Author M. Nolan Gray

New Book Makes Case Against Zoning

M. Nolan Gray, a doctoral student in urban planning at UCLA Luskin, argues in a newly published book that America’s century-old land use planning practice of zoning needs to go. Since the first zoning codes appeared in 1916 and were given U.S. Supreme Court sanction in 1926, Gray writes, “The arbitrary lines on zoning maps across the country have come to dictate where Americans may live and work, forcing cities into a pattern of growth that is segregated and sprawling.” In “Arbitrary Lines: How Zoning Broke the American City and How to Fix It” (Island Press, 2022), Gray provides an overview of the history of zoning. He offers critiques of zoning’s role in four areas: increasing housing costs, restricting growth in America’s most productive cities, institutionalizing racial and economic segregation, and mandating sprawl. Gray, a professional city planner who has worked on zoning policy in New York, ties “Arbitrary Lines” together by detailing current efforts to reform zoning, presenting a case to abolish zoning and showing how a post-zoning United States might work in practice. Gray serves as research director for California YIMBY and has contributed articles to publications that include Bloomberg City Lab, the Atlantic and Forbes. In his introduction to the book, Gray writes that it is meant to be fundamentally constructive, and “… beyond merely arguing against the arbitrary lines that hold us back, this book is a reminder that a more affordable, prosperous, equitable and sustainable America is possible.”

Listen to Gray on a recent episode of the Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies podcast “UCLA Housing Voice,” where he talks about minimum lot size reform and affordability.

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