ZONING: A REPLY TO THE CRITICS
To zoning's supporters, Houston represents an unenlightened backwater that has stubbornly resisted the tide of twentieth century land use regulation. To zoning's critics, Houston stands as a lonely beacon of economic rationality, or at least a living laboratory in which alternatives to zoning can be fairly tested.
Extensive academic literature critical of zoning has accumulated in the last twenty years, beginning with Bernard Siegan's landmark 1970 study lauding Houston's non-zoning approach, and followed shortly thereafter by Robert Ellickson's broader theoretical critique of zoning.
 Subsequent academic literature has been almost as uniformly critical of zoning as public policy has been uniformly in favor of it. Although few academic defenders of zoning have stepped forward, governmental decision-makers have proceeded with zoning apace, apparently untroubled by the academic on slaught. By some estimates, 9,000 municipalities, large and small, in every region of the country and representing at least 90% of the nation's population, have zoning schemes in place.The closeness of last November's vote, and Houston's status as the only major holdout against zoning, can give little cheer to zoning's critics. No trend toward abolishing zoning appears on the horizon, and indeed, non-zoning in Houston hangs by a thread.
Why is this? How do we account for the fact that this nearly universal feature of local government enjoys such disrepute in academia? Are local governments simply in the grip of irrationality? Have local officials hoodwinked the public on a massive scale? Or have the academic critics somehow missed the mark?
This article argues that the academic critiques of zoning, though based on insights that have some validity, are often overstated. They simply prove less than their authors think they prove. In particular, this article argues that in some circumstances, such as in mature neighborhoods in large urban centers, zoning can be a rational and justifiable public policy response to very real problems and can be made to work at least as well as any of the alternatives the critics propose. The analysis of this article is descriptive in part, illustrating zoning at its best, in rather limited circumstances. Yet principally this article is normative, discussing zoning as it might be made to work, in a way that is justifiable and that meets many of the objections offered by its critics. Therefore, the purpose of this article is not to offer a general defense of zoning. Its task is the more modest one of showing that many of the critiques, despite the broad claims of their authors, should not be taken as general indictments of zoning, but rather as indicators of particular dysfunctions that must be addressed if zoning is to work effectively.
A significant problem with the property values rationale for zoning, however, is that such a rationale