Land Use Without Zoning: Putting Ideas into Practice

What can the city of Houston teach us about land use and zoning?

Welcome to The Bridge Policy Download, produced by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. 

Zoning and land use policy regulations present the greatest barriers to affordable housing and increased urban density. Understanding how to navigate and remove these barriers allows for a dynamic housing market and paves the way for successful community development efforts.

The study of the impact of land use and zoning policy began with Bernard Siegan in his pioneering 1972 study, "Land Use Without Zoning." In his book, Siegan first set out what has today emerged as a common-sense perspective: Zoning not only fails to achieve its stated ends of ordering urban growth and separating incompatible uses, but it also drives housing costs up and competition down.

Drawing on the unique example of Houston—America’s fourth-largest city, and its lone dissenter on zoning—Siegan explored the impact of a different approach to land use policy and demonstrated how land use will naturally regulate itself in a non-zoned environment and yield a greater availability of multifamily housing.

While we have gained a greater understanding of the issues created by overly burdensome land use restrictions, these policies still remain in place, restricting the growth of communities and keeping housing costs high. Our speakers discuss how land use reform battles have evolved over time, how community groups are working to remove these barriers and increase urban density, and how barriers to development can be challenged in court.

Speakers and Topics
• Jim Burling, Pacific Legal Foundation, on legal barriers to development and issues in modern land use policy
• Tory Gattis, Center for Opportunity Urbanism, on Houston land use regulation after 1972 and lessons for other cities
• Emily Hamilton, Mercatus Center, on the case for pre-emption and current Texas proposals

• Charles Coats, Texans for Housing

If you would like to contact a scholar featured in this episode, please email [email protected].

If you would rather watch the video from this webinar, you can find it here.

About Mercatus Policy Download

Looking for smart policy ideas for a growing world? Subscribe to the Mercatus Policy Download for all policy, no punditry, and a path forward.