal of Race, Ethnicity and the City 2, no. 1 (January 2, 2021): 29–53, https://doi.org/10.1080/ 26884674.2020.1825023.
  • 15Yonah Freemark, Lydia Lo and Sara C. Bronin, “Bringing Zoning into Focus: A Fine-Grained Analysis of Zoning’s Relationships to Housing Affordability, Income Distributions, and Segregation in Connecticut,” Urban Institute, June 6, 2023, https://www.urban.org/research/publication/bringing-zoning-focus.
  • 16Ilya Somin, “A YIMBY Victory in Montana,” Reason Magazine, April 28, 2023, https://reason.com/volokh/2023/ 04/28/a-yimby-victory-in-montana/.
  • 17John P. Rafferty, "urban sprawl," Encyclopedia Britannica, Last Updated: March 22, 2024, https://www.britannica. com/topic/urban-sprawl.
  • 18Daniel Finnegan, “How Eliminating Single-Family Zoning Can Help in the Fight Against Climate Change,” New York State Bar Association, February 8, 2023, https://nysba.org/how-eliminating-single-family-zoning-can-help- in-the-fight-against-climate-change/
  • 19Simply removing single-family zoning will not end the affordable rental housing crisis or simply reverse these trends. Many studies have shown that certain kinds of market-based zoning reform or market-rate rental housing itself, may simply lead to the creation of high-to-moderate cost rental units that are unaffordable to many for at least a generation or two (that is: until they "filter" down to the poor, through processes of dilapidation). Other studies have shown that even reforms that are ascribed as "successful" may not lead to reductions in rent, but may rather lead to reductions in the rate in which rents rise over time. If rents rise more slowly or become static, and if incomes rise over time, then this may lead to conditions of affordability for some, in time. But if wages continue to become static, then at best such market rate production keeps the levels of unaffordability as it is, and then the regionally comparative stable unaffordability amidst a broader regional increase in rent, merely serves as a good case against those other jurisdictions wherein the rental affordability is worse than those jurisdictions that have seen more market rate building, and have thus had more of a cushion against rising costs (which doesn’t equate to expanded affordability, especially for the poor). But even at this, one should take a step back. In the case of Auckland, New Zealand’s series of zoning reforms through the 2010s, while such reforms (the Special Housing Areas and the Unitary Plan itself) may have led to a slow-down in rents over time, the reforms were carried out through the upzoning of priorly classified multi-family land, and the downzoning or use-protection of single-family and potentially higher value residential land. Such reform patterns reify the tenure maldistribution associated with zoning reform: low-density regions are protected and medium to high-density regions are increased in density all the more. In the US context this has a racialized impact: low-income multi-family renter communities are upzoned while white single-family neighborhoods are kept from change or merely contextually rezoned (the New York City Bloomberg administration’s zoning reforms in the 2000s are an example of this tendency). See Cheung, Ka Shing, Paavo Monkkonen and Chung Yim Yiu, “The Heterogeneous Impacts of Widespread Upzoning: Lessons from Auckland, New Zealand,” Urban Studies 61, no. 5 (April 1, 2024): 943–67, https://doi.org/10.1177/0042098023 1190281; and Ciera Dudley, Anna Ferrarie, Alex Ferrer, Catherine Guimond, Arushi Gupta, Alexandra Lacey, Amy Lee, Carla Leshne, Erin McElroy, Claire Morton and Nineveh O’Connell, Densifying Berkeley: Potential Impacts on Displacement and Equity (Anti-Eviction Mapping Project, 2022), 20-23, https://antievictionmap.com/blog/2022/ 11/26/densifying-berkeley-2022
  • 20In addition, certain academics and especially policymakers (at the state and federal level) have been conspicuously keen to note the economic growth literature on zoning reform. The reasoning of this literature can be paraphrased as such: “Exclusionary zoning keeps high-status earners away from expensive metros and makes their inter-regional migration more difficult, and this prevented migration and curtailing of prospective labor value causes a reduction in total economic output not only for those high-economic performing regions but also for the nation as a whole (causing an economic loss in GDP and tax revenue); in order to prevent this loss in GDP and tax revenue, municipalities must relax their zoning codes to allow for more multi-family housing, which will reduce rents and allow migration – and in addition, states and the federal level should encourage such changes through an approach of prohibitions and incentivization, as well.” This position suffers from many limitations. Here are a few: 1) it assumes that GDP is a representation of economic well-being for any administrative scale of government, and that the additional economic growth would have distributive effects for the poor in the destination metros, 2) it implies a regional policy ethic that is unaccountable and inequitable: centering the departure of high-skill workers from low-economically performing regions and cities across the nation (and hence leaving these origin cities and metro regions behind – it essentially posits the virtue of a regionally regressive mechanism for growth), and 3) it weights unfairly the inter-state migration of the upper-income worker and therefore the status of upper-income people themselves, and makes them the false axis of economic growth and prosperous distribution, while removing the importance of lower-income workers in the service, health and education sectors who have paradoxically been labeled as "essential" yet for their part have not been supported adequately through various forms of labor and welfare policy. For more on the limitations of this growth-oriented reasoning for zoning reform, see Andrés Rodríguez-Pose and Michael Storper, “Dodging the Burden of Proof: A Reply to Manville, Lens and Mönkkönen,” Urban Studies 59, no. 1 (January 1, 2022): 59–74, https://doi.org/10.1177/0042098020948793.
  • 21This is a more updated and slightly moderated definition than the one previously set down in earlier publications. For the earlier definition, see Joshua Cantong, Stephen Menendian and Samir Gambhir, “Zoning Typology - Reform Type” (Berkeley, CA: Othering & Belonging Institute, 2023), https://belonging.berkeley.edu/ zoning-typology-reform-type
  • 22Ibid. These reform types are a slight update of the former version. Specifically, it makes the Plex reform category inclusive of 4+ unit Multiplex reform, and also creates a "(+)" subcategory within the Other subcategory: these reforms can include commercial-to-residential legalization, multifamily housing on faith-based lands, minimum lot size reduction or substantial density increases that don’t fit the other frames. The first two in this list are often reforms made at the level of the state, so they aren’t very represented here. It should be noted that most of the reforms in the "Other" subcategory are parking reforms, on the whole.
  • 23Cantong et al., “Zoning Reform Tracker” (Berkeley, CA: Othering & Belonging Institute, 2023), https://belonging. berkeley.edu/zoning-reform-tracker
  • 24It should be clearly noted that this work does not intend to be causal, but is merely descriptive. For more causal related impacts of zoning reform, see Christina Stacy, Chris Davis, Yonah Slifkin Freemark, Lydia Lo, Graham MacDonald, Vivian Zheng and Rolf Pendall, “Land-Use Reforms and Housing Costs: Does Allowing for Increased Density Lead to Greater Affordability?” Urban Studies, March 21, 2023, 00420980231159500, https://doi.org/ 10.1177/00420980231159500.
  • 25The data visualizations and analysis in this section are from the Zoning Reform Tracker, updated and current as of November 13, 2023. Though municipal zoning reforms are constantly rising up, becoming settled or being considered across the nation, we would argue that the coverage of 17-years of these efforts allows us to make general claims about the trajectory, formation and context of these land-use reforms across the nation – at least at this point in time.
  • 26Cantong et al., “Zoning Typology – Reform Type” (Berkeley, CA: Othering & Belonging Institute, 2023), https://belonging.berkeley.edu/zoning-typology-reform-type
  • 27Cantong et al., “Zoning Typology - Reform Mechanism” (Berkeley, CA: Othering & Belonging Institute, 2023),
  • 28Cantong et al., “Zoning Typology - Reform Phase” (Berkeley, CA: Othering & Belonging Institute, 2023),
  • 29The year 2023 is excluded from this calculation of average reforms per year, as the last year tracks both approved and ongoing reforms. As such, the year 2023 would likely be an overrepresentation and would include such reforms that will necessarily "roll over" to the next year following the turn of the calendar.
  • 30The Gi* technique creates a z-score for every value in a spatial unit, and then evaluates whether there are clusters of high-value z-scores or low-values z-scores in the spatial units across a given geography (in this instance, state administrative boundaries). For clusters of high-values, those are represented as "hotspots" (which show up as different gradients of red in the map), for clusters of low-values, those are represented as "coldspots" (which show up as gradients of blue in the map), and for non-clusters lacking significance, such regions are represented as white or blank. For more information on the Gi* measure, see Arthur Getis and J. K. Ord, “The Analysis of Spatial Association by Use of Distance Statistics,” Geographical Analysis 24, no. 3 (1992): 189–206, https://doi.org/ 10.1111/j.1538-4632.1992.tb00261.x; and Luc Anselin, “Local Indicators of Spatial Association—LISA,” Geographical Analysis 27, no. 2 (1995): 93–115, https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1538-4632.1995.tb00338.x.
  • 31This "pressure" on homeowners is complicated, and not uniform across all reform types. Plex reforms may be viewed as perhaps the highest kind of alteration in the mind of the exclusionary homeowner bloc. ADU reforms, on the other hand, seem to be entirely capable of being included in the proprietary schema and therefore represent its modification (as it represents a possibility of a homeowner to become a homeowner-landlord and then benefit from both the prospective rentier transfer and the property valuation boost from an additional dwelling space).
  • 32Joe Gyourko and Jacob Krimmel, “The Impact of Local Residential Land Use Restrictions on Land Values across and within Single Family Housing Markets,” Journal of Urban Economics 126 (2021): 103374-, https://doi.org/ 10.1016/j.jue.2021.103374.
  • 33In addition to this homeowner subsidy through housing scarcity that exclusionary zoning institutes, the homeowner has also been greatly privileged in subsidies through other means. Whereas the homeowner can deduct mortgage interest in yearly tax filing, there is no substantial credit given to renters that is as substantial as this considerable homeowner subsidy – the latter of which amounts to over $195B each year. See Mary Pattillo, “Housing: Commodity versus Right,” Annual Review of Sociology 39 (2013): 509–31, https://doi.org/10.1146/ annurev-soc-071312-145611; Tim Shaw, “Scholars Mull Framework of Potential Renters’ Tax Credit,” Thomas Reuters, March 18, 2024, https://tax.thomsonreuters.com/news/scholars-mull-framework-of-potential- renters-tax-credit/; and Richard Florida,“The U.S. Spends Far More on Homeowner Subsidies Than It Does on Affordable Housing,” Bloomberg, CityLab Housing, April 17, 2015, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/ 2015-04-17/the-u-s-spends-far-more-on-homeowner-subsidies-than-it-does-on-affordable-housing
  • 34Victoria Guida, “Political Leaders Are Finally Responding to the Housing Crisis. They Need to Move Faster,” Politico, April 4, 2024, https://www.politico.com/news/2024/04/04/housing-affordability-crisis-states-00150463
  • 35Stacy et al., “Land-Use Reforms and Housing Costs: Does Allowing for Increased Density Lead to Greater Affordability?”