Zoning ordinances are sets of regulations detailing what, and how much, can be built on a given piece of real estate. They generally serve to cap the size of developments and to separate uses. Socialists usually favor them because they save the “community” from “big, nasty developers.” They oppose the shaping of their environment by propertied interests, believing that such shaping imposes on the “public sphere.” Yet, in almost the same breath, they will speak of the lack of affordable housing.
Now, I know that if socialists were better at math and logic, they would have taken economics and stopped being socialists. But here’s how it works: if you limit supply of a good, and demand persists, the price rises. All real property buyers have to deal with the reality of construction costs, land value, and infrastructure. But zoning prevents developers from increasing usable space and infrastructure even when economically feasible.
City planners always talk as if without their stoic guardianship, developers will turn the entire planet into rows of regular, brown rectangles that reach into space. This simply isn’t the case. There are many considerations that shape a development, including cost, aesthetic, scope, surrounding environment, and the product’s intended purpose. Planners’ true intention is to use the force of the government to impose their vision on the city.
Isn’t that what this is really all about? People support zoning because they don’t want a neighbor “stealing” their view, or changing the “character” of the neighborhood. Planners & city councils support zoning because it gives them control over the shape of “their” city, and the ability to extract politically-valuable goods from developers – like those godawful concrete ‘public spaces’ that front most corporate skyscrapers. Human beings require years of training in order to control their aggressive impulses; generally, they won’t even acknowledge that something is aggressive until that is the prevailing opinion (see The Atlantic Slave Trade). Most people don’t see telling neighbors what to do with their land as aggressive. Not only is it as wrong as telling your schoolmate that his lunch money must be spentin accordance with your Comprehensive Lunch Plan (only yogurt and grape jelly today), the first victims are often the poorest. You see, when less goods are provided by a stunted market, the wealthy can make do with less while the impoverished must reduce themselves to nothing.
That, my friends, is why it’s so hard for most of us to find a decent-sized, well-maintained, good location place to live. And why families, by necessity, fly to the suburbs. Just in the past few years, the Toronto City Council killed the Sapphire Tower. It was planned as a 90+ story, mixed-use building with apartments described as ‘house-like.’ The City Council slashed the building by 30 stories, and forced a hideous redesign, because it ‘may have cast a shadow over Nathan Phillips Square.’ That, or maybe their campaigns were funded by competitor Donald Trump to make way for his 90+ story a few blocks south. Now, no one will have the opportunity to enjoy house-sized living in a beautiful downtown skyscraper; due to the City’s demand, Sapphire Tower is now bankrupt, several investors have lost their life-savings, and the Globe and Mail is busy villifying Harry Stinson for his selfish dealings.
Many socialists will hear the preceding anecdote and say, “so what? Those apartments would have housed the rich.” Again, we return to economics: only authoritarians think in zero-sum terms, the rest of us know that the more usable real property available, the lower prices are for everyone. Socialism calls for “social housing” as the only possible solution (to a problem they created). Now, if you’re worried about brown rectangles soaring into the sky, look no further than social housing projects. Not only are they ugly, they are crime-infested, isolating, and paid for with stolen money. Worse still, they breed the ‘socialist man,’ who simultaneous loathes his own pointless existence but is completely disempowered to improve it. He will not work because subsistence comes free. By not working, he knows nothing of self-actualization – and he is empty. Social housing is utterly unnecessary and proves a serious drain on any neighborhood forced to support it. The only saving grace for the aristocracy is that the projects are NIMBY.
Zoning is the greatest tyranny of municipal government. It is an afront to the right of property – a primary foundation of civilized existence. It punishes us all by forcing us to sardine into apartments that are smaller than our lifestyles, families, and dreams. For the most destitute, it forces them out of the market and into the treacherous arms of socialists. Scrambling for resources is a common symptom of interventionist economic policies. Next time you hear complaints about overburdened streets, schools, parks or mass transit as arguments against a new development, think of what all those services have in common – government ownership. Yimbys speak out! Our only enemy is apathy. Human psychology would have it that opposition is a stronger emotion that support. The development industry believes it has lost this struggle. I know that, like slavery, zoning is an social construct that will one day be seen as profoundly wrong. The next day, mankind will grow arcologically, and reach the stars.