A New Zoning and Planning Metaphor: Chaos and Complexity Theory

50 Pages Posted: 17 Dec 2010

See all articles by John Mixon

John Mixon

University of Houston Law Center

Kathleen McGlynn

Business Group of Germer Gartz, L.L.P.

Date Written: December 16, 2010


The Standard Zoning Enabling Act (SZEA) empowers municipalities to adopt zoning regulations “in accordance with a comprehensive plan,” This Article argues that, contrary to the assumptions underlying the enabling act, planners and local governments are philosophically incapable of creating an ideal, preplanned urban environment. Land use is a nonlinear, complex, adaptive, dynamical system that cannot be analyzed, predicted, and controlled by a linear cause-and-effect formula, such as “plan, then zone.” As a complex system, land use exhibits characteristics of chaos, emergence, and catastrophe, with the result that actual development patterns cannot be quantified, calculated, or predicted. Complex systems, though not predictable, can be managed. The article proposes creation and maintenance of an accessible public display of actual land uses to allow planners and non-planners alike to find and project patterns of development and decay, and to make management and development decisions on the basis of information, not abstract goal statements, maps, and adopted plans.

Keywords: Complexity theory, Land Use, Zoning, Planning, Information based planning, Comprehensive plan, Spot zoning

Suggested Citation

Mixon, John and McGlynn, Kathleen, A New Zoning and Planning Metaphor: Chaos and Complexity Theory (December 16, 2010). Houston Law Review, Vol. 42, p. 1221, 2006, U of Houston Law Center No. 2010-A-43, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1726454

John Mixon (Contact Author)

University of Houston Law Center ( email )

4604 Calhoun Road
4604 Calhoun Road
Houston, TX 77204-6060
United States

Kathleen McGlynn

Business Group of Germer Gartz, L.L.P.

United States

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