Let’s use 2016 to start deconstructing zoning and establishing a land use regulatory scheme that promotes re-population. For too long we have focused our efforts on buildings and spaces to achieve “placemaking.” You know the old adage “if you build it they will come.” Rich built environments are indeed bringing some people back to our cities and towns, but in most cases not without significant subsidy and public participation. Placemaking simply cannot happen without people.
All things follows people. People bring energy, ideas, relationships, connections, and resources. After all, cities are nothing more than people and places. Many cities have the places, but lack the people. It is widely agreed that we are in the “connection economy.” Places that promote connections will thrive. Places that do not will continue to wither, or at best remain stagnant. So, it is time that we started looking at our zoning regulations for purposes of determining whether they promote both buildings and people.
Zoning in America is a century old. Cities have been de-populating for nearly 70% of that time. Zoning is certainly not solely to blame for the de-population of cities, but it has greatly contributed. Planning and zoning have been used for purposes of dispersion and exclusion since the 1950’s. The effects of this have been stark and will take generations to repair.
There will always be communities that will over-regulate property to achieve a certain exclusivity. These places have bloated layercakes of regulations that have a ton of empty calories. However, for most of our urban cities and towns, inclusion and re-population are the key to their re-birth. In these places that so desperately need a regulatory life-line, let’s focus our efforts on deconstructing the very regulations that have created unreasonable, unworkable and unsustainable development patterns in places that once enjoyed healthy crowding and many productive and valuable connections. Let’s trim down our regulatory bloat.
In 2016, let’s focus on more effectively using the public realm to relieve some of the burdens on private property that make it exceedingly difficult to breath new life into them. Let’s focus on regulating what really matters and the things that promote your place in the connection economy. If I am beginning to sound like a broken record, it is because this is my very serious and real challenge to the planning and zoning profession. This will be my primary focus in the coming year. I hope you will join me.
Guest article by Sean S. Suder of Graydon Land Use, originally published December 27, 2015