Commentary

Does Planning Hurt Revitalization in Big Cities?

Reason.tv continues to release videos on Cleveland hosted by Drew Carey and the problems of revitalizing big cities. Today, the focus is on streamlining government to encouarge business development, promote efficiency and lower the tax burden. I have a companion policy brief that examines how land use controls, housing, and zoning may be an impediment to the city’s revitalization efforts.

I also spotlight these issues in my most recent post to Planetizen.com’s blog Interchange. In the post, I note:

Ironically, the complexity of urban redevelopment projects and infill—development in already built-up cities—demands a nimble, flexible and expeditious regulatory process to minimize development costs and allow the market to adapt quickly to more finely grained tastes for housing. Conventional development regulation, in contrast, is heavily dependent on end-state zoning and negotiated outcomes for projects large and small, simply gets in the way.

I also write:

Cleveland’s experience, in my view, bears testimony to the increasing impracticality of zoning-based land use regulation rooted in master planning. Cities have been unable to effectively determine what land uses need to be where using long-range comprehensive planning because the future cannot be forecasted with reliability, political wishfulness often trumps sound data analysis, and economic and social dynamics shift constantly.

The effect is to create a highly uncertain, process-driven approval process that limits innovation and adaptation in the housing market with a bias toward protecting the status quo. Uncertainty in the approval process discourages new housing development. Land use transitions—whether to lower urban densities or from empty warehouses to residential lofts and condominiums—squeeze already thin profit margins and can easily make profitable development little more than wishful thinking.

The alternative is a regulatory approach more closely resembling Houston, Texas.

Samuel R. Staley, Ph.D. is a senior research fellow at Reason Foundation and managing director of the DeVoe L. Moore Center at Florida State University in Tallahassee where he teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in urban planning, regulation, and urban economics. Prior to joining Florida State, Staley was director of urban growth and land-use policy for Reason Foundation where he helped establish its urban policy program in 1997.