Minneapolis 2040, perhaps the most expansive comprehensive update to a city’s zoning and land-use regulations in the United States to date, awaits approval from the regional planning agency.
The plan includes many changes to increase density and wellbeing in one of the Twin Cities, but the most important reform is that it has effectively abolished single-family (called R-1) zoning on a city-wide basis.
The editorial board of the Los Angeles Times came out in favor of Minneapolis 2040, and argues it should serve as a guide for other cities looking to liberalize their zoning and land-use regulations:
State Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) has been pushing for even more dramatic change. Last year he offered a hotly disputed bill to override local zoning and allow taller, denser housing around transit stations — even on single-family lots…Undaunted [by SB 827’s failure], Wiener has introduced a new version this year (Senate Bill 50); it still faces a fight in Sacramento, but the opposition already appears to be softening.
In Los Angeles, the city’s first attempt to rezone land around light rail stations exempted all single-family neighborhoods from having to accept increased density. Only after lobbying by YIMBY — Yes in My Backyard — activists did the City Council approve a plan that rezoned exactly one single-family neighborhood to allow midsize apartments and town house developments. It was the most modest step forward possible, illustrating how challenging it can be to change the status quo, one neighborhood or one community plan at a time.
That’s why Minneapolis’ decision to eliminate single-family zoning is such a big deal. It’s not uncommon for cities governed by progressive Democrats to espouse lofty goals to create affordable housing, fight segregation and slash greenhouse gases. It is not at all common, however, for those elected officials to brave the political heat and enact policies designed to help reach those goals over the objections of established neighborhoods.
There are two key points to be emphasized from LA Times’s editorial. First is what an asset progressives are in the fight for greater density in urban areas. Though progressives aren’t the first political group that comes to mind when deregulation is on the agenda, Scott Wiener, London Breed, Jacob Frey, and other progressive legislators and executives have been able to eschew ideology and recognize the benefits of easing the regulatory burden when addressing housing affordability, inequality, and climate change.
Second, and perhaps most importantly, the editorial goes after the idea of single-family housing. “[I]t’s clear that single-family neighborhoods can no longer be sacrosanct. Not if cities are serious about increasing the supply and affordability of housing.”
The editorial board doesn’t directly go after the sacred cow that is homeownership in the U.S., but by making the argument that single-family zoning is an obstacle to affordable housing, it makes a strong progressive case for making the housing market fairer by making it freer.