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Zoning as a Tool of Social and Economic Inequality

The New York Times devotes significant ink to an argument against the use of zoning laws as tools of anti-growth politics.
July 6, 2016, 11am PDT | James Brasuell | @CasualBrasuell
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The building, streets, and trees of the highly desirable city of Boulder.
Nelson Sirlin

[Updated 7/6/2017] The headline of a recent article by Conor Daugherty argues a strong claim about planning politics: "Anti-Growth Sentiment, Reflected in Zoning Laws, Thwarts Equality."

The article begins in Boulder, using Steve Pomerance, a former city councilmember that moved to Boulder in the 1960s, as an example of anti-growth advocate. Pomerance, according to Dougherty's description, believes that all of Boulder's charms are under threat: "Rush-hour traffic has become horrendous. Quaint, two-story storefronts are being dwarfed by glass and steel. Cars park along the road to the meadow."

Daugherty offers a counterpoint to those traditional anti-growth political stances: "a growing body of economic literature suggests that anti-growth sentiment, when multiplied across countless unheralded local development battles, is a major factor in creating a stagnant and less equal American economy."

That growing body of research includes a study by Peter Ganong and Daniel Shoag from January 2015, titled "Why Has Regional Income Convergence in the U.S. Declined?" [pdf]. Their work was also picked up by the White House Council of Economic Advisers last year, as the Obama Administration made its first attempt to debunk land use regulations as a tool of social and economic injustice. Daugherty also includes work by Chang-Tai Hsieh and Enrico Moretti [pdf] in the survey of research detailing the consequences of the zoning status quo.

[The photo caption was corrected above.]

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Published on Sunday, July 3, 2016 in The New York Times
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