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Cityscape: Volume 25 Number 3 | 100 Years of Federal-Model Zoning | Of Pigs in Parlors: The Politics of Local Zoning “Reform”


100 Years of Federal-Model Zoning

Volume 25 Number 3

Mark D. Shroder
Michelle P. Matuga

Of Pigs in Parlors: The Politics of Local Zoning “Reform”

Royce Hanson
George Washington Institute of Public Policy

This commentary grounds current zoning policy in the early history of U.S. zoning. In the U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding the municipality’s authority to regulate zoning, Justice George Sutherland raised the same issues regularly introduced today in rezoning cases: the need to protect the residential character of the neighborhood, the desire to avoid traffic, and the enjoyment of open spaces for recreation. This article begins with an examination of the mechanics of zoning, then discusses the technical and political impediments to producing affordable housing. Specifically, the commercial republic, based on Hamilton’s vision of a partnership between the public and private sectors to generate a virtuous cycle of growth, and the miniature republics, based on Jefferson’s vision of virtuous citizens with a strong attachment to the land democratically governing themselves, have interests that converge to maintain current zoning practices. One hundred years after the publication of a Standard State Zoning Enabling Act, the local interests of the commercial republic and miniature republics create an environment in which local elected leaders are more likely to take symbolic action to address housing needs, such as amending single-family zones, rather than the significant efforts needed to add the necessary affordable housing units to local housing stock.

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