Quick Takeaways

  • Zoning is a set of municipal laws or regulations that govern how property can and cannot be used in specific geographic locations.
  • Zoning has been used both as a tool to build cities and as an exclusionary practice to keep neighborhoods, towns, and cities racially and economically divided.
  • Zoning reform is needed to resolve many current issues including housing shortages, divided cities, and neighborhood amenity disparities (such as “food deserts”).

Zoning laws are found in virtually every municipality in the United States, affecting land use, lot size, building heights, density, setbacks, and other aspects of property use. This reference page discusses the basics of zoning and how zoning is regulated; the impact of zoning on towns and cities, including the impacts of exclusionary zoning and the way that zoning has been used as a tool to keep businesses or people out of certain areas; and a discussion of zoning reform and the ways zoning reform can address issues of racially divided cities, housing availability, and housing affordability.

See References for more information.