Four Steps for Effective Land Use Reform

Land use and zoning reform is not a magic wand, and effective changes to any planning regime change requires careful work. A new report Urban Institute provides case studies and guidance on how to achieve desired outcomes from a reform process.

October 27, 2020, 10:00 AM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell


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Lydia Lo and Eleanor Noble share news of a new Urban Institute report that focuses on the factors that make land-use reforms most effective in promoting housing production and how cities can ensure that new laws produce desired outcomes.

The report examines two land use reform case studies, accessory dwelling unit (ADU) laws in Washington, D.C. and Portland, Oregon. Both took a different approach to ADUs as a response to the demands of increasing populations, and both have different results, with Portland increasing annual ADU by 600 percent, and D.C. went from an average of one ADU produced a year, to an average of 23 ADUs per year.

According to the report, four key takeaways can inform effective land us reform, shared here with more details on each point listed in the source article:

  • Establish shared and coherent urban planning goals
  • Analyze volunteer participants’ economic and racial composition and supplement their input (as needed) with data to ensure representative decisionmaking
  • Reform regularly as new evidence emerges
  • Strengthen other housing system supports

According to the article, planners shouldn't take it as a given that land use reforms will create the outcomes demanded of the AICP Code of Ethics: even reforms that do achieve the desired increase of housing production might fail to benefit all the residents of a community

The need for effective land use reform—not just performative reform that checks political boxes but doesn't achieve the desired change—is on display currently in Minneapolis, which is drafting the zoning code changes necessary to implement the vision laid out by the Minneapolis 2040 Comprehensive Plan.

For more on effective land use reform, see previous coverage of other expert takes on the subject from Planetizen:

Tuesday, October 27, 2020 in Urban Institute

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