Marohn: End Single-Family Zoning

A prominent conservative voice in the urban planning debate makes the case for repealing the single-family zoning status quo.

Read Time: 2 minutes

July 8, 2020, 7:00 AM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell

Fringe Development

Alan Sheldon / Shutterstock

Charles Marohn departs temporarily from Strong Towns to write an opinion piece for the American Conservative advocating for the end to single-family zoning, responding at least in part to a recent opinion piece by Stanley Kurtz that caught President Trump's eye and inspired a rant accusing the Democratic party of working to destroy the suburbs.

Marohn provides context:

What is allegedly at stake is the ability of cities to artificially restrict the development of property through zoning. If you’re conservative in your disposition but don’t know Kurtz or this line of reasoning, you might assume that he is against zoning regulations. After all, there is no greater distortion of the market than local zoning codes, and there are few bureaucracies doing more harm to property rights and freedom than local zoning offices.

That assumption would be wrong. What is at stake here for Kurtz is the sanctity of single-family zoning, the ability of suburban governments to deploy this repressive land regulation on America’s suburban development pattern.

Marohn traces all of Kurtz's fears about the Democrats threatening the suburban status quo to the hypocrisy of the conservative argument on the subject. So, if Democrats threaten to withhold transportation funding until suburbs allow other kinds of residential development in single-family neighborhoods, suburbs will only find it impossible to resist that disincentive because they are dependent on federal support—the inefficiencies of single-family zoning cause the dependency of the suburbs.

The suburbs run on federal subsidies. Without them, America’s suburbs would have to become more financially productive. They would need to get greater returns per foot on public infrastructure investment. That would mean repealing repressive zoning regulations, allowing the market to respond to supply and demand signals for housing. It would also mean allowing the “little downtowns” Kurtz fears to form where demand for them exists. Isn’t that what is supposed to happen with self-government and local control?

The only truly conservative step for suburbs to take, according to Marohn? Ending single-family zoning. Given that the progressive left has "discovered" the racist underpinnings of single-family zoningaccording to Marohn, land use regulation reform that ends single-family zoning offers a rare chance for bi-partisan collaboration, and common cause.

Friday, July 3, 2020 in The American Conservative

Green bike lane with flexible delineators and textures paint in Hoboken, New Jersey

America’s Best New Bike Lanes

PeopleForBikes highlights some of the most exciting new bike infrastructure projects completed in 2022.

January 31, 2023 - PeopleforBikes

Aerial view of MBTA commuter rail station in Concord, Massachusetts among green trees

Massachusetts Zoning Reform Law Reaches First Deadline

Cities and towns had until January 31 to submit their draft plans for rezoning areas near transit stations to comply with a new state law.

February 1, 2023 - Streetsblog Mass

Green alley under construction

Green Alleys: A New Paradigm for Stormwater Management

Rather than shuttling stormwater away from the city and into the ocean as quickly as possible, Los Angeles is now—slowly—moving toward a ‘city-as-sponge’ approach that would capture and reclaim more water to recharge crucial reservoirs.

February 2, 2023 - Curbed

Covered pergolas for outdoor dining line the curb on Ballard Avenue, Seattle

Seattle Historic District Could Remove Street Dining

Despite the popularity of Ballard Avenue’s outdoor dining pergolas, some district board members argue the patios don’t match the district’s historic character.

February 7 - The Urbanist

Rendering of landscaped street with street trees and pedestrian sidewalk

South L.A. Complete Streets Project Back on Track

First proposed in 2015, the Broadway-Manchester redesign would add bike infrastructure, pedestrian improvements, trees, and other amenities.

February 7 - Urbanize LA

Spanish-style State Street commercial buildings in downtown Santa Barbara, California

Santa Barbara Expands ADU Program to Boost Housing

The city hopes that permitting larger ADUs and making adaptive reuse easier will help it meet its state-mandated goal of building over 8,000 new housing units by 2031.

February 7 - Noozhawk

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Planning for Universal Design

Learn the tools for implementing Universal Design in planning regulations.