Shifts Toward the Extremes: Zoning Change in Major U.S. Metropolitan Areas From 2003 to 2019

Rolf Pendall, Lydia Lo, Jake Wegmann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Problem, research strategy, and findings: Pundits and economists have recently inferred that zoning explains housing price inflation in fast-growth metro areas. In this article, we use the results of a longitudinal survey of local governments in the 50 largest U.S. metropolitan areas in 2003 and 2019 to show the limitations of this narrative. Many local governments do use zoning that limits apartment construction; in some metros, more places embraced than abandoned exclusionary zoning. Rather than too little housing, however, these regions had depressed markets long dominated by racially motivated exclusionary zoning. Meanwhile, zoning grew more accommodating to apartments in strong-market metro areas that have concerned the pundits. Our work covers only the 2003–2019 period for about 800 jurisdictions in the 50 largest U.S. metro areas, and it only generally explains some of the changes we observe. Further qualitative research is needed, therefore, to spotlight what it takes to reform land use regulation to address unaffordability and exclusion. Takeaway for practice: Local land use planners in the United States have ethical and legal obligations to undo the racial segregation designed into zoning from its founding. They also must prepare for continued population growth. Tools and strategies exist to do both of these, and some planners have the commitment and political space to use them. In other places, planners and their professional organizations need to change rules within their own communities and advocate for state legislative reforms so that planning works predictably to unwind unequal and exclusionary settlement patterns within neighborhoods and cities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)55-66
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of the American Planning Association
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2022


  • U.S
  • change
  • exclusion
  • metropolitan
  • zoning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Development
  • Urban Studies


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