The Evolution of Zoning Since the 1980s: The Persistence of Localism

33 Pages Posted: 3 Oct 2010

Date Written: September 1, 2010


Zoning is the regulation of the use of land by local government. Although it is the most jealously guarded municipal power, zoning is not a static institution. I demonstrate this by reviewing several "top down" attempts to reform zoning in the last three decades. Examples are the affordable housing movement and regulatory takings litigation. I argue that these reforms have either failed or tended to make local zoning more restrictive. I then review new research on the origins of zoning in Los Angeles and find evidence that zoning has always been more of a bottom up institution than most of its critics have assumed. Local knowledge of neighborhood conditions and widespread ownership of property are the most important factors that keep zoning local. Reforms that do not take into account these factors are not likely to succeed.

Keywords: zoning, local control, affordable housing, regulatory takings

JEL Classification: H70, K11, R52

Suggested Citation

Fischel, William A., The Evolution of Zoning Since the 1980s: The Persistence of Localism (September 1, 2010). Available at SSRN: or

William A. Fischel (Contact Author)

Dartmouth College ( email )

Economics Department
Rockefeller Hall
Hanover, NH 03755
United States
603-643-5724 (Phone)
603-646-2122 (Fax)

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