ATC Research logo

Zoning Reform in Modern Urban Development

About this post: Many zoning codes and regulations were established decades ago and may no longer reflect the current needs and realities of communities.

Table of Contents

Zoning reform refers to the process of updating and modernizing existing zoning regulations to better align with current planning goals, community needs, and evolving trends in urban development. This may involve revising zoning codes, adjusting land use classifications, and introducing new zoning tools and strategies to promote more efficient land use and development patterns.

The Need for Zoning Reform

Outdated Regulations

Many zoning codes and regulations were established decades ago and may no longer reflect the current needs and realities of communities. Outdated regulations can stifle innovation, limit housing options, and hinder economic growth by imposing unnecessary restrictions and barriers to development.

This article is part of our guide: Understanding Zoning Laws

Inequitable Practices

Historically, zoning has been used as a tool to segregate communities, perpetuate racial and economic disparities, and exclude certain groups from accessing housing, jobs, and amenities. Zoning reform seeks to address these inequities by promoting more inclusive and equitable land use policies and practices.

Benefits of Zoning Reform

Encouraging Mixed-Use Development

One of the key goals of this reform is to encourage mixed-use development, which combines residential, commercial, and recreational uses within the same area. Mixed-use development promotes walkability, reduces car dependency, and creates vibrant, livable neighborhoods where people can live, work, and play.

Increasing Housing Affordability

Zoning reform can help increase housing affordability by removing regulatory barriers that limit the supply of housing and drive up prices. By allowing for greater housing density, mixed-income developments, and alternative housing types such as accessory dwelling units (ADUs) and tiny homes, this reform can expand housing options for residents of all income levels.

Promoting Sustainable Growth

By promoting compact, transit-oriented development and preserving open space and natural resources, zoning reform can help communities achieve their sustainability goals and reduce their environmental footprint. Sustainable land use practices, such as green building standards, energy-efficient design, and renewable energy initiatives, can help mitigate climate change and enhance the resilience of communities to environmental hazards.

Strategies for Zoning Reform

Updating Zoning Codes

One of the first steps in this reform is to update and modernize existing zoning codes to reflect current planning principles and community priorities. This may involve simplifying zoning regulations, streamlining the permitting process, and incorporating flexible zoning tools such as form-based codes and performance zoning.

Engaging Stakeholders

Effective zoning reform requires meaningful engagement with a diverse range of stakeholders, including residents, business owners, developers, and community organizations. By involving stakeholders in the planning process and soliciting their input and feedback, this reform efforts can ensure that the needs and concerns of all parties are taken into account.

Implementing Inclusive Policies

Zoning reform should prioritize policies and strategies that promote inclusivity, diversity, and social equity. This may include adopting inclusionary zoning policies, establishing affordable housing mandates, and providing incentives for developers to incorporate affordable and workforce housing units into their projects.

Overcoming Challenges to Zoning Reform

While zoning reform holds immense potential for creating more sustainable and equitable communities, it is not without its challenges. Here are some common obstacles to this reform and strategies for overcoming them:

Resistance to Change

Resistance to change is a common barrier to zoning reform, particularly among stakeholders who benefit from the status quo or fear the unknown. To overcome resistance, this reform advocates must effectively communicate the benefits of reform, address concerns, and build consensus among diverse stakeholders through education, outreach, and engagement efforts.

Political Opposition

Zoning reform can face opposition from entrenched interests, ideological divides, and political pressures. To navigate political challenges, advocates must build broad-based coalitions, engage with elected officials and decision-makers, and leverage public support to advance this reform agendas at the local, regional, and state levels.

Capacity and Resources

Many communities lack the capacity and resources to undertake comprehensive zoning reform efforts, including staff expertise, funding, and technical assistance. To address these challenges, local governments can seek partnerships with planning organizations, academic institutions, and nonprofit groups to provide technical support, funding, and capacity-building opportunities for this reform initiatives.

Case Studies in Zoning Reform

Minneapolis, Minnesota

In 2019, Minneapolis became the first major U.S. city to eliminate single-family zoning, allowing for the construction of duplexes and triplexes in residential neighborhoods citywide. This bold this reform initiative, known as Minneapolis 2040, aims to increase housing affordability, promote racial and economic integration, and reduce the city’s carbon footprint by encouraging denser, more diverse development patterns.

Portland, Oregon

Portland, Oregon, has implemented innovative zoning reforms to promote more sustainable and equitable development. These include the adoption of form-based codes, which focus on regulating the physical form and character of development rather than land use alone, and the creation of eco-districts, which prioritize sustainability, resilience, and community engagement in neighborhood planning and design.

Conclusion: Moving Forward with Zoning Reform

Zoning reform is essential for creating more sustainable, equitable, and resilient communities in the 21st century. By updating outdated regulations, promoting inclusive and sustainable development practices, and engaging stakeholders in the planning process, communities can unlock the full potential of this reform to address pressing challenges and build a better future for all.

Share this article

Table of Contents

ATC Research is the most comprehensive platform for land entitlement and permit data

Currently available for the City of LA, City of Santa Monica, City of Pasadena and LA County

Uncover project approvals and avoid delays.
Check out our use cases by role.

Interested in permit & planning news?

Subscribe to our newsletter to receive updates on city planning commissions, cases, and more

Relevant Posts

What do EDI Projects look like?​

ED1 Insights​

Access ED1 Insights

Interested in learning how ED1 is impacting affordable housing in LA? Leave your details below, and we’ll provide you with the breakdown.