Land Use & Free Market Mythology

In Zoned Out, Jonathan Levine argues that the debate about transportation and land-use planning in the United States has been distorted by a myth–the myth that urban sprawl is the result of a free market.

According to this myth, low-density, auto-dependent development dominates U.S. metropolitan areas simply because that is what Americans prefer.

Professor Levine confronts the free market myth by pointing out that land development is already one of the most regulated sectors of the U.S. economy. Noting that local governments use their regulatory powers to lower densities, segregate different types of land uses, and mandate large roadways and parking lots, he argues that the design template for urban sprawl is written into the land-use regulations of thousands of municipalities nationwide. These regulations and the skewed thinking that underlies current debate mean that policy innovation, market forces, and the compact-development alternatives they might produce are often “zoned out” of metropolitan areas.

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