If I were the King of Zoning

Spend any amount of time on the internet – Nextdoor, Facebook, or Twitter for instance – and housing comes up, with contention reigns supreme; the online user interface optimizes for engagement (outrage) rather than understanding.

Facebook has to sell the ads to someone. Often the discourse becomes overly simplified into two warring camps: NIMBYS and YIMBYS, and all the different flavors across who and what gets built in our neighborhoods.

If you want to read more, our second issue Scorching is now on sale.

If I were the king of zoning in America, these are the initial policy proposals I would implement, in order to increase abundance, reduce cost of housing, and make sure that everyone has access to a safe home.

Mixed use by default

All the famous streets in America – Bourbon, Broadway, Beacon – all have offices, restaurants, or stores on the ground floor with more up above or homes above. Mixed use should be the default city-wide.

As-of-right zoning

A big problem in many cities is that there isn’t an as of right permitting process, it’s all conditional. As-of-right is when a building can be built as long as the building use and the size, shape, and location of the building conforms to the zoning.

This is how it is in New York City, but not places such as San Francisco. Shifting to this process streamlines the process, everyone knows what is allowed on a given site, it remove an unnecessary veto point, and it removes a potential point of graft: supervisors or council members can’t extort donations for approvals.

Diverse home types

We need to allow a wider range of home types to match American’s needs. We need: single room occupancies, co-housing, tiny homes, duplexes, fourplexes, and all the missing middle housing we used to build.

No Parking Minimums & Parking Maximums

Get rid of all off-street parking minimums which increase the cost of building units, locks in car dependency, and makes the street wall and sidewalk dead. On the other end, we need parking maximums so we don’t lock in car dependency and builders don’t over- build useless parking. There should be no off street parking allowed within a 10 minute walk of quality transit.

More Ownership Models

We need a wider range of home ownership models; we need more co-ops, community land trusts, community building trusts, co-housing, fractional ownership, long-term-tenancy, con- dos, etc. This requires both a more permissive legal framework, and a more expansive bank financing then we currently have. THE FHA needs to back-up and collateralize a wider set of loan products outside just single family homes.

Abolish Single Family Detached Requirements 

If people still want to keep or build single family homes, great. But if you want duplexes, triplexes, and quads we should be able to build those through- out our neighborhoods. These miss- ing middle typologies were prevalent throughout America until racist zoning came into play last century. It’s OK to admit we made a mistake.

Public Housing

Cities can borrow money cheaper than most organizations, have a vested interest in housing people, and provide for their residents. They should build housing like Singapore’s HPD through- out every city-owned parcel, and they should acquire land or buildings like Barcelona has to increase units. The US Government needs to repeal the Faircloth Amendment allowing municipalities the ability to build more public housing as they see fit to augment market-rate housing production.

Housing bonus next to transit

Any lot within a 10-15 minute walk from high-quality transit – subway, elevated, streetcar, or Bus Rapid Transit – should look like Paris. Who doesn’t love Paris? This would give us a neighborhood of 4-6 stories of mixed-use buildings, with small offices, restaurants, or stores at the base. This is how most of America looked for most of our short existence. Make neighborhoods great again.

Car-free neighborhoods

A big impediment to safe streets are cars: they are great tools to travel fur- ther than 20-40 miles and can cross the country. But they have no place in cities. The number of people being injured or killed by cars has exploded in the last 5 years. Follow Barcelona’s lead by creating “Superblocks” where vehicles aren’t allowed. Paris also is following suit. Deliveries can be accomplished through e-bikes and safety vehicles can still access through gates.

I hope you found this point of view helpful. We are independently publishing a monthly zine / pamphlet with a lot of help from our friends. You can purchase the first two copies below and help keep this boat afloat.