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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Designed by Zoning: Evaluating the Spatial Effects of Land Use Regulation

  • Author(s): Warren, Charles Reuben
  • Advisor(s): Southworth, Michael
  • et al.

This research seeks to evaluate the possible causal relationship between land use or urban design regulation and subsequent built form patterns observable on the ground, using a quasiexperimental method. With increasing frequency, suburban towns and cities are investing in expensive overhauls of their General Plans and zoning ordinances based on vague promises of curbing sprawl, building a sense of place, and creating a new urbanism. However, the effectiveness of these novel codes is unknown and untested.

In part I, case cities are selected based upon their notable achievement of placemaking goals: former automobile-oriented suburbs are now pedestrian-friendly and transit-oriented, with distinguished centers of dense mixed use. They are evaluated for the extent to which explicit, anticipatory land use planning and regulation played a role in creating this outcome. In part II, case cities are selected due their adoption of Smart Growth or New Urbanist regulatory regimes. They are evaluated for the extent to which land use and built form changed in the desired directions over the subsequent ten to twenty years of development as guided by the new regime.

Findings from part I indicate that effective land use planning is indeed an requisite ingredient to successful urbanization and placemaking. Findings from part II, however, indicate that adoption of new regulatory regimes is not a predictor of success, making novel regulation, by itself, an unreliable indication that placemaking will be achieved. Finally, the research suggests a future hypothesis that it is the coupling of revised land use regulation with a continued culture of enforcement through the funding and support of planning departments and commissions that clearly predicts success in transforming suburban sprawl into urban places.

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