The only metropolitan area in the United States that does not have zoning is Houston, TX. Does this mean that the city is laid out vastly different than every other metropolitan area in the country? Not entirely. There are some aspects that are different but many of the same ideas are implemented here as in cities with zoning. In Houston, land use is controlled by restrictive covenants which are voluntary agreements among landowners. This means that instead of a government telling them what they can build where, the people who are directly next to a new place must agree to what is being built. This implies that the places that are generally kept from the residential areas will still be that way because of the negative externalities that they generate. The industry sector of Houston follows the normal pattern of other major cities locating close to the transportation systems in that area. As with other cities the retail centers are located where there is a high volume of traffic rather than in a smaller residential neighborhood. The difference here is that Houston has much more strip development and retail than other zoned metropolitan areas. The benefit of Houston is that it has a lot of affordable housing for low-income people. Other than that, Houston is very similar to other large cities in the way it is built.
Perhaps one of the most beneficial aspects about living in a city without zoning is the interesting architecture that is developed. Unique buildings such as the Orange Show, the Beer Can House, and the Astrodome lend credence to Houston's eclectic pattern of development. The different areas also show how Houston has developed and grown throughout its history.
The laws regarding housing and lot sizes emphasize the dependency on using automobiles within the city. The parking laws stipulate that apartments and businesses must supply a certain number of spaces depending on the size of the buildings and this is higher than in other cities, again contributing to the idea that people should drive rather than walk or take public transportation. The rules governing how wide streets can be also make it difficult for pedestrians as streets can be up to one hundred feet across, which is much wider than most other urban cities. Because of these roads and the emphasis placed on driving, Houston is much more susceptible to the congestion problems associated with automobile externalities.
1. Lewyn, Michael. "Zoning Without Zoning." The Planning and Development Network. 24 November 2003.
2. O'Sullivan, Arthur. Urban Economics. "Chapter 9 Zoning and Growth Controls." 2007. pp 195-196.
3. Thomas, Sherry. "Houston: A City Without Zoning." USA Today. 30 October 2003.