Talking Headways Podcast: Zoned Out

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Welcome to the dog days of summer! Before skipping town, Congress passed a transportation funding patch so they wouldn’t have to deal with the real problem of the unsustainable way our nation builds and pays for infrastructure. I give the briefest possible rundown of where we are now before Jeff and I launch into discussions about the issues of the day: zoning and ride-share.

Houston is famous for its wild-west attitude toward zoning, but that laissez-faire approach was put to the test recently when residents of a single-family neighborhood protested the construction of a 23-story apartment building. No matter how the situation resolved itself, it was bound to have ripple effects.

We also talk about new services offered by Lyft and Uber that bring them a little closer to true ride-sharing — though, as we note, they’re still a far cry from the platonic ideal: hitchhiking.

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7 thoughts on Talking Headways Podcast: Zoned Out

  1. I would like to challenge the idea that widespread zoning came before widespread automobile use. While early zoning dates back to the 1920s, it was only adopted at first by very large cities. In many (possibly most) small towns, Euclidian zoning was not adopted at all until the 1960s or even 1970s. The walkable portions of the those towns were often built post-WWII, and with drivers in mind. (For an example, see portions of Havertown, PA built before and after the 1974 zoning code adoption.)

    If you exclude the planned developments like Columbia, MD (which are, in any case, a tiny miroirty of all development) any commercially zoned area developed after zoning’s adoption is almost always auto-oriented–by design!–because that is what any standard zoning codes requires. Virtually any truly mixed-use, walkable neighborhood in the country was built *prior* to zoning’s adoption in a given municipality, and then was zoned “commercial” after it had already become a commercial district. Any lingering dry-cleaner or shop in a residential neighborhood is almost always grandfathered in (typically, zoning allows for continued non-compliant use).

  2. And as an aside, this pre-zoning, post-zoning change to auto-oriented development is also very visible in larger cities, like New York. Compare the development of Canarsie (post-zoning, very typical Euclidian code, endless blocks of residential) to nearby Flatlands (typical urbanist mixed uses along Church Ave, which had already been established as a commercial area when it was zoned that way).

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