Instead of Zoning...What?
I have argued before why zoning laws are inconsistent with a free society's principles, in particular with the principle of private property rights. Basically they amount to impositions by some people on others of conditions for using property that the owner is authorized to determine. No one else has that right, however tempting and desirable it may appear to imagine otherwise.
But what about the perfectly honorable wish to have a nice neighborhood in which to live, work and play? How, besides by means of zoning ordinances, could people protect their neighborhoods?
Before answering this question it must be noted, quite emphatically, that zoning ordinances by no means achieve what their advocates claim justifies their use. Indeed, in many communities that have stringent zoning ordinances there are neighborhoods that are a mess, to put it mildly. Especially right where the zoning provisions change, say from commercial to residential use, the areas are usually in a deteriorating condition. That is where buildings are usually dilapidated, shabby. And it is usually those who lack political clout who must live there.
In more general terms, by no means is the institution of zoning laws a panacea. Just as with the welfare state in general, which simply shoves around the misery it aims to eliminate, zoning laws, too, are mostly an expression of special interest clout. A drive through any of the heavily zoned communities will demonstrate this right away.
In fact, the record of the institution of zoning as far as making areas of residential, commercial and recreational living orderly and pleasant for all is by no means a good one. Let us look at this briefly, without entering the ample scholarship that exists on that topic. (But anyone wishing to check for detailed studies can examine William A. Fishel's works, The Economics of Zoning Laws: A Property Rights Approach to American Land Use Controls, Regulatory Takings: Law, Economics and Politics, Do Growth Controls Matter?: A Review of Empirical Evidence on the Effectiveness and Efficiency of Local Government Land Use Regulation, The Economics of Zoning Laws: A Property Rights Approach to American Land Use Controls, and Land Economics: Private Markets Public Decisions, as well as Bernard H. Siegan's seminal book, Land Use Without Zoning.)
For one, there is a city in the USA that has enjoyed zoning freedom and has worked pretty well while it lasted: Houston, Texas. No disaster, no catastrophe, no mess, no property devaluation, nada. Just a city where what zoning was supposed to achieve had been achieved without it, more peacefully, more through cooperation than through coercion.
Second, a little imagination and history should suffice to teach us all that it is better all around to strive to achieve goals without forcing people to accept what they would freely reject. And this applies as much to education or military service as it does to not keeping neighborhoods in good shape. Free men and women simply do better, on the whole, than do those who are regimented by their fellows, made to act as they do not choose to.
Third, what zoning aims for can easily be achieved through voluntary agreements among members of neighborhoods. Restrictive covenants work to this end wonderfully, provided those concerned make the effort to establish them. As with all things, the free approach always appears at first cumbersome – talking someone into a course of conduct takes more time than doing this by beating up the person. But in the end the result is much more rewarding – all kinds of political hostilities, vested interest battles and politicking in the worst sense of that term can be avoided if agreements are reached peacefully, through mutual effort.
Of course, in most communities this is at best an ideal, but more likely a political fantasy, along lines that abolishing prohibition had been at one time and substituting a private for a public education system is now. But that does not make it any less feasible and right! So in the current dispute about whether this or that kind of zoning ordinance is needed for a community, it is vital that some voices keep announcing what is the truly best solution, after all.
What is needed, once all the infighting has shown itself the fruitless effort it really is, is the abolition of zoning and the institution of market based, voluntary agreements among members of neighborhoods, commercial establishments and so forth to achieve what these members want to achieve. There will, of course, be limits to what is possible – one cannot live in Shangri-La if one isn't financially equipped to do so; one cannot live far in the woods if one's budget provides for only an apartment in the middle of town. But within the limits that one must live with in all realms of ordinary life, the solutions reached via voluntary negotiations and bargaining are far superior to those acrimonious ones that are reached via the political process.
Will this be done tomorrow morning at 9 AM? No. But should we stress its desirability and real availability for any community? Yes.
Posted by TPaine on 04/11/12 03:03 PM
I never said you should.
Posted by cctyker on 04/09/12 10:47 PM
"Building "to code" is a minimum and does not guarantee good quality construction." I'm afraid that is not true. Building codes are devised by union tradesmen and building materials suppliers sitting down in committee with bureacrats who know little about how to construct buildings, but do know how to codify rules into law. The codes increase the complexity of makeing a building and the unions hope that will discourage new people from entering the building trades. And the materials suppliers make more money when more materials are required to build a building than are needed. Follow the money, sir.
"Here in California, very few buildings collapse in earthquakes, if they comply with current codes." The codes do nothing to stop buildings from collapsing during earthquakes. Sound engineering design and practices do that. You got it backwards, sir. It is troubling that people die in Mexico and China because sound engineering design and practices are either unknown or ignored. If you don't know what you are doing, go learn, then do it.
Posted by cctyker on 04/09/12 10:22 PM
"no man has a right to own the planet." True, including the zoning board members and their bureaucratic planners.
"we would NOT want a Noisy, polluting industry to become our immediate neighbor." True. And if the courts would accept a single individual law suit against a corporation rather than require a class action law suit, corporations would not pollute or be noisy. It does not take much technology to measure pollution or noise. It is the way laws are set up to favor the corporation and not the individual that is the problem, not the existence of zoning laws.
Posted by Friend_of_John_Galt on 04/09/12 04:59 PM
Zoning rules are going to become more intrusive. Something called Agenda 21 (originating at the UN) is a leftist-green initiative to force "sustainable" housing on the population. California already has laws pushing local communities (from regional planning agencies, counties, on down) to increase housing density. The suburban density, typically around 4 homes per acre is supposed to be increased to 20 (yes TWENTY) housing units per acre. The citizenry is supposed to get rid of their automobiles and use "mass transit."
As for the tradition of zoning industry, retail, and residential districts in separate areas, that's out the window with the intention that much housing be offered with retail on the ground floor and housing above. Wonder of wonders, we're back to the 19th century habit of "living upstairs over the shop." Might be OK, so long as you're not above a 24 hour convenience store or a dry cleaning establishment with steam and chemical odors intruding on your peace.
All of this is in the name of "sustainability" and "global warming."
My part of California has already had a bunch of "public meetings" where there was no clear presentation of the goal, but rather we were told we were being asked to "make choices." The following "work shops" offered us means to select between a variety of false choices (would you rather ride a bus or a streetcar?) that were aimed at making us feel like we (the citizens) had some input in the already-set planning.
FWIW, zoning is not about building codes. Building codes are devised to give occupants a very basic level of safety and durability in their homes. Building "to code" is a minimum and does not guarantee good quality construction. However, building codes have proven quite good at saving lives in adverse situations. Here in California, very few buildings collapse in earthquakes, if they comply with current codes. Only out-of-complaince older homes and buildings have caused earthquake related deaths in the past 50 years. Compare the experience of California with that of Mexico (where building codes are ignored) or China (where building codes outside of major cities hardly exist) where earthquake deaths are in the hundreds ... or the thousands ... when similarly energetic earthquakes here rarely cause any deaths at all.
Posted by Dilence Sogwood on 04/09/12 04:12 PM
How about zoning "minority" neighborhoods to prevent "gentrification" -- thus locking the hood in poverty.
Posted by CelticFire69 on 04/09/12 02:11 PM
One issue we see in our area is not only do you have politicians zoning to fatten their pockets on land acquisition and resell, but we also see building permits are not issued unless a boiler plate restrictive convenant is put in place "voluntarily" by the developer. These now include city police enforcement of the covenants with a revenue share system between the city and the neighborhood "board".
Posted by seer on 04/09/12 01:21 PM
Humans are naturally selfish and greedy at times and often put their concerns above those of the populace at large. Thus even though Zoning Commissions are Not perfect by far and in many instances been stimulated to act through Elite influences it is a far better system than a lack of zoning. Most of us choose to live in an area zoned for housing only as we would NOT want a Noisy, polluting industry to become our immediate neighbor. We all share the planet, no man has a right to own the planet.
Posted by flying_pig on 04/09/12 12:47 PM
Why should I listen to the bullies in govt who tell me what to do?
Posted by DwightJohnson on 04/09/12 10:08 AM
As a follow-up on my previous post, here is a sample lease agreement written by MacCallum. It is called "A Model Lease for Orbis".
Click to view link
Posted by DwightJohnson on 04/09/12 09:41 AM
Butler Shaffer once pointed out a wonderful little book by Spencer Heath MacCallum called "The Art of Community". I knew of MacCallum first as the editor of the book "The Law of the Somalis" which introduced me to kritarchy. In October 2010 I had the delightful experience of meeting MacCallum at Libertopia in LA.
The title "The Art of Community" does not do a good job of revealing the content of the book, which is an academic look at the subject of leasehold. I happen to work for a company that owns 40 shopping malls, so I am more than a little bit familiar with the concept. The book expands on the opportunity of leasehold to residential units. One of the interesting side effects of this arrangement is that it dispenses entirely with the 'need' for the arbitrary, centralized control called zoning.
Zoning becomes 'necessary' (as all government interventions become 'necessary') because real ownership does not exist at every level. In the typical current real estate market, homes are owned individually, generally by inhabitants, but the land on which a neighborhood exists is thereby a patchwork of interests. In a leasehold situation, a hierarchy of ownership would exist thru contract, from top to bottom. The contract would provide both for a certain stability at each level, while at the same time allowing, in clear terms, a way for an entire neighborhood to be owned by a single person or entity, which in turn allows for the inevitable reallocation of resources, renovation, etc, to take place. Really quite brilliant.
And, with the real estate market in such a bad state, it seems to me an excellent time to actually implement the idea of leasehold of residences as a prefered way of ownership. One wonderful side effect would be the elimination of the 'need' for zoning.
Posted by rossbcan on 04/09/12 06:56 AM
TM: "But within the limits that one must live with in all realms of ordinary life, the solutions reached via voluntary negotiations and bargaining are far superior to those acrimonious ones that are reached via the political process."
... because the political "process" considers ONLY the interests of those whom self-annoint themselves as "stakeholders" over the lives, affairs and property of others. Most need and therefore want to live in peace and "just be left alone" to manage THEIR affairs that only they are in a position to KNOW what is required and how best to accommodate cooperative common interest goals / agreements within their immediate environment.
Since the "political process" has defined itself as a full time endeavor, a blood sport, mere mortals whom have to be productive to exist cannot participate in the political process without diverting all time and energy to "politics" (self-defense), thus destroying productivity for all whom engage in "politics". This fact of life creates a power vacuum in politics, which predators have occupied as "moral low ground", providing "negative value", an attrition cost which has integrated over time to near sucking the life out of civilization and ability to be productive due to politically imposed shackles preventing / punishing "correct choice" and therefore survival and productivity.
Nobody, except the people in an environment, with "boots on the ground" can have a clue regarding how to organize, and agree (mutual consent) regarding how to most effectively achieve common goals and perform peaceful division of labor (civilization). This is a REAL, unavoidable fact of life and reality:
Click to view link
The extent that "we, the people" tolerate political rationalizers, pointing guns at the peaceful, extracting material and frictional (costs of making correct choices and defending from those whom dispute) tribute is the extent that we are unable to be productive and secure collective survival. We are well on the "Road to Serfdom", apparently "by design". PROOF:
Click to view link
Arbitrary power (predators) does not only need to "back off", but needs to "not exist", if peace, civilization and collective survival is to be achieved. This was once enforced by the "rule of law" before "predators on the bench" rationalized their division of labor function in civilization from "impartial predator control", keeping the peace to "master predators", thrusting us back to "rule of insane man", historical destroyer of civilizations:
Click to view link
Posted by taxesbyanyothername on 04/09/12 04:34 AM
The small town that I live in does not require a building permit for construction or refurbishment of single residences or storage buildings. No inspections or professionals are required. I have never heard of anyone here being killed or seriously injured because of sloppy construction.
Posted by TPaine on 04/09/12 04:16 AM
"As with all things, the free approach always appears at first cumbersome - talking someone into a course of conduct"
Why should I be talked into doing something by my neighbors, who, let's assume for arguments sake's, are a bunch of christian a--holes?