Upzoning Isn't a Silver Bullet for Housing Affordability

Zoning changes have been a popular way to increase density and affordable housing, but more diversified policies could fill in the gaps where zoning fails.

December 22, 2020, 8:00 AM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


Chicago Apartments

Alex Ford / Flickr

Long favored by urbanists as a panacea for housing issues, upzoning enhances density requirements and permits increased floor areas and number of floors for new residential construction in exchange for a certain percentage of affordable units. These policies are aimed at increasing density in highly-valued, transit-adjacent urban neighborhoods and raising the number of housing units available. After decades of prioritizing single-family homes, upzoning has the promise of promoting density and encouraging more affordable multi-family buildings in areas that desperately need more housing.

Cities have come to rely on zoning to solve a broad range of economic and social issues, but just how far can zoning go? From historic red-lining to Seattle's recent plan to reduce the number of gas appliances in multi-family buildings while exempting single-family homes, many zoning policies reduce broad policy objectives to arbitrary rules that conveniently exempt certain neighborhoods and fail to apply rules equitably. Zoning wasn't designed to create more housing, and as city leaders try to undo its well-documented history as a tool for segregation, new policies must address inequities and acknowledge the need for other interventions.

Wednesday, December 9, 2020 in The Urbanist

Walkable Urban Commercial District

The Complexities of the '15-Minute City'

What does a '15-minute city' truly mean–and how achievable is it in the U.S.?

July 29, 2021 - Governing

Toronto Freeway

Does Highway Removal Make Cities Healthier?

Highway removal can improve the air quality and health of the immediate environment, but displacement and gentrification threaten to exclude former residents from the benefits.

July 30, 2021 - NextCity

Pioneer Square, Seattle

Tree Equity Score: The U.S. Needs 522 Million More Urban Trees

As climate change intensifies the urban heat island effect, poorer neighborhoods bear the brunt of tree canopy inequity.

July 28, 2021 - The Urbanist

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.

Hand Drawing Master Plans

This course aims to provide an introduction into Urban Design Sketching focused on how to hand draw master plans using a mix of colored markers.