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Two Cheers for Zoning

Two Cheers for Zoning


The fight over zoning in America has created odd bedfellows. Self-declared socialists have allied with big developers and railed against regulatory burdens on business. Self-professed conservatives have allied with radical environmentalists to fight development. Now that housing prices have surpassed their 2006 peak, mortgage rates have risen, and discussions of a housing crisis have become common, these fault lines are increasingly salient.

At first glance, the current struggles of “yimbys” (Yes-In-My-Back­yard), or advo­cates for denser housing, against “nimbys” (Not-In-My-Backyard), or opponents of it, would seem to follow the new drift of politics in the nation. There is a young, cosmopolitan, urban class that identifies with the Left yet advocates for markets, and there is an old, parochial, suburban or exurban class which identifies with the Right yet sides with anti-market forces.

Yet America has engaged in battles over local zoning for decades, and, for most of that period, conservatives have defended zoning against progressives. Furthermore, the history, economics, and political science of local communities demonstrate that those who ascribe to free market beliefs should not despise zoning. Even passionate libertarians would not deny the ability of people to form or join a local government with some say over their property. Most zoning in America is of such a local and consensual nature.

Read the full commentary in the American Affairs Journal.