American History Underlines Uselessness of Zoning Codes

These codes really do more bad than good.

If you live in an old, Northeastern city, there’s a pretty good chance your building breaks all types of zoning laws.

Turns out city planners back in the day gave no fucks about zoning and the cities were cool with that.

One city, Somerville, Mass., apparently doesn’t even know such a code exists because only 22 buildings in the entire city pass the test. But, to be fair, people in Mass are too busy catching baby whales in their harbors to care about something so trivial as zoning.

As reported by Vox:

… due to a zoning code that says the city as it actually exists is totally illegal.

Somerville is an extreme case, but by no means a unique one. A recent New York Times study showed that 40 percent of Manhattan buildings are illegal; basically everything (the corner stores, the English basement rental units, the narrow houses) about the Georgetown neighborhood in DC is illegal; and so on and so forth throughout the historically settled parts of the urban Northeast.

It’s not like the buildings aren’t structurally sound, they just technically shouldn’t be there. The reason no one cares about these codes is because they clearly don’t matter.

And if that’s the case, these codes really do more bad than good.

New York could absolutely use more apartment buildings and housing for the 8.5 million people living here. Expansion in residential neighborhoods could drive prices down or at least halt their rise. Every inch of land doesn’t need to be built upon, but there’s definitely space for development.

We could put roofs over the heads of a lot more people if we just eased back on building restrictions.


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Cover image: Getty


Posted 06.16.2016 - 12:08 pm EDT

Filed under

News policy regulations zoning codes

Written by

Michael Gorman