When Planners Misread Maps: It's Time to Rethink Zoning

Jordan Fraade writes of the embarrassing mishap of the New York City department that misread its own zoning maps. What else are we missing, and at what cost, because of byzantine land use regulations?

1 minute read

December 9, 2014, 9:00 AM PST

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell

New York City Zoning Map

New York City Planning Commission / New York City Zoning Map

Fraade begins this tale of the high costs of broken zoning codes by citing the example of the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development, which realized in October that they had misread their own map.

"Late in October, planners took another look at the city’s zoning map and realized they made an error. Astoria Cove’s affordable apartments will actually have to target families making a maximum of 60 percent of AMI [rather than the 80 percent originally thought]."

Fraade notes the emotional and economic consequences of the reality of zoning in cities like New York City: "For New Yorkers who have spent decades trying to navigate the city’s housing market, it’s a small comfort to know that not even city planners can make sense of the city’s web of zoning policies. But this is nothing compared to the comfort that landlords feel, safe in the knowledge that they’ve used zoning to game the system."

Fraade goes on to draw some comparisons between the New York experience with examples from Los Angeles, Toronto, and Montreal, especially in light of the ongoing housing crisis in many cities around the world.

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