Municipal zoning, shockingly, may be the most consequential regulatory program in the United States. This article reports findings derived from an examination of provisions of zoning ordinances and zoning maps, materials that legal scholars have seldom closely appraised. The municipalities chosen for study lie in three metropolitan areas, the ones listed in the article’s title. Of the three, zoning in Greater Austin, one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the United States, is — to no one’s surprise — the most conducive to housing development. Austin suburbs have less large-lot zoning, more small-lot zoning, and fewer restrictions on the construction of multifamily housing. Housing prices in Silicon Valley, currently by far the highest in the United States, were only slightly above the national average in 1970. The extreme escalation of Silicon Valley housing prices has stemmed in significant part from its suburbs’ multifaceted efforts, after 1970, to limit further densification. Some towns in Greater New Haven, by contrast, adopted exclusionary policies as early as the 1930s. These towns’ enactments have distorted the region’s urban form and reduced its agglomeration efficiencies, but had little effect on housing prices.
The final parts of the article are more overtly normative. They present the case for increasing permitted residential densities in urban areas of the United States. To counter neighborhood NIMBYism, state legislatures should reward local governments that allow denser housing.