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Zoning Serves Communitarian Interests, Too

Zoning isn’t just a tool of self interest, according to a recent polemic by USC planning professor Lisa Schweitzer.
September 18, 2016, 1pm PDT | James Brasuell | @CasualBrasuell
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Lisa Schweitzer, an urban planning professor at the University of Southern California, recently penned an editorial that argues a communitarian case for zoning that counters some of the prevailing wisdom of supply-side arguments favored by liberals and libertarians alike.

Schweitzer's post was inspired by another post by one her former students, and former Planetizen blogger Shane Phillips, which editorialized the recent housing and planning controversies in Palo Alto, California. Schweitzer's purpose is actually to argue against some of the assumptions that connect anti-growth sentiment to the self-interest of property owners.

There are multiple reasons why I think planners and market liberals like Phillips need to back off a little bit on assuming anti-growth sentiment stems from mere homeowner self-interest. I don’t buy that it’s an “evil Baby Boomers versus Wonderful, Urbanity-Loving Millenials [sic]” conflict either, as gratifying as it is for this here Gen-Xer to watch those groups blame each other. American suburbanization started long before the Boomers showed up. Nor am I convinced that homeowners necessarily just have one interest, financial, in zoning. Given that I am likely to get raked over the coals for this post, I want to repeat: the Homevoter Hypothesis is important to understanding urban politics and development. But it’s partial. That’s my argument.

For a more complete understanding of urban politics and development, Schweitzer examines the concept of exclusion:

If you look at ‘exclusion’ as a big, social and political phenomenon instead of just in terms of local zoning and development spats, the arguments for exclusion combine both communitarian concerns about identity and stability and self-determination with economic concerns. 

Which is a much more sympathetic viewpoint on the concept of exclusion that many urbanists are willing to allow. "Thus communitarians’ arguments for exclusion occur at just about every level of political community, and those communitarian arguments probably deserve more attention than they get in discussions over zoning," adds Schweitzer.

The article is a highly recommended read for anyone willing to put aside assumptions and continue to push the conversation to higher levels of understanding.

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Published on Wednesday, August 24, 2016 in Lisa Schweitzer
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