Elliott, Donald L.: A Better Way to Zone: Ten Principles to Create More Livable Cities.
Article Type: Book review
Subject: Books (Book reviews)
Author: Ferguson, Erik Tillman
Pub Date: 06/22/2009
Publication: Name: Canadian Journal of Urban Research Publisher: Institute of Urban Studies Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Social sciences Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2009 Institute of Urban Studies ISSN: 1188-3774
Issue: Date: Summer, 2009 Source Volume: 18 Source Issue: 1
Topic: NamedWork: A Better Way to Zone: Ten Principles to Create More Livable Cities (Nonfiction work)
Persons: Reviewee: Elliott, Donald L.
Accession Number: 229218949
Full Text: Elliott, Donald L.

A Better Way to Zone: Ten Principles to Create More Livable Cities.

Washington: Island Press, 2008. 239 pp.

ISBN: 1597261815.

Zoning is atone and the same time the most boring and ordinary of implementation strategies, the most comprehensive and powerful of regulatory tools, and perhaps the single greatest challenge to modern urban planning. Don Elliott, a well-known planning lawyer, takes a serious look at what is needed to reform zoning in order to make it more relevant in the context of the post-industrial metropolises in which most people in the developed world now choose to live.

The book is organized into eight chapters, with a separate introduction, a suggested reading list, some detailed notes, a brief bibliography, and a short but eminently useful index. The first chapter provides a brief history of modern American zoning and its hybrid evolution from standard enabling legislation (1920-1940) through planned unit developments (1940-1970), performance zoning (1970-1990), and form-based zoning (1990-present). The second chapter discusses the failures of traditional Euclidean zoning, including unnecessary complexity, a moiety of false assumptions, and lock of flexibility in implementation. The third chapter discusses major forces for change in the ongoing urban development process, including the vast size of the North American real estate market, tax revolts and other gross limitations, transportation system connectivity and housing affordability issues, and increasing citizen opposition to an ever-widening variety of 'undesirable' land uses. The fourth chapter discusses related governance issues, including efficiency and effectiveness, fairness and understandability, responsiveness and the need for what Elliott refers to as 'predictable flexibility.' The fifth chapter discusses the legal framework for change, mainly in the context of evolving U.S. constitutional requirements. The sixth chapter briefly considers eight lessons learned from a century of zoning experience, with implications for changing zoning for the better. The seventh chapter details ten methods to improve Euclidean hybrid zoning, including which failed assumptions, land use drivers, and governance issues are likely to be affected most, as well as the legality of each such method within the U.S. planning system. The eighth chapter discusses implementation strategies to reform traditional zoning ordinances along more modern lines in a more comprehensive, meaningful, and effective manner.

The book is easy to read and well worth reading more than once. While it is not as detailed or thorough as it might be, it is not intended to provide all of the answers for any one specific city, but rather to guide one on where to look and how to find such answers for a broad range of cities in potentially much different urban and regional milieus. There are occasional references to Canadian zoning, but most of the emphasis is on the U.S. planning and zoning tradition.

The author has done an excellent job of illustrating the current weaknesses of zoning, and identifying ways that may potentially reduce or eliminate such weaknesses through administrative regulatory reform. What the author falls to do is justify whether zoning in any form will still be relevant in the modern post-industrial metropolis of tomorrow. Building regulations may always be necessary, and activities can be regulated as activities, which are dynamic, rather than land use categories, which are all too often as cold and static as the grave. Subdivision regulations are needed for greenfield developments, but are these quite as necessary for brownfield developments, which will be of increasing importance as population growth slows, and cities mature into more stable versions of themselves, in the coming decades?

The book is primarily intended for professional planners and others actively engaged in urban development practice in either the public or private sectors. It might easily be transferred to classroom use as well, particularly in the hands of someone with practical experience in the application of zoning to specific urban planning and development problems. For example, a studio course in which all (or part) of an old-style Euclidean zoning ordinance is modernized by the students along the lines suggested by Elliott would benefit greatly from this clearly-written and well-organized guide to the current practice of--and future improvements to --contentious zoning regulations.

Erik Tillman Ferguson

School of Architecture and Design

American University of Sharjah.
Gale Copyright: Copyright 2009 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.