Is it time for Hawaii to switch zoning with a brand new metropolis planning paradigm?

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By Keli‘i Akina

Some of the information-packed episodes of “Hawaii Collectively” I’ve ever seen aired this previous Tuesday on the ThinkTech Hawaii, and I wasn’t even part of it.


It was hosted by my Grassroot Institute of Hawaii colleague Joe Kent, who was sitting in for me as a result of I used to be representing the Institute at a convention in New York Metropolis.

Joe’s visitor was Nolan Grey, analysis director of the housing advocacy group California YIMBY (Sure In My Again Yard), who made the case for abolishing zoning.

Sure, abolishing zoning.

Once I had the possibility later to look at the interview, I believed Grey’s place was extremely provocative, but additionally extremely persuasive, grounded firmly in information, historical past and sound financial reasoning.

Apart from his affiliation with California YIMBY, which has had success in liberalizing zoning legal guidelines in California, Grey’s credentials embrace being a former metropolis planner in New York Metropolis, a doctoral scholar in city planning on the College of California, Los Angeles, and writer of the brand new guide “Arbitrary Traces: How Zoning Broke the American Metropolis and Find out how to Repair It.”

Keli’i Akina

Grey mentioned the issue with zoning is that it doesn’t simply designate areas as “residential,” “industrial” or “industrial”; it additionally micromanages each single lot in a metropolis or county, figuring out exactly what’s allowed and what’s forbidden — together with how massive the heaps should be, how excessive buildings could be, what a construction’s flooring space should be, what sort of properties could be constructed, what varieties of business or industrial makes use of are allowed, what number of parking areas are required, and on and on.

For those who doubt what Grey is saying, check out the 60-plus pages of Chapter 21 of the Revised Ordinances of Honolulu. Or have a look at the Honolulu Metropolis Council’s Invoice 10, which takes up greater than 230 pages in an effort to “replace” Chapter 21. The quantity of regulatory trivia in each is astounding.

Grey additionally desires folks to concentrate on zoning’s nefarious origins. Most individuals assume its goal, as acknowledged in Honolulu’s Chapter 21, is to “encourage orderly improvement.” However really, zoning originated as a method to implement racial and financial segregation.

In Berkeley, one of many first cities to undertake it, zoning was used to maintain Chinese language laundries out of sure neighborhoods. Even after the Supreme Court docket put a cease to the specific use of zoning for racial segregation, the observe continued in a extra delicate means.

“What you get within the aftermath of that’s that a variety of cities scramble to pursue that sort of segregation however by different regulatory means,” mentioned Grey. “What you get as a substitute are these guidelines that say, ‘Nicely, we’re not segregating town primarily based on race, however it’s important to earn no less than sufficient cash to afford a indifferent single-family dwelling to stay on this neighborhood. On this neighborhood, you’ll want to have a ten,000-square-foot lot. In that neighborhood, you’ll want to have a half-acre lot. On this neighborhood over right here, we’ll permit flats to be constructed.’”

However even when the motives behind it are pure, zoning nonetheless is socially disruptive, pushing up costs by limiting what could be constructed and including design necessities “that don’t actually serve any well being or security perform, however do dramatically enhance the price of housing.”

There are also all of the permits, environmental evaluations and different necessities that may add years to the time it takes to construct new housing. In some locations, zoning is so strict that just about each challenge requires some sort of particular permission or variance.

Underneath the circumstances, it’s no shock that many homebuilders discover themselves constructing mansions on massive heaps fairly than smaller, multiunit properties — as has been taking place in Hawaii.

Grey mentioned the message of zoning is that, “‘We’re not legally going to help you construct that cheaper, extra inexpensive housing typology. We’re not going to help you construct these further models. We’re going to drive you to construct the costlier product — if we help you construct something in any respect.”

Grey described zoning as a “straitjacket” that restricts the best way cities can develop and adapt. Worse, fairly than preserving the character of a group, zoning undermines it.

“In so many of those cities the place they’ve primarily blocked all development, the character didn’t keep the identical. The truth is, the character will get dramatically totally different. It turns into rather more costly, rather more exclusionary, the kind of place the place younger households have to maneuver away, the kind of place the place retirees have to maneuver away once they need to downsize.

“To my thoughts,” Grey mentioned, “… the locations the place you protect character are the locations the place you permit town to proceed to develop and adapt and replicate altering wants over time.”

Grey mentioned zoning reform ought to deal with eliminating probably the most restrictive guidelines, like lot-size minimums, single-family zoning and parking mandates. In the long run, nevertheless, he mentioned we should always rethink zoning completely.

For instance, he pointed to Houston, the one American metropolis with out zoning. He mentioned Houston’s expertise demonstrates that zoning legal guidelines aren’t essential to hold industrial and residential makes use of separate. The issue has been addressed effectively and with out authorities interference.

Grey emphasised he isn’t towards metropolis planning, simply the extreme micromanaging of land use mirrored in trendy zoning.

Eliminating zoning, he mentioned, would release planners to deal with extra vital points, corresponding to infrastructure, visitors and the atmosphere.

“More and more,” Grey mentioned, “of us from all sides of the ideological and partisan spectrum are realizing, ‘Hey, the established order doesn’t work. The foundations that now we have in place have actually perpetuated a housing disaster and restricted alternative and restricted mobility for folk.’”

I used to be very impressed by Grey’s arguments and observations. I agree with him that extra folks want to grasp how zoning legal guidelines are the principle impediment to inexpensive housing.

He mentioned there’s a rising motion to finish zoning’s stranglehold on our cities, and I hope he’s proper. On the very least, we have to radically reform Hawaii’s zoning legal guidelines and produce metropolis planning and improvement into a brand new period.

Keli‘i Akina is president and CEO of the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii.