Shaping Urban Form Without Zoning A Case Study Of Houston-Books Download


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SHAPING URBAN FORM WITHOUT ZONING: ... Urban and Regional Sciences . ... public-sector-initiated urban planning policies are limit ed, ...

A Dissertation
Submitted to the Office of Graduate Studies of
Texas A M University
in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of
Approved by
Chair of Committee Elise M Bright
Committee Members Shannon Van Zandt
Cecilia Giusti
Robert Bednarz
Head of Department Forster Ndubisi
December 2008
Major Subject Urban and Regional Sciences
Shaping Urban Form without Zoning A Case Study of Houston
December 2008
Zhu Qian B Arch Tongji University China
M A University of British Columbia Canada
Chair of Advisory Committee Dr Elise M Bright
Houston is the only major city in North America without zoning The growth of Houston
illustrates a traditional free market philosophy in which land use zoning is seen as a violation to
private property and personal liberty This dissertation explores how the lack of zoning has an
impact on land use and urban form in Houston It is based on a theoretical framework derived
from economics and public policy theories for institutional analyses of land development
The dissertation uses cluster analysis integrating socioeconomic factors from census data
to select three case study neighborhoods and then applies GIS to analyze their urban form
spatial characteristics with spatial data from Houston Planning Department It also uses
qualitative methods such as archives and documentations for the three neighborhoods The study
investigates the change of urban form in three case study neighborhoods over two decades It
also explores how local land use policies made by both the local government and non
governmental sectors shape urban form in Houston
The study results show that despite the city s lack of zoning local land use regulatory
policies made by the municipality have significant influence on urban development
Additionally civic and private organizations such as super neighborhoods and homeowner
associations fill the gaps left by the lack of land use zoning These two aspects contribute to land
use planning and urban form of the city
Houston presents a contradiction of limited government intervention and public
investments and subsidies Land use controls by private contract and by government legislative
intervention are not mutually exclusive or immutable The study finds that it is difficult to
achieve mixed race and income neighborhoods even without zoning Equity goals are not met in
market approaches Deed restrictions might be better at facilitating property sales and
maintenance than at improving community welfare and governance
From the theoretical perspective the study argues that a spectrum of market solutions
and planning approaches at the ends are more relevant than the bipolarity view Equity goals are
not met in market approaches For welfare and rights public planning intervention is necessary
The market might provide physical land use diversity but it fails to support socioeconomic
The research would not have become a reality had I not been blessed by the generous
assistance of many people My appreciation goes to Dr Elise Bright for her careful critical and
encouraging supervision It is extended further to Dr Shannon Van Zandt for her help with
developing quantitative analysis and her comments on my final draft I also extend my
appreciation to my committee members Dr Cecilia Giusti and Dr Robert Bednarz for their
guidance and support throughout the course of this research
Thanks also goes to my friends and colleagues and the department faculty and staff for
making my time at Texas A M University a great experience In particular I want to extend my
gratitude to Bing Sheng Wu Ph D candidate in Geography who provided invaluable technical
support for the Geographic Information System GIS analysis of this research I appreciate the
data resources provided by Houston Planning and Development Department and Texas A M
Map Library
Finally thanks to my family for their understanding patience encouragement and love
during my overseas studies
Research Background and Issues 1
Aim and Objectives 2
Conceptual Framework 3
Research Methodology 5
Structure of Dissertation 7
Social Welfare Theses 10
Institutional Economics Theses 13
Public Choice Theses 17
Market Supported Planning and Contractual Zoning 19
Review of Empirical Literature on Zoning and Its Alternatives 22
Empirical Research on Houston s Contractual Zoning 32
Towards an Institutional Economic Conceptual Framework 34
Overall Research Strategy 39
Houston as a Case Study 40
Research Questions 41
Data Collection and Data Analysis Methods 42
Research Limitations 47
Summary 49
The City of Houston 51
Political Culture 55
Zoning Battle 58
Annexation Major Infrastructure and Activity Centers 61
Governmental Intervention in Land Use Control 66
Non governmental Sector Efforts on Land Use Control 72
Conclusions 76
Case Study Neighborhoods 79
Spatial Measures of Urban Form 89
A Tale of Three Super Neighborhoods 100
Summary and Conclusions 107
Discussions on Policy Implications 111
Debate on Planning versus Market Revisited 116
Institutional Economics Theorem as Research Framework 120
Research Agenda 124
Figure 1 Block Groups That Are Completely within the City Limits 81
Figure 2 Spatial Distribution of Three Clusters of Super Neighborhood
Block Groups 83
Figure 3 Three Selected Super Neighborhoods River Oaks Montrose and
Independence Heights 85
Figure 4 Current Super Neighborhood Land Use Maps 86
Figure 5 Land Use Diversity Index H1 94
Figure 6 Land Use Diversity Index H2 95
Figure 7 Land Use Change Pattern between 1985 and 2005 in Three Super
Neighborhoods 96
Table 1 Forms and Agents of Governance in the Land Development Process
and Property Market 20
Table 2 Urban Form Measurement for Forest Glen and Orenco Station
in Portland 45
Table 3 1993 Houston Zoning Referendum Statistics 60
Table 4 Houston s Minimum Building Line Requirements 71
Table 5 Houston s Minimum Right of Way Requirements 72
Table 6 Final Cluster Centers 82
Table 7 Number of Cases in Each Cluster 83
Table 8 Socioeconomic Status of Three Selected Super Neighborhoods 86
Table 9 Street Design and Circulation Systems 90
Table 10 Density 91
Table 11 Housing Units in Structure 91
Table 12 Housing Units Year Structure Built 92
Table 13 Land Use Diversity Index 93
Table 14 Accessibility 97
Table 15 Commuting to Work Workers 16 Years and Over 98
Table 16 Pedestrian Access 99
Table 17 Urban Form Measurement Comparison between Portland and
Houston 99
Research Background and Issues
Houston is the only major city in North America without zoning The growth of Houston
illustrates a traditional free market philosophy in which land use zoning is seen as a violation of
private property and personal liberty In such a laissez faire city public sector initiated urban
planning policies are limited especially at the neighborhood level in comparison with other cities
in the country Instead many urban development policies and plans are made by the private
sector and by business associations Except for limited daily urban needs transportation and
infrastructure that are the responsibilities of the public sector planning especially that which
effects economic growth is initiated developed and monitored by the private sector Fisher
1989 Bernard Siegan s Land Use Without Zoning 1972 remains the definitive document on
Houston s nonzoning According to Siegan the market place provides economic incentives for
segregation of uses and produces patterns of development similar to what is found under zoning
Siegan also sets forth the argument of Houston s unplanned unregulated development in a set of
articles defending the City s refusal to enact a zoning code He asserts that land use regulation in
Houston is extremely modest when compared to what is contained in most zoning ordinances
because Houston has no ordinance that sets forth specific restrictions on the uses that may be
established on any property However during the past three decades Houston has adopted more
planning tools and involved diverse organizations in land use
Recent studies address Houston from different perspectives such as urban geography
Kirby and Lynch 1987 Vojnovic 2003 political science Gainsborough 2001 public policy
Fisher 1989 and legal and economics Berry 2001 Houston is often portrayed as an
archetype free enterprise capitalist or laissez faire city Feagin 1998 Lamare 1998 Lin 1995
In the meanwhile Houston s minimal government intervention rhetoric in practice involves
extensive and active federal state and local government involvement in economic development in
combination with a disinterest in social service and income maintenance programmes Vojnovic
2003 Government intervention in Houston s growth has been vital and has produced the
extraordinary impacts expected from public involvement in local economic development Despite
This dissertation follows the style of Habitat International
the fact that there is no quantitative research on Houston s lack of zoning and its urban form
there has been narrative descriptions regarding Houston s land use controls and urban form see
for example Kirby and Lynch 1987 Lin 1995 Vojnovic 2003
Then how and to what extent does the lack of zoning influence urban form of the city
and its neighborhoods How does local land use regulatory policy practice work in this unique
political economic setting How do civic and or private organizations get involved in land use
controls to influence land use at the neighborhood level And how well do the private land use
interventions work in the neighborhoods What are some of the reasons for the neighborhood
land use diversity and changes This study tries to address these questions
The question of urban space and form has not been sufficiently examined in Houston
research There is a further aspect that needs attention and that is the spatial analysis and internal
transformation of Houston subject to the pressures of globalization and growth Along with
growth metropolitan cities like Houston tend to move from monocentric forms towards
polycentric structures Houston s twenty plus activity centers are the main nodes of the city s
polycentric structure Furthermore there are gaps in the debates which include the finer grain
understanding of the impacts of various forces and physical forms A further complication is that
many of the debates and issues are separated in academic research and publication That is
particularly true for the two debates which are primarily discussed in this research the free
market land use governance versus more government interventions in land use debate and that of
the physical urban form This research attempts to link the concepts
Aim and Objectives
This research explores how the lack of government zoning ordinance has an impact on
urban form and land use in Houston It investigates three super neighborhoods which have
different private land use control status to reveal the diversity of their land use patterns and their
chronological land use changes The hypotheses of this research are 1 Despite the lack of
zoning Houston s regulatory land use polices with many zoning elements have significant
influence on its urban development and urban form particularly at the citywide scale 2 private
land use controls i e the deed restriction status may result in the diversity of land use patterns
and the different degrees of chronological changes of land use at the neighborhood level and 3
such diversity and chronological changes are closely associated with the neighborhood
socioeconomic characteristics such as age of neighborhood household income level education
attainment housing ownership property value etc Neighborhoods with similar socioeconomic
characteristics may have different land use pattern due to their deed restriction statuses
The dissertation examines the change of urban form and land use in the city and its case
study neighborhoods without zoning regulation and explores the reasons behind those changes
From the institutional perspective it explores how local land use policies made by both the local
government and non governmental sectors shape urban form and land use in Houston a city born
out of several anti zoning battles Despite the city s lack of zoning local land use regulatory
policies and some limited plans made by the municipality have significant influence on urban
development On the other hand civic and private organizations such as super neighborhoods and
homeowner associations fill the gaps left by the lack of land use zoning The study examines how
these two aspects contribute to land use planning and urban form at both city and neighborhood
The research uses both quantitative methods i e GIS spatial statistical analysis and
qualitative methods i e document review formal and informal data gathering and semi
structured interviews in Houston The dissertation seeks to provide insight into the relationships
between urban form the lack of zoning ordinance and neighborhood planning It also sheds light
on the debates on limited government intervention in land development controls and applicability
and difficulties of applying two strands of theories institutional economics and public choice to
the empirical case of Houston
Conceptual Framework
Conventional land development control like zoning is usually justified by planners in
social welfare theses as an important approach to alleviate market failure such as negative
externalities or social cost and provide public goods Those public goods are believed to be
disinterested by the free market to provide an adequate amount due to the high cost of direct
pricing These arguments are originally developed from Pigou s seminal book The Economics of
Welfare 1932 Zoning largely denies possible private negotiation and resolution
In challenging the Pigovian market failure and government intervention arguments
Ronald Coase in his seminal papers namely The Nature of the Firm in 1937 and The Problem of
Social Cost in 1960 raises the concept of transaction costs and proposes a thinking of free market
and anti government intervention Coase questions the Pigovian efficiency calculus by focusing
on the transaction costs of regulative policies Coasians argue that since the market can handle
externalities only if transaction costs are zero Pigovian interventionist approach is unnecessary
and undesirable Zoning does not improve land use efficiency and zoning is a zero sum game In
planning literature a dichotomy seems to appear where the Pigovian paradigm is one for zoning
and the Coasian paradigm is against zoning Explanations of planning in social welfare terms
associate planning with government intervention juxtaposing the public sector with the free
In institutional economics theses Coasians consider government as being less efficient
than the market and takes zoning as such an inefficient example This argument however needs
to be taken with Coase s caution that it does not do more than suggest that governmental
regulation should be curtailed rather than completely removed He states that government
intervention argument does not do more than suggest that governmental regulation should be
curtailed Coase 1988 119 The relevant problems are when to intervene and how to intervene
for government to minimize inefficiencies and social inequities and how is the effectiveness of
the intervention Coase s arguments and Coasians empirical studies suggest that the important
point is not making a choice between zoning and non zoning but the institutions of either zoning
or non zoning
The review of Pigovian and Coasian paradigms does not provide clear answer to the
reasons for public choice of land use control Zoning is also a political response to land uses by
the motivations behind it But Coase deftly sidesteps the fundamental political and moral issues
about the distribution of power welfare and opportunity Banerjee 1993 Regarding the
question of why society chooses zoning or non zoning Lai 1994 in his review of Coase s
theory of institutional economics suggest that it is a question of the nature of public choice in a
land use restriction process In property rights concept an institution like the planning system is
a result of public choice Lai 1997 A large part of the literature on zoning assumes that optimal
regulations are imposed but does not address the question of whether participants bureaucrats
planners developers and residents etc have incentive to follow the optimal rules Pogodzinski
and Sass 1990
The Coasian and public choice theories imply that when geography time local politics
and life style choices are added to the debate about zoning it is difficult to decide what when
where who and how to control land use There is therefore no general conclusion to the merit of
zoning debate Instead the debate on zoning has to be case specific context specific locality
specific as individual cases because local geographical political social and economic conditions
are significantly variable The relevant questions might be why the society chooses a specific land
zoning system and what are the political and socioeconomic reasons behind such option
A better understanding of social welfare and institutional economics theses might be the
distinction between public planning by government and private planning by non government in
the market instead of a distinction between free market and government intervention It is
possible public planning and private planning coexist and then the critical question to ask is how
they coexist and to what extent they get involved in land use boundary delineation Houston
provides an excellent opportunity in this regard There is a need to explore the rules or workings
of development controls of private contractual zoning such as Houston in which government and
private sector interface Contractual zoning can be understood as a property rights activity and a
direct coordinating activity This is particularly intriguing when planning co exists with the
private sector market place For contractual zoning between private agents the issue of scale of
the area within which they are applied city wide versus specific neighborhoods is also
While research on private contractual zoning e g the comparative cases for Houston and
Dallas usually focuses on property values and its socioeconomic results e g racial segregation
different degrees of land use restrictions may result in cross sectional spatial form variations
among geographical areas e g neighborhoods Chronological changes in land use restrictions
may also result in spatial dimension variation in a neighborhood under a given land use control
system Both cross sectional spatial form variations and chronological changes can be a
comparative approach to reveal how lands with or without private contractual zoning evolve For
government intervention even in the case of contractual zoning where such intervention is
curtailed the imposition of constraints for market operation does not directly interfere with the
spatial aspects of production Instead those interventions are typically achieved through tax
subsidy or production quota However by using a series of rules policies and standards for land
use activities and government infrastructure system government funded mega projects and
urban regeneration planners held land use intervention tools from spatial aspects which regulate
the location dimension density time of the production Spatial dimension of land is the result of
a specific institutional design Further discussion of the conceptual framework for this study will
be made in Chapter II
Research Methodology
Based on the research hypotheses and the literature review the research questions can be
grouped into four interrelated headings
1 A relationship could be established between land use controls and urban form
Alternatives to zoning in this research were taken more as political rather than as
professional means driven by political interests The first questions addressed the
political reasons for Houston s land use system and its contributions to the city s urban
development in its history
2 Despite of the lack of zoning Houston has regulatory land use policies with zoning
elements The second questions critically examined Houston s land use policies planning
and urban form at the citywide scale
3 Neighborhood land use patterns are formed by political institutions at community levels
Houston s diverse land use patterns helped to understand the social political and
economic reasons underlying the neighborhood diversity of urban form In the
meanwhile the practice of private covenants as a land use control means provided an
example of a collaborative planning approach where land users make decisions on their
surrounding environment As Zhang 2001 concluded in his research about Chicago
urban growth is rooted in the features of neighborhoods rather than a direct consequence
of spatial related factor Urban form is a dynamic process which evolves over time as the
outcome of changing land use polices and agreements The third questions analyzed land
use controls at the neighborhood levels using an institutional approach
4 Neighborhood local factors include the socio economic situation of a neighborhood
including demographic changes the community s economic status and its education
quality The factors also include housing stock and land use policies This research
considered local factors such as age of neighborhoods household income level education
attainment housing ownership and property value The questions resorted to quantitative
analysis The results were used to explore how the urban forms were determined by the
deed restrictions and how well findings in neighborhood land use controls qualitative
research could explain the spatial statistical results
The overall research strategy was focused upon a case study of the neighborhoods Using
GIS the study conducted spatial statistical analysis for the urban form for each of the
neighborhoods over two decade period from 1985 until 2005 In addition the statistical analysis
compared the results among different neighborhoods The urban form of the neighborhoods was
measured by five dimensions 1 Street systems 2 Density 3 Land use mix 4 Accessibility
5 Pedestrian access The qualitative research focused on land use planning tools that had
influence at neighborhood level in particular such as subdivision plats deed restrictions super
neighborhoods and their responsible organizations The result of this empirical research was to
analyze the impact of neighborhood planning approaches on urban form in an unzoned city and
to reveal the implications in land use planning and non zoning Based on the anticipated research

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