Opinion: Less Restrictive Zoning Necessary for Urban Areas to Lead Recovery

An opinion piece makes the case for pro-development urban planning as a tool of economic recovery.

2 minute read

May 13, 2020, 5:00 AM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell

City Apartments

Natalia Bratslavsky / Shutterstock

Carol Galante, faculty director of the Terner Center for Housing Innovation at the University of California, Berkeley, writes an opinion piece for The New York Times that predicts a central, leading role for urban areas in the recovery from the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic. 

There are two things we know: The U.S. economy will recover. And the recovery will start in and be strongest in the same cities that were thriving before the pandemic. Economies in places like Seattle, San Francisco, New York and Boston are driven by the innovation, technology and biotech sectors, which are proving to be remarkably resilient to the impacts of Covid-19. Some of the dominant companies in these regions — think Amazon and Google — are even humming along through it all and consolidating market share.

To lead the country out of this unprecedented crisis, Galante suggests that cities will have to deal with some of its pre-existing conditions, most notably the growing wealth gaps among urban dwellers. To ensure that the recovery doesn't further consolidate wealth in the hands of a privileged few, Galante calls for more permissive zoning regulations to make it easier to build housing at affordable prices. 

An important step is simply to permit more housing in more locations. We should put an end to zoning policies that restrict building to single-family homes and stop mandating that lots meet large minimum-size requirements, leading to sprawling, sparsely populated neighborhoods. Ending such restrictive zoning doesn’t have to lead to the construction of towering apartment buildings. Rather, we should encourage cities to permit more homes on existing single-family lots, allow apartments in retail districts and near transit, and dedicate excess or underused public property like surface parking lots in downtowns to new housing. 

The opinion piece echoes the support for an urban approach to recovery expressed in a bonanza of an editorial published the day prior by the New York Times. Galante's piece includes more of a specific focus on planning and zoning as the tools to achieve a more equitable and sustainable economic recovery in the years to come, citing the pre-pandemic examples of House Bill 2001 in Oregon and the Minneapolis 2040 Comprehensive Plan as models.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020 in The New York Times

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