Street By Street Zoning: Worthwhile Affordable Housing Shot In The Dark?

two mid rise apartments buildings next to a corner store
Could an effective city zoning region be as small as a handful of houses and a corner store?

Before we dig too far into the possibilities of street-by-street zoning, we need to get a prejudice of ours off our chests. The article linked below attributes this zoning idea to the YIMBY (Yes In My Back Yard) movement.

We have a beef with YIMBY. It is a broad political movement, not neighbourhood based. YIMBYites who tout YIMBY solutions, with few exceptions, have no right to use the term ‘My Back Yard.’ They are offering up other people’s ‘Back Yards’. These are seldom, if ever, their own. YIMBYites may live literally thousands of miles away from the back yards they pontificate about. We use the term YIYBY (Yes in Your Back Yard) as it hits closer to the mark.

That said, this particular YIYBY idea is a change from their usual advocacy that regional or even national governments override local decision-making processes. That’s because local decision-making is so often held hostage to neighbourhood resistance in the form of NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard).

Could neighbourhoods, or at the most granular level, single streets, decide their own zoning, including location of commercial properties, and the density requirements for residences?

The author suggests that block zoning is not practiced anywhere, at least in the way he envisions it, although he points to New Zealand and England for some close parallels. He could have included Ontario, where committees of adjustment are in place to manage minor variances to zoning regulations. The idea is to avoid the whole big rezoning thing by providing a way to tinker at the edges. Area residents are informed of proposed changes and comment on the potential impact. Coverage of some of these hearings tell tales of vociferous opposition to fences, which will block sunlight and to additional bedrooms, which will increase traffic and parking demands. While this is anecdotal, the evidence would suggest that delegating the decisions to the micro level will not necessarily result in more affordable housing.

But, should you wish a more optimistic take, check out in Bloomberg: More Housing? YIMBY, Please


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