How a National Zoning Atlas Can Clarify a Legal Patchwork

A massive effort is underway to compile local zoning regulations and other laws that impact how and where housing is built.

1 minute read

February 1, 2024, 12:00 PM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Close-up of colorful zoning map of unidentified city.

Olivier-Tuffé / Adobe Stock

Historically left to local jurisdictions, zoning laws are now being assessed at the state and even national level as the housing crisis reaches all corners of the country. Could a ‘national zoning atlas’ spur change?

Kriston Capps describes the project in an article for Bloomberg CityLab, writing that “when complete, [the project] will offer users a neighborhood-level view of the zoning codes set by some 30,000 different local governments.” Teams in at least 25 states are working to compile this data, inspired by a Connecticut project. “[B]y pairing zoning maps with census data and other sources, researchers can shine a light on specific problems or places — and in at least a couple states so far, mapping out zoning codes has led to real change.”

The atlas could become an important tool because “Most local governments don’t fully understand their own zoning rules, which can be byzantine documents with fragmented, antiquated or contradictory rules accreted over decades.” 

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