Monday, May 2, 2016

Does Houston have Zoning Laws?

by Levi Russell

Since 2013 I've done plenty of driving in the major Texas cities: Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, and Austin. Doing so always reminds me of the land use portion of my transportation and urban economics course back in college. My professor brought up Houston and its status as one of the few major cities in the US without any zoning regulation. The funny thing is, Houston looks a lot like all the other cities in Texas: big and sprawley. I came across a Rice University blog post from last year about that very issue.

It turns out that Houston has plenty of zoning laws that simply aren't called "zoning laws." Specifically, the author notes that Houston has deed restrictions, density regulations, tax increment reinvestment zones, zoning laws around its 3 major airports (thanks to federal laws), buffering ordinances, historic preservation, and lot size regulation. So there you have it: a popular myth busted in one short blog post. I recommend you read the whole thing.

The author laments that there is no "comprehensive plan" to this de facto zoning regulation. As you might expect, I'm skeptical that such a comprehensive plan would solve the problems Houstonians (?) face. City planners have to wrestle with much the same problem politicians and bureaucrats face when trying to impose a top-down order on a complex system like a city.

This brings to mind a site I heard about recently on a Cato Institute podcast called The Antiplanner. On the site, run by independent scholar Randal O'Toole, there are no shortage of posts providing counterargument to the typical justifications for urban planning, public transportation, and other such topics. I like to point out websites that oppose the conventional wisdom and O'Toole does a fantastic job. Here, here, and here are some recent posts I found interesting.

Just to be sure there's an ag component in this post, I recommend Virginia farmer Joel Salatin's book "Everything I want to do is Illegal" which chronicles some of the practical problems of land use regulation from the first-hand perspective of a farmer and this Farmer Hayek post from last year for something more academic.

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