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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/12598/zoning-laws-destroy-communities/

Zoning Laws Destroy Communities

April 30, 2010 by

When we try to engineer communities, the results are disastrous. Community is destroyed by top-down processes precisely because top-down processes are simplifying, unnatural, and create disorder. FULL ARTICLE by Troy Camplin


Christopher April 30, 2010 at 8:32 am

People generally want to live within their same socioeconomic group and away from heavy industry. Zoning is a way to get this accomplished. I think the advent of the automobile plays a large part as well.

MacFall April 30, 2010 at 1:04 pm

Zoning is not the only, and is possibly the worst way to get that accomplished. Restrictive covenants and voluntary neighborhood associations would work just fine. The problem with zoning is the idea that someone can come along and tell you what to do with your property because they won a popularity contest amongst people you don’t even know.

Magnus April 30, 2010 at 8:43 am

Zoning was the thin edge of the wedge. Once the Statists asserted the power to control the location of every house and business, they used it to justify an ever-expanding interference in land use. Nowadays, there are “Comprehensive Land Use Plans,” for just about every city and county, of which zoning is only a part. It’s like something out of Stalin’s economic planning schemes, with predictably-disastrous results.

By the way, Christopher, the automobile didn’t merely “advent” itself into daily life. It had huge subsidies from the Statists. Insider, cronies used their politician stooges to get other people to pay for ever-larger roads to be built, destroying central urban life and favoring their cartel. They got to decide where the roads would be built, and thus whose land would be serviced by them, and made you and me pay for the privilege of subsidizing the insiders and cronies.

This wholesale corruption progressed for decades, and arrived at the point where the suburban division became the norm — places without shopping or business activity of any kind, forcing people to drive cars on the Statists’ fancy new artery roads and highways that the Statists built with your money.

A handful of people decided that you and I would all drive cars, forever, everywhere we wanted to go. And they decide where every business and housing development will and won’t be built. Do you think they use this power for the “greater good,” or to line the pockets of the politically-connected contributors to the winning politicians?

Christopher April 30, 2010 at 9:48 am

I’m not disagreeing with you I just didn’t think it was necessary to explain the how. I should have also mentioned that the 1950′s era Interstate Hwy system may have had the largest impact which was as much a military decision as anything else.

Glover May 25, 2010 at 9:47 pm

Ok Magnus, suppose I move next door to you. My hobbies include restoring antique vehicles, breeding swine and experimental development of new types of explosives. If governmental zoning has no right to tell me what I can do with my land, neither do you. Hi there, neighbor.

Dave Albin May 25, 2010 at 10:08 pm

I don’t know why the restoring antique vehicles would be any problem to anyone, except maybe noise issues. Breeding swine would probably come along with vile odors that would waft over to the neighbors, and the explosives – well, I only hope you have some way to prevent them from going off because that would obviously affect other property owners. The point is all private-property owners can do anything they want until their actions affect other property owners around them, which all of your items could do. So, you would need to interact with your neighbors (not the government) and come to agreements with all of them. Why does any of that have to involve the government? In fact, the government, with its ordinances, could allow swine breeding, for example, and you and the other owners would not be able to stop someone from letting the stink go around the neighborhood. They could bring in the cops to allow the local swine breeder to go about his business, even though this clearly affects everyone else.

Daniel Hewitt April 30, 2010 at 9:20 am

“Social alienation” is not a result of respecting private property, but rather a result of failing to respect it. Marx was wrong. Who woulda thunk it?

For further reading:
-Butler Shaffer’s Boundaries of Order does a great job expanding upon the concept of a decentralized, laterally-structured society, and the order that stems from it. He calls it the holographic model.
-Malcolm Gladwell covers the Rule of 150, with his typical articulateness and clarity, in The Tipping Point.

Michael A. Clem April 30, 2010 at 9:42 am

Good points on the neighborhood grocery stores. I live in an older neighborhood, and the house right next to mine used to be a neighborhood grocery store way back when. I’m fortunate to have a grocery store only six blocks away, but I can only imagine what it would be like to walk next door to buy groceries.

jmorris84 April 30, 2010 at 9:55 am

Sorry, but I couldn’t take this article seriously right off the bat. After reading, “It is rare to go to the store and see anyone you know” and of course knowing it to not be true, as I see people I know when I go to the store all of the time, how am I supposed to continue on with this article? I’m sure that the title of the article is true and I would have loved to taken it seriously and read it through but don’t throw out absolutes like that when they are just silly things to say.

Michael A. Clem April 30, 2010 at 10:06 am

Don’t shortchange yourself by not reading the article. And I wouldn’t say that the use of the term “rare” qualifes as an absolute–an absolute would be to say that you NEVER see anyone you know.

Steve April 30, 2010 at 4:24 pm

I thought the article was fun to read. I could tell it would be mostly anecdotal, and so the statement, “It is rare to go to the store and see anyone you know” (maybe he’s from a city?) felt consistent with what the rest of the article would be about. Occasionally, for me, it’s good to read about people’s experiences and what they think about them. It wasn’t like reading Human Action, but to see some of the economic principles (or lack thereof) applied to the author’s life, was interesting. I second Michael A. Clem about giving it a shot.

MIdas Mulligan April 30, 2010 at 6:32 pm

That’s because you are indoctrinated in guild socialism and have a concrete-bounded mentality.
Probably a ridiculous ape who moves around a mouse pointing device savagely proud of his ignorance of how computers, internets, and political economies work.
Troy’s piece should generally lead Austrian econophiles to favor decreased zoning laws most of which ensure future lucrative employment for zoners and destroy individuals’ self-efficacy.

Douglas April 30, 2010 at 10:51 am

I’m very disappointed by this entry and expect much better from this website. The author not only makes unsubstantiated assumptions about zoning but also ignores many other factors that have led to American urban sprawl.

I have studied urban planning in both the United States and Sweden. Sweden is certainly one of the most regulated countries in the world and has a comprehensive national system for zoning and urban planning administrated by local municipalities. Today,the main focus of urban planning in Sweden is often to create sustainable communities where services are integrated with housing. Sweden, which does have many problems caused by rigid zoning, does not share many of the problems outlined by the author. I am certainly not advocating for the Swedish system, but pointing out that “zoning,” as a concept, can not be blamed for the lack of walkable communities in the United States.

The United States and Sweden are two interesting countries to compare in this context. Following WWII, both had war industries bloated with liquidity and excess capacity. Both had high standards of living and infrastructure that survived the war intact. While the US used its liberal tradition to justify massive public road construction and subsidized education and mortgages for returning soldiers, Sweden used it’s collectivist tradition to justify subsidized construction of middle class housing and public research of construction technology. Both systems benefited private industry with public monies. The result has had divergent influences on the contemporary urban fabric in the respective countries.

Urban sprawl in the United States is a subject that has been researched extensively since the 1960′s. Much of the research comes from “the left” and focuses on the sociological consequences of corporate influence in urban planning. While an investigation into corporate influence, political corruption and the powers of government could be interesting, pointing a figure at zoning in this way is intellectually lazy.

newson April 30, 2010 at 11:27 am

“sustainable communities” – what does this mean?

Daniel Hewitt April 30, 2010 at 11:43 am


Everybody has their own unique definition of “sustainable communities”, which de-validates Douglas’ point.

Douglas April 30, 2010 at 1:28 pm

I would define a built sustainable community as a settlement that can function and adapt over the long term; not only environmentally, but financially or sociologically as well, for example. The best examples of these types of communities were certainly not planned.

I don’t understand how an open definition for sustainable communities “de-validates” my point.

My point is not that zoning works well if done correctly. My point is that the author directs undeserved blame at zoning and that he lacks knowledge of the issue.

Predrag April 30, 2010 at 3:46 pm

Douglas, that’s a perfect opportunity for you to write a better informed article.

Juraj April 30, 2010 at 7:00 pm

Regardless, zoning means that someone has the right to direct use of your property without your consent. Same thing can be argued about anything, e.g. economic central planing – can be sustainable in theory but we have yet to witness such miracle.

I would rather attack the “statism” and coercion that goes on about zoning laws rather than zoning itself. Zoning may well be agreed upon voluntarily by the property/land owners.

newson May 1, 2010 at 6:14 am

linking collective concepts like community to verbs is nonsensical. “we the people…blah, blah, blah”.

Jaycephus May 2, 2010 at 12:54 pm

Wouldn’t the ultimate in ‘sustainable’ community be one in which private property rights were maximized, i.e. complete lack of zoning laws? If the lack of a perceived need were felt, it could be provided with the least opposition.

Counter-arguments welcome…

David C April 30, 2010 at 11:13 am

In my little town, I recently noticed a blurb on the city web site that was pleading for Google to open up a research facility in our town. While at first I thought it would be cool if Google moved to our town, I also thought it was sort of pathetic. It was pathetic how they need to beg for outside investment to come into our town when the community would be more than capable of becoming self sufficient and prosperous if they would just get the hell out of peoples way in terms of taxes, ordinances, and zoning laws.

Also, zoning and the federal reserve system are intimately related. The credit pumping causes houses to become like savings accounts, and to treat their homes like an investment instead of a place to live. Also businesses with the right contacts could get unlimited credit to build in key corridors while the common man is locked out. Regulations that require a business to have say $20000 worth of extra equipment and a lease in an expensive corridor is not so intolerable when can get financed with printed up credit. It really allows them to get away with things they could never dream of if people had to boot-strap their own growth out of savings.

LG April 30, 2010 at 12:59 pm

I doubt the removal of Zoning Laws, would make everyone all lovely and dovey like it’s mentioned in the article. There were still be violence and neighborhood hatred, probably less of it though. Although I do agree with the author about removing zoning laws, mainly because zoning laws had an effect on the sub-prime mortgage crisis.

MacFall April 30, 2010 at 1:48 pm

You’re probably right. The chief cause of violence in any given neighborhood is almost always going to be the dangerous red markets created by prohibitive laws, and the government’s tendency to inhibit the ability of individuals to defend their property. Zoning does not affect those issues much. It is more of a symptom of the same social illness.

cret April 30, 2010 at 2:12 pm

“It had huge subsidies from the Statists.”i guess this is true. do carmakers also have to comply with thousands of regulations imposed on them by the subsidizers??? was the automobile just what the market desired anyway as opposed to horse poop littering the roads???maybe whoever permits the articles at these sites should screen them for less opinion. i doubt community is destroyed via zoning but likely takes on a shape that in some respects it wouldnt have.i expcet communities destroyed themselves on occsaion with out any zoning.but as for automobile communities i can only say that some countries seem to have a better mix of auto roads, bicycle paths and sidewalks and transit. where i live, i high school lets out and many students have to walk down a section of road with no sidewalk.

K Ackermann April 30, 2010 at 3:40 pm

I found this to be a boring, shallow essay. Baking cookies in your house to sell at the market? Please. What did you want to do, build a factory on your lot? Your oven sure won’t meet demand if your cookies are as good as you say. As your potential neighbor, I don’t want to have to smell your cookies 24/7, and neither does my pregnant wife. It makes her puke, and when she pukes, guess whose life is hell.

I understood exactly what you meant about having to drive to a store, so you didn’t have to mention it more than once.

I have to drive to the store too. I live in the wilds of Oregon, where we give people the freedom to move into a planned neighborhood, or anywhere else they purchase.

My little town sends a schoolbus over a mountain to pick up 2 children. The route takes 55 minutes, but that’s the price we pay for freedom.

I noticed that you wrote this as if all planned neighborhoods are the same. I’m just trying to strike a balance. I hate having the feeling that I’m being spoonfed pablum.

Predrag April 30, 2010 at 4:18 pm

K, I don’t think your neighbour would shoot you at the spot if you wanted to resolve the smell problem.

Steve April 30, 2010 at 4:33 pm

“My little town sends a schoolbus over a mountain to pick up 2 children. The route takes 55 minutes, but that’s the price we pay for freedom.” Very funny stuff!

p.s. Are the families of those two children the ones paying for the school bus route?

newson May 1, 2010 at 6:39 am

civil action is always an option to resolve outstanding disputes between land-users, absent state zoning.

ZoningLOL April 30, 2010 at 3:42 pm

The classic justification for zoning is the fear of having a hog farm or industrial polluter open next door to your residential neighborhood. The truth is that this will almost never happen (but of course there is always an exception used to trumpet the supposed vicious evil).

Hog farmers and industrialists will buy cheap land away from residential development. There is a natural self-organizing “zoning” that occurs due to the trade-off between proximity to customers, workers, materials, etc. and land values. Retail stores will pay more to be close to you, and you will like that. Steel mills will locate farther away because they get land cheaper.

The intersting paradox is that government can use political means to circumvent natural community self-organization by emminent domain and subsidization of projects that are not economically desirable. Even zoning will not destroy a neighborhood as fast as government low-income housing projects that obviously would not exist without tax and property theft to create them.

Government imposed zoning is not necessary in a free market for property. Government zoning is useful for those who want to control their neighbors’ property without having to give just compensation or buy the rights. Zoning is Fascism at its finest.

Mike Roberts April 30, 2010 at 6:28 pm

I’ll give you an example from our town. There is a quarry moving in to an area surrounded by homes, a retirement home, and a grade school. The only thing that has been holding them at bay are the zoning restrictions.

Another example… the property we’re on was once used by the previous owners to repair diesel trucks (the tractor part of tractor trailers). They would be revving big engines at 2am and having these huge things coming and going all the time. It was a mess for the neighbors who got them shut down because of zoning.

The author gets all dreamy-eyed about Mom & Pop businesses opening, but there are very few of them anymore. Even convenience stores are dominated by chains. If the zoning laws opened, Pete and Mary wouldn’t open a shop, but we might see a 7-11. This isn’t an improvement.

newson May 1, 2010 at 6:42 am

monies can be pooled for civil actions, if surrounding residents feel strongly enough. this happens all the time.

Juraj May 1, 2010 at 7:17 am

An argument will be made that those people do not have enough money/resources to buy up that land to protect themselves or get the current owner to agree not to allow “an intruder” to use that land.

newson May 1, 2010 at 8:52 am

there’s still the tort of nuisance etc.

Jaycephus May 2, 2010 at 1:12 pm

Isn’t it more accurate to say zoning has killed Mom & Pop shops, and prevented new ones from opening, THEREFORE there are very few of them anymore? If I have to drive five miles over to the closest commercial zone, I’m probably going to go to the Walmart Supercenter, which is one of the points of the article. Right now, you get the chain conveinience store due to the fact that it has the resources and specialized knowledge required to get the zoning variances needed to put one of its stores on a given street corner.

Dave Albin May 25, 2010 at 10:14 pm

Aside from the other good replies – just because you say a 7-11 opening “isn’t an improvement”, others, who shop there and keep it open, disagree. Are you saying all of those customers are wrong?

Statureman April 30, 2010 at 4:31 pm

Great article.

My sister worked at a Law firm in TN that was influential in much of the zoning/use of commercial land in that state. She explained one zoning restriction that explains why most shopping centers have empty parking lots nearly all year: they are required to have enough parking for the “highest” shopping day of the year. So the rest of the year thousands of acres sit empty and paved. Talk about limiting entry to those with deep pockets only.

Or I love the other classic story: urban sprawl works it’s way out to the pig farm and new neighbors don’t like the smell of pigs, so they lobby to have the zoning changed forcing the farmer out of business…

Tony Fernandez April 30, 2010 at 6:16 pm

I don’t like zoning laws at all, and they’ve been something that I’ve been interested in for a few years now. Of course, this article is mostly anecdotal and wouldn’t do much to convince those who are in favor of zoning laws. I’ve written a few blog posts about zoning in the past which I think are more on the technical side of argumentation.

For instance, zoning laws cap density because otherwise an area will get too much traffic. I think this post answers that contention clearly.

Juraj April 30, 2010 at 7:15 pm

If I may, I’ll mention a real world example of local municipality zoning. Certain people decided that they would like to build a house for their families on the land they owned (most likely their family’s land passed through generations). Local statists would not allow these families to build houses as there was no building allowed on their parcels. Now, I don’t know the details why it has not been allowed, I can only guess that it was either the incompetence of bureaucrats to amend existing zoning plans, lack of finances as they would probably need to hire a private firm that would analyse feasibility etc. in order to comply with state-wide regulations, or hundreds of other reasons.

Guess what, people decided not to wait for the bureaucrats and built their houses on their land. Statists threatened them, whether they paid some fines, I don’t know. However, very shortly after these houses were built, other people expressed interest in building next to them, therefore forming a new “street”. The municipality finally decided that perhaps it’s time to amend the zoning laws and allow a street to be built there. They hired a private agency to create visual imagery, architects etc and spent people’s money on something that people already knew how to create. And no one liked what they came up with.

cret April 30, 2010 at 10:33 pm

“”Hog farmers and industrialists will buy cheap land away from residential development. There is a natural self-organizing “zoning” that occurs due to the trade-off between proximity to customers, workers, materials, etc. and land values. Retail stores will pay more to be close to you, and you will like that. Steel mills will locate farther away because they get land cheaper.”"

i guess. some steell mills may locate baased on proximity to an existing transport infratstucture…rail line, port access, etc.
looking at some industrial towns in germany much housig appears to be right near the industrail areas (dortmund, germany). to the extent that this outcome was govt zoned or natural zoning i dont know.

wat April 30, 2010 at 11:49 pm

how completely and utterly wrong it is.
so sad, that people buy into this shit.

I just completed a class on urban planning, where we looked at zoning laws in macro and micro detail.
zoning laws are actually a centripetal force, rather than a centrifugal.

also, the author pointing out that zoning laws are the reason behind traffic congestion is laughable.

but of course

hur dur sound free market hur dur

Juraj May 1, 2010 at 4:41 am

“how completely and utterly wrong it is. so sad, that people buy into this shit.”

Thank you for your comment. I believe that your property should be used as a doll museum but I suppose that’s fine with you. Just because I know better.

“I just completed a class on urban planning, where we looked at zoning laws in macro and micro detail. zoning laws are actually a centripetal force, rather than a centrifugal.”

I don’t understand this, could someone explain it to me? May I also presume that you were taught by the state?

“hur dur sound free market hur dur”

Ditto about state coercion.

wat May 1, 2010 at 2:23 pm

“I don’t understand this, could someone explain it to me? May I also presume that you were taught by the state?”

oh lawds, you dont understand my argument but then proceed to affirm that I’ve been “educated by the state”, as if I’m an invalid.

There is rarely anything detrimental about zoning laws. Many zoning commissions are based on the notion of community restoration rather than separation. For example, in Fairfax, Virginia, developers must pay tariffs to develop new properties rather than renovate older ones. This leads to a renewal of older, mistreated properties. This is an easy way that a zoning law protects the community, while serving business and the state simultaneously.

The article pointing out that zoning laws create divisions (low-income/high-income) is ridiculous and bold statement. One must argue that the divisions were created by the difference in wealth, allowed by the free market system.

matskralc May 1, 2010 at 3:29 pm

mistreated properties.

Says you.

And even if true: so what?

Juraj May 2, 2010 at 9:04 am

“This leads to a renewal of older, mistreated properties. This is an easy way that a zoning law protects the community, while serving business and the state simultaneously.”

So it makes building new properties more expensive. Brilliant. You know, perhaps there is a reason why someone would not renovate an old one, such as it may not be profitable enough for someone to live there, but a shop may find the location more suitable even with the extra expenses incurred by tearing it down or renovating it.

“Many zoning commissions are based on the notion of community restoration rather than separation.”

Says you.

“The article pointing out that zoning laws create divisions (low-income/high-income) is ridiculous and bold statement. One must argue that the divisions were created by the difference in wealth, allowed by the free market system.”

You just lost it. Difference in wealth will ways exist unless you want to make everyone “sort-of” equal by coercive pooling of all the wealth and giving back to everyone in equal amount. No, wait, someone in rural area may need more wealth for the same standard of living that a person in a city, how do you do it then? Oh yes, you have a gigantic bureaucratic system to work out the differences, so there is only few people left creating actual wealth. Perhaps we just need more zoning commissions to become more prosperous.

Jaycephus May 2, 2010 at 1:32 pm

You still failed to explain the ‘centripetal/centrifugal’ comment.

But you go on to make a crazy statement like: ‘there is rarely anything detrimental about zoning laws.’

Just maybe, assuming you ignore all the ‘unseen consequences’.

And of course, completely ignore the traffic congestion issue by merely proclaiming it ‘laughable’.

And also ignore the concept of private property rights entirely.

Predrag May 1, 2010 at 6:40 am

“so sad, that people buy into this shit.”

Is the last word in this sentence a metaphor or a swear word?

newson May 1, 2010 at 6:45 am

so the roads are private in your neck of the woods?

Caley McKibbin May 1, 2010 at 7:31 pm

It’s simple math that it increases traffic congestion. The separation of land use types by lobbyists and building codes increases commute time. This increases the amount of cars on the road at any time.

robert hobbes May 1, 2010 at 3:16 pm

Mr. Camplin’s articel is intriguing but, as a biologist, I must take exception to his analogy of a community being similar to a cell in that they are successful due to being self-organized. A cell is extremely organized and centrally controlled; starting with the complete set of “rules and regulations” of molecular physics, biochemical reaction chemistry, then onto the regulatory and controlling functions of genetic material in the nucleus and mitochondria. We know precisely what types of cells are entirely self-regulating and do not respond to control cues for the common good of the organism they belong to but only for their own immediate reproduction and gratification; CANCER. Good community planning should be a long term perspective that can smooth over the differences between the more immediate, selfish short term views of the individuals in the community. Of course it’s important to keep planning process flexible in order to improve on and preserve that which is essential for the survival of the community. Take your pick,, the 5 P rule of the military. Piss Poor Planning leads to Poor Performance.good” or those who fail to plan, plan to fail.. I’d finish with a thought that sometimes it’s good for all to sacrifice a little to the common good, so good can come to all.

Predrag May 1, 2010 at 4:58 pm

yes, the rules by which cells operate were set by nature, not by other cells. the same way, the rules by which human societies operate were set by nature, not by humans. hayek analyzed this in great detail a long time ago.

UncleSam101 May 1, 2010 at 4:18 pm

I disagree with most of what you think. Certainly bad zoning causes serious problems. No zoning has serious problems also. For example, without zoning a landfill, adult book store, explosives plant quarry, etc. could be placed in the midst of a neighborhood of multimillion dollar houses. The destruction of and damage to private property would be enormous. Think Palm Beach with a landfill built next year where the Breakers golf course now sits. It is axiomatic in land use that what happens on one property determines the value and potential use of surrounding properties. The market, not zoning, dictates that fact. In effect the market value of one property is determined by the surrounding properties, not the property itself. If a community expresses the desire to have a grocery store or even a Walmart on the corner zoning can in fact easily accomidate that. Zoning, with the blessing of the town fathers, generally responding to community values, can, in fact, accomodate any land use that the market desires. All private property rights are created by the government and the government is created by the people.

newson May 1, 2010 at 8:31 pm

your objections are dealt with in the rothbard/hoppe versus coase debate

private property precedes government. think of the original flint axe owned by the caveman, or the caveman’s body.

newson May 1, 2010 at 8:36 pm


gary north exposes the problems with coase, underlying much of current zoning theory.

Doug M May 1, 2010 at 8:45 pm

This is not at all what happens. The city of Houston does not have any zoning, and in my extensive travels through it I’ve never seen any of the land uses that you describe in the midst of any residential neighborhood, let alone one with multimillion dollar houses.

Furthermore, I’ve made a living in appraising real estate for over 21 years and can say beyond a doubt that there are many more influences on the value and potential use of any property than simply surrounding property uses. If that was all there was, my appraisals would be one or two pages instead of 50, 100 or more.

Jaycephus May 2, 2010 at 2:14 pm

I didn’t know that about zoning in Houston. I’ve been commuting to Pasadena (Houston suburb) weekly. I know some of the communities around Houston are big on zoning. The Woodlands is bizarre. Driving through that town is like driving through a pine forrest in which you can’t see the town for the trees. You can pass right by a Taco Bell and not even realize it unless you read the text on the city-mandated gray-on-gray ground-level-only sign. Both pine trees and undergrowth are mandated along the roads to the point that you can not make out the existence of most commercial businesses along many of the town’s widest (divided 4-lane) streets.

Other parts of Houston are filled with ship channels, ports, oil and chemical refineries, ship builders, rail yards, and so on. I would say the success of Houston has been enhanced by the freedom from zoning. Few cities in the world have this kind of mix of industrial uses.

It’s certainly assinine to claim that Palm Beach might have to put up with a landfill moving in next to million-dollar mansions. First a depression or sinkhole would have to open up! Don’t you think that might have a negative effect on nearby home-values? The property, now REQUIRING someone to fill it in, would best be served by turning it into a commercial land-fill, so that it could eventually be used as commercial or residential property. Otherwise you have to assume something that could never happen: someone buys $100K/per acre property, possibly levels perfectly good pre-existing buildings, and digs out perfectly buildable property in order to provide a place to ‘fill’.

Magnus May 1, 2010 at 10:43 pm

All private property rights are created by the government and the government is created by the people.

Wrong, and wrong.

What you mean to say is (a) private property rights are violated by the very existence of coercive government, and (b) government is created by some people, kinda like the way that the Mafia consists of some people who parasitically prey on everyone else.

UncleSam101 May 1, 2010 at 4:33 pm

Keep in mind that zoning can be changed at the “drop of the hat” by town fathers. Good zoning reflects community values and above all must conform to state and federal laws (think U.S. Constitution and Fair Housing Act, etc.) that protect private property. Many of the regulations that affect what can be done on property are so called nuisance laws, environmental laws, and subdivision and development laws. These laws are not zoning laws. Zoning is certainly not needed in rural, sparsely populated areas. In more densely populated areas, for example, Morristown, NJ, zoning laws probably keep property owners from, literally, going to war with each other as what is done on one property can destroy the value of an adjoining property.

Predrag May 1, 2010 at 4:45 pm

UncleSam101, it seems that you think that people cannot talk to each other without the government as a middle man. Yes, if you train them to resolve conflicts in that manner, that can surely be the case.

Michael May 2, 2010 at 10:40 am

Yeah, Morristown, the town that denied the Red Cross the permits for charity clothing bins.


Michael May 2, 2010 at 10:48 am
matskralc May 2, 2010 at 11:24 am

And because of the valiant efforts of Morristown’s zoning officials, children will not have to read history books about the disastrous We Don’t Want Those Icky Homeless Folks Comin’ ‘Round These Parts War!

greg May 1, 2010 at 5:03 pm

I think using Greece as your model of a perfect neighborhood is a good example of where your headed with your line of reasoning. Total economic collaspe! Maybe if they had Walmarts, their cost of living would be lower and they could afford to get paid 12 months of pay for 12 months of work, instead of the 14 months of pay for 12 months of work.

Investing in real estate is very marginal and not liquid. You need to be certain about your property as well as the future of the property around you. Any change in the surrounding property uses can have a major effect on the value of your property and you will not have the time needed to sell before the price goes down. For example, I bought 5 acres in a very desirable area for estate homes. After building our house, a nearby property owner decided to build a kennel. Barking dogs would have had a major effect on our property. Because of local zoning laws, he was not able to build the kennel.

Zoning laws do not set the price of property, the market does that. Just because property is zoned commercial, doesn’t make it valuable. If you really want a good location for your business, just find a McDonald’s, their location research is one of the best.

Juraj May 2, 2010 at 10:14 am

>> Because of local zoning laws, he was not able to build the kennel.

With all respect. You prevented someone from starting his business because it would devalue your property. Perhaps his kennel would do more good for the society than your house that you seem to have built in order to sell it as you are so concerned about the market price of it.

Jaycephus May 2, 2010 at 1:46 pm

Wow, Greece is in default because they don’t have Walmart, which is because they don’t have zoning laws! Weird.

How does LACK of zoning laws prevent a Walmart from opening and performing the function you ascribe to it?

And how would a Walmart affect a nation that has created far too many government union jobs that pay far too much for too little productive labor? Even if these workers performed a full 12 months of labor for WHATEVER amount of pay, if they’re not producing any exportable goods or service, then ultimately how are they going to pay for all the German goods they’ve been buying, be they through a Walmart or not??

Predrag May 1, 2010 at 5:13 pm

The whole point is that with zonong laws you don’t even need to talk to your neighbour. But, when the middle man fails, there is no one else to turn to but to your neighbour. I’ve seen it in practice.

Predrag May 1, 2010 at 5:23 pm

There are many lawyers who will tell you, if they are your good friends – don’t let the state or the courts resolve your misunderstandings with others; you can do much better if you manage them (wisely) yourself.

Predrag May 1, 2010 at 7:00 pm

But then, if there is a large number of borderline autistic individuals – state control is the best management solution. The less space for solving their own problems individuals have, the more reliant on the third party they become. The more reliant on the third party they become, the less observant they are about their own ability to resolve conflicts with others.

Juraj May 2, 2010 at 10:15 am

Very good point. I am reminded of a quote:

It would appear that the more liberty we lose, the less people are able to imagine how liberty might work. It’s a fascinating thing to behold.
– Lew Rockwell

Dave Albin May 2, 2010 at 11:49 am

It’s interesting that you bring up what others would call “weird” people – borderline autistic, as you say, and then propose that the state is the best way to deal with these situations. That people are different reflects a structured society, one that is completely inflexible to others who are “outside the box”. Of course, a lot of this begins with the cookie-cutter public education system that would rather force different people into a corner (special ed classes, forced medication, etc.) than simply adapt to the natural differences of people. Of course, let’s let the state make the categories and then let them force us to adapt to their categories…….

I guess, back to the original point, private, third-party arbitration systems would work just as well as state ones. And they may be very similar to what the state sets up, but would not be a monopoly like the state is.

Predrag May 2, 2010 at 4:56 pm

autism was meant more like a metaphor for people’s inability to notice solutions so they expect the government to find them. it’s a feedback loop.

Michael May 2, 2010 at 9:25 am

I’d like to counter your anecdote of the “Cookie Lady” with another; my own. My Grandfather was a painting and plastering contractor from 1947 to about 1975. He operated his business from his home. At the height of his business, he had about 15-20 guys working for him. They all met in the morning in the lot across the street from his house. (There were no zoning laws back then). When I was in high school, my Grandfather was semi-retired, but still worked 40 hours a week, and an occasional Saturday. This is when I went to work for him on my summer breaks and learned the trade.

I worked for various contractors over the next 20 years, taking time off to earn a (worthless) college degree (with a 3.6 gpa). With the influx of cheap “illegal” immigrants in the 90s and 00s, it became more difficult to earn a good wage. So, in 2005, I decided to start my own business. I broke every “conventional rule” of starting your own business, and many local and state regulations. I did not break the rules in order to get an unfair advantage and charge lower prices, I did it because I didn’t have all of the working capital to comply. Permits cost money. In NJ there are a lot of regs and permits. I mean, what the hell? I had been in the business for over 20 years. Nobody knew the business better than me, and I didn’t need a bunch of useless regulations and permits telling me what to do, or not do. (I have always carried $1,000,000 of liability insurance and paid my taxes). I took a chance, but all of my business was “word of mouth”, and I never misled any of my clients. Most jobs were done with a “smile and handshake”.

I started by working out of the trunk of a 92 Buick Regal. Why not? My Grandfather was working out of an AMC Pacer when he was semi-retired. The zoning laws in my town, and development, would never allow a painting contractor to operate. But I never did anything to arouse suspicion, or “inconvenience” any of the neighbors. Many knew, but they never complained because I respected their “peace”. I never borrowed any money. I know some somewhat wealthy individuals who were builders and developers. I never asked them for a dime. The only thing I ever asked for was work. I built my business on reputation of providing a reliable, quality service at a reasonable price and hard work, not on my ability to make money. I literally purchased equipment one piece at a time with profits from the business. Some equipment was even purchased by floating a deposit from a job. In fact, my very first job, I took the deposit and bought a paint sprayer and an extension ladder. I now have every piece of equipment a painting contractor could need. I can rig any house, including those huge Victorians with their high gable ends, high pitched roofs and third story dormers.

The only time I borrowed money was when I bought a work van. I had three choices. Buy a POS junker for cash, finance a pre-owned, or buy something brand new. I dismissed buying a old junker due to the lack of reliability. I could either finance a pre-owned for 3 years at a high interest rate, or a brand new van and finance it for 7 years at a very low interest rate. The monthly payments weren’t that much different. I bought the used van, and now I own it outright. The only thing is I had to put a new trans in it, which cost me $2,000.

Yes, I broke many of the conventional “rules” of business. There was no “business plan”, no financing, no partners, and very little working capital. I did all of the work myself and all of the bookkeeping and ran the day to day operations. But I showed a profit in every year. Not much, but show me any small business that shows a profit in any of its first five years. Doesn’t happen. In 2008, I had two full time employees, and was going to the temp agency to pick up extra help when I needed it.

So, what’s the moral of this little story? When the crash hit at the end of ’08, work in construction literally died in ’09. Many contractors went out of business and had to sell off their equipment. I did not, mostly because I did not owe any money. Now that work is starting to pick up again, I am poised to pick up exactly where I left off. I didn’t save any money in a conventional sense like in a bank account, my savings were in the equipment and tools that I bought with profits. Sure, I was literally living on bologna sandwiches and macaroni and cheese for a while there, but so goes the business cycle.

Here’s an interesting article of the history of the city I, and four generations of my family live(d) in:

From the approximate year of 1861, Vineland [NJ] has grown into one of the most important agricultural centers in the eastern United States. With its beginnings in 1860 by an ambitious and determined land developer named Charles Kline Landis, Vineland grew rapidly during its first century of existence. Also growing rapidly was its participation in agriculture; for it was founded by Landis as a utopian, agricultural colony. Vineland’s agricultural output started to thrive with each passing year. Since the early 1930′s, Vineland’s agricultural prosperity has been due in large part to the efforts of the Vineland Cooperative Produce Auction Association. It is the largest produce cooperative still in existence in the country, handling 95% of auction sales in southern New Jersey and over three-quarters of all total produce sales in the region.


Dave Albin May 2, 2010 at 12:01 pm

Exactly right – zoning laws favor big business, and remove innovation and competition…..and lead to higher prices.

Juraj May 2, 2010 at 10:22 am

You Sir, are a true entrepreneur. I wish the best of luck to you and your business.

Michael May 2, 2010 at 7:24 pm

Thank you, that’s the best compliment I ever received.

Franklin May 2, 2010 at 8:12 pm

David C (as he often doesl) cuts to the chase.
“… credit pumping causes houses to become like savings accounts, and [homeowners] treat their homes like an investment instead of a place to live.”

Indeed. Zoning’s also been a long-standing middle class subsidy — a way to keep the poor out of the neighborhood.

Becky May 3, 2010 at 8:12 am

From what I have seen working in the construction field, zoning does more wrong than right. Yes, people don’t want an obnoxious neighbor next door, but I have more often seen the obnoxious neighbor as the residential one and not the industrial one. For example, in the rural areas of northern Michigan, it is not uncommon for people (especially union types) to retire up north and become whiners about the farm next door. The fact that the farm next door has been there for years is not the issue for them. They get on local government boards and bring the city regulations with them. You cannot build a pole barn on your property (even a 40 acre parcel) if your cabin is not as large or larger. You may start a business one day, and they don’t want that in an area outside the master plan. Although, you would have to go through another bureaucracy to get permission anyway.

In established areas, there are massive parking lots with x amount of spaces for x amount of s.f. and expected traffic. What some communities are now starting to address is the over paving has created a lot of hard surfaces which leads to water control issues and that the parking lots are never close to being full except at Christmas. Now the new thing is shared parking areas.

In zoning laws and covenants, you now cannot “live above the shop” which discourages small businesses because it is cheaper to live either upstairs or next to your business as part of the same property.

From what I have seen and know, there are planning consultants who work with a lot of incorporated villages, cities and towns and many of these have basically the same zoning rules (same consultants). If you want to start a business you may have to landscape (including what you can and cannot have, like a tree every 20′, have signs approved, colors approved, fences repaired at the discretion of the local burueacrat. If your trees and landscaping create a problem (the stuff the govt decided you needed), you are then cited to fix them. I do know one of these planners personally, and really like him, but when it came to his own house, he was upset at having to do things the code required.

Zoning does do one thing for all, it does increase the costs of building and doing business. It takes more money to hang out your shingle today. On top of zoning there are also subdivision covenents with square foot, roof pitch, exterior materials, etc. all subject to the builder’s approval.

I personally think zoning performs two things in reality: discriminates (it was rumored that one area of Mi had extremely tight zoning laws to prevent riff raff from moving in), creates more sprawl. Those highly regulated zoned communities have lots and lots of fights. Especially in the more well to do ones. They argue, sue, threaten to sue over wrong exterior, putting up a shed, having a boat outside, etc. many times over (because I’ve sat in meetings and listened to the bickering) than my non planned rural street.

Zoning is another layer of government to try to control behavior, not a system of managing land. As someone who has worked with zoning and zoning officials, overall, I am not impressed.

John May 3, 2010 at 9:49 am

I agree with many anti-zoning sentiments in these comment, in the sense that zoning may be counterproductive in many ways and overall.

However, it has seemed to me that to the extent that whatever rules exist, existed at the time the homeowner purchased the home, then the residents comprise a localized, voluntary association of its “members”, and therefore does not have to me nearly so much of the “statist” baggage and objectional features of, in contrast, the Federal government. Of course having to obey ordinances/laws that come into being after one moves into the city, is still problematic to this line of though, but a prospective homeowner can at least get an idea as to the nature of likely future restrictions based on previous and current restrictions in place.

I remember as a youth being puzzled by the the term “incorporated city” and eventually came to the view that “oh, I see, it’s a corporation in many senses just as any other business, but whose product is a place to live, and whose customers are the residents who by moving there choose to contract with that business for the type of living environment that the city provides them”.

Of course other businesses don’t have their own police forces, etc.

So to me in this regard “small government is better” translates to “city government is ‘less bad’ than county government is less bad than state government is less bad than county government”.


M1ThinkTank May 3, 2010 at 10:45 am

While I’m not in favor of zoning as described in the article, I am in favor of zoning restrictions that place restraints on the types of buildings that can be built in an area.

For instance, when I was in the Houston area, I saw big name stores and restaurants that were able to blend with the nearby neighborhoods. This is because all of the buildings had similar brick exteriors, and all of the signs on the buildings were white. Even the McDonald’s logo on the building was white, and I don’t even recall seeing the ‘golden arches’ or any other big signs in the area.

Long story short, if commercial property had to meet certain aesthetic requirements, then I wouldn’t be as opposed to commercial activity taking place in a residential area. I don’t think anyone would like it if a big red and yellow McDonald’s popped up on their block, but they might not be as opposed if the design of the McDonald’s allowed it to blend with the neighborhood.

Kevin Carson May 4, 2010 at 1:36 am

The cookie example is telling. The principle it illustrates (reinforced by Michael’s wonderful story) is that overhead cost is like Kryptonite to agility and resilience. The higher the capital outlay and overhead cost, the larger the revenue stream required to service it. Conversely, the lower the overhead cost, the less firm the boundary is between being “in business” and “out of business,” and the lower the cost of riding out periods of slow business. When government regulations mandate artificial levels of capital outlay and overhead, they also in effect mandate large batch production.

Production in the informal and household economy is often virtually free from overhead, because it relies on spare capacity of ordinary household capital goods most people already own anyway.

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Tom the Land Man July 25, 2010 at 2:38 pm

zoning laws do a lot to limit a community’s ability to adapt to growth patterns epically rapid growth like in Las Vegas, Nv Steve Wynn has the right ideals and goal He says bigger is not better
Steve Wynn thinks Better is Better

Jenn August 12, 2010 at 12:32 pm

This is a prime example of the tension between living in community and preserving individual freedoms. No easy answers and sometimes frequent compromise.

Larry Toombs August 31, 2010 at 4:50 pm

I have found the reponses to this article to be in some ways educational and entertaining. As a realtor in the Houston real estate market I have always been adverse to the lack of zoning in the outlying areas and in parts of the city itself. Especially as I have seen very nice homes built on unrestricted lots and then shacks or mobile homes put on the lot next door which in my opinion devalue the nicer home. Don’t take me wrong mobile homes etc. have a right to be there but again I have seen it bring down the value of some very nice Houston homes.
One of the comments I found interesting was about Houston and how the strip malls etc. are so well integrated into the area. Most people don’t realize that’s only because a big corporation or business has come in and bought or already owned the land and have basically created their own zoning by creating residential and commercial zones. They also can be very restrictive as to what is built there,how it is built and how it looks. Has nothing to do with government but highest and best use of the property they developed i.e. planned community and their pocket book as they are creating the highly desired commercial property.
After reading all the responses and arguments I have seen, I have had to rethink my position as to requiring zoning. I still think it has it’s place in certain areas but have now opened my eyes and realized it’s not for every area.
Thanks to all for the entertaining and educational debate.

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