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Martin Laplante

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Sun, 01 Jul 2007

Zoned Out

I went to Amazon to get more details on the book Zoned Out: Regulation, Markets, and Choices in Transportation and Metropolitan Land Use (RFF Press) , which explores the theories that sprawl is caused by market forces; that it exists because this is what people want. I used the "search inside the book" feature of Amazon, and asked it for a random page. It gave me page 70.

There is a well-known theory of land economics, known as the Tiebout-Hamilton model of local public choice, which says in essence that with a multitude of different local governments, consumers will choose the one that specializes in the particular combination of taxes, services and zoning that matches their preferences. That way there is a free market in governments as well as houses and everyone one gets what they want.

Here is page 70 of Zoned Out, which sold me on the book

Where travel behavior research focuses solely on the external costs of transportation - such as the pollution and congestion imposed on others - it erroneously assumes that households are able to choose their optimal location, within budget constraints. But such optimization would be impossible if a community that would otherwise be desirable to a household were closed because local regulations excluded the kind of housing the household desired or could afford. Thus this research systematically neglects the internal costs of exclusion - the gap in benefits from a household's actual location and the location it might have chosen in the absence of exclusionary regulations.

Regardless of the magnitude of these costs, they are disposed of by the assumption in the Tiebout-Hamilton view of the world. This model does not balance these costs against the asserted efficiency benefits of decentralized provision of governmental services. "With each of the many local governments in a region zoning on the basis of its own interests, what guarantee is there that land uses and land users displaced from one community will find a place elsewhere in the region?" asks Briffault. And even if a place is found, what assurance is there that a choice of the alternative location would not entail costs, both to the individual and to society? The answers that the Tiebout-Hamilton model provides for these questions are especially unconvincing and will be discussed in the next section.

Exclusions's Costs, Internal and External

A land-use regime predicated on regulatory exclusion opens a gap between the preferences and actual neighborhood choices of excluded households. Low-density land use regulations tend to be put in place by the first-comers to suburban territory at the metropolitan fringe (Fischel 1985). For a mix of reasons, including insufficient fungibility of development rights and the endowment effect described in the previous chapter, these land-use regulations are ultimately too restrictive from the standpoint of economic efficiency. That is, they compel development whose density is inefficiently low even after conditions change and development pressures on the community grow. The initial low-density development pattern, which might have been altered by the market as metropolitan conditions changed, become locked in by regulation.

Households excluded from these areas are hardly a potent political force, since they are not likely to be voters in the municipality in question.

To get more details about the book, hover your mouse on the picture of the book's cover.


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