Nolan Gray: How Zoning Broke the American City (and How To Fix It)

Anthony Harris
Anthony Harris
  • Updated
"What if scrapping one flawed policy could bring U.S. cities closer to addressing debilitating housing shortages, stunted growth and innovation, persistent racial and economic segregation, and card-dependent development?" - M. Nolan Gray

(You can check out the published version of this article by Seairra Sheppard here; this is installment one of our four-part series featuring National Gathering presenters.) 

Throughout North America, more and more people are becoming aware of how zoning (rules that dictate how land may be used) is harming our cities. M. Nolan Gray, professional city planner, longtime Strong Towns contributor, and author of Arbitrary Lines, will be presenting on the flawed nature of zoning at the upcoming Strong Towns National Gathering (May 30–31) in Charlotte, North Carolina. With lively explanations and stories, Gray will talk all about zoning and why reforming our zoning codes is such a key part of building stronger, more financially resilient cities and towns.

His talk, “How Zoning Broke the American City (and How To Fix It),” will cover: 
  • What is zoning, and where does it come from? 
  • What went wrong with zoning, and why does it matter? 
  • Where do we go from here - both in the long and short term? 

Interested in attending to learn more? It’s time to meet your movement. Sign up for the National Gathering.

While you wait in excitement and anticipation for this event (like all of us here at Strong Towns), check out some of Gray’s works featured on the Strong Towns site: 

Listen to Gray talk about exposing the arbitrariness of zoning codes on the Strong Towns Podcast. As Strong Towns Podcast host Chuck Marohn notes, if you don’t know anything about zoning, you’re going to get a lot out of Gray’s book, Arbitrary Lines. And if you’re an expert on zoning, you’re still going to get a lot out of this book.

For an excerpt from Gray’s book, read the article, “The Case for Abolishing Zoning.” For the sake of our cities and the people who live in them, it’s time we fundamentally rethink how we regulate land in America.

Read “The Most Important Planning Concept You’ve Never Heard Of,” where Gray talks about how our systems of planning and permitting too often give large developers an unfair advantage over local builders.

Professional planners are trained to yearn for tighter urban design controls, as if cities without comprehensive, top-down planning would devolve into chaos and disorder. In reality, cities evolve according to mechanisms that allow us to gradually discover optimal urban design across time. Read Gray’s thoughts on “Why Urban Design Should Come from the Bottom Up” to learn more. 

Finally, check out “How to Cover Urban Planning: A Guide for Local Journalists,” where Gray shares 11 steps to more comprehensive reporting on zoning changes, new developments, and everything in between.


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