Shaping urban form without zoning: a case study of houston
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Houston is the only major city in North America without zoning. The growth of Houston illustrates a traditional free market philosophy in which land use zoning is seen as a violation to private property and personal liberty. This dissertation explores how the lack of zoning has an impact on land use and urban form in Houston. It is based on a theoretical framework derived from economics and public policy theories for institutional analyses of land development controls. The dissertation uses cluster analysis integrating socioeconomic factors from census data to select three case study neighborhoods, and then applies GIS to analyze their urban form spatial characteristics with spatial data from Houston Planning Department. It also uses qualitative methods such as archives and documentations for the three neighborhoods. The study investigates the change of urban form in three case study neighborhoods over two decades. It also explores how local land use policies made by both the local government and non-governmental sectors shape urban form in Houston. The study results show that despite the city’s lack of zoning, local land use regulatory policies made by the municipality have significant influence on urban development. Additionally, civic and private organizations such as super neighborhoods and homeowner associations fill the gaps left by the lack of land use zoning. These two aspects contribute to land use planning and urban form of the city. Houston presents a contradiction of limited government intervention and public investments and subsidies. Land use controls by private contract and by government legislative intervention are not mutually exclusive or immutable. The study finds that it is difficult to achieve mixed race and income neighborhoods, even without zoning. Equity goals are not met in market approaches. Deed restrictions might be better at facilitating property sales and maintenance than at improving community welfare and governance. From the theoretical perspective, the study argues that a spectrum of market solutions and planning approaches at the ends are more relevant than the bipolarity view. Equity goals are not met in market approaches. For welfare and rights, public planning intervention is necessary. The market might provide physical land use diversity, but it fails to support socioeconomic diversity.
Qian, Zhu (2008). Shaping urban form without zoning: a case study of houston. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A&M University. Available electronically from