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More cities, suburbs need to wipe out zoning to get construction moving, author says

Jim Buchta, Star Tribune on

Published in Home and Consumer News

Minneapolis is one of the cities leading the country away from zoning rules that make it harder for people to own homes, says M. Nolan Gray, a California-based city planner who has become a national advocate for higher-density development.

With a new book, Gray argues that housing would be more affordable if developers were free to build multifamily dwellings in more places.

This year, he helped frame the national conversation on zoning in articles for the Atlantic magazine with provocative headlines such as "America Needs More Luxury Housing, Not Less" and "Cancel Zoning."

He was invited to the Twin Cities recently by Housing First Minnesota, the state's largest trade association for builders and suppliers, to discuss his book "Arbitrary Lines: How Zoning Broke the American City and How to Fix It."

Gray gave an interview during the visit. Some excerpts:

Q: Was there a particular situation or experience that inspired you to write the book?


A: When I first started working on the book in 2020, I had the sense that there was enormous interest in zoning, and the role it played in the housing affordability crisis. But there was no one book I could point folks to explaining what zoning is, how it harms cities, and where land-use planning needs to go from here.

Q: For those who might not read the book, what's the one thing you want them to know?

A: Very simply that zoning — this system where we let every local government come up with its own rules for segregating uses and restricting density — is at the root of so many issues facing cities, from housing affordability to economic opportunity to racial equity to sustainability. It will be quite hard to make progress on many of these issues without either substantially liberalizing or abolishing zoning.

Q: Is zoning the same as land-use planning?


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