Another post offered a negotiation perspective on a “good” planning process using existing rules. This post notes a more radical solution which is used in some places.
The original logic of zoning uses is becoming less important. Classically, there is a fear that a steel mill could be built next to a school and “somebody (i.e. government) should do something about that!!!” (since anything is better than nothing). The problem with this argument is that this issue is becoming less important as the manufacturing sector shrinks relative to the rest of the economy. This argument focuses on costs, by ignoring real benefits, simplifies a relevant trade off. Lots of things are easy to criticize if there is no perfect solution.
The COO of the OHBA noted in Canadian Property Management magazine that the things being blocked by the whole city planning process include “intensification, social housing and special needs housing.” These issues are government priorities which are generally accepted by society as a whole and their implementation is being blocked by the actions of individuals. (I will let you judge whether these examples are merely a cover for a hidden motive, but that is a different issue.) So, is the classic fear really a bogeyman?
Especially with the intensification policy, most people want less urban sprawl and agree that some increase in population density in the cities benefits society. The question is how to write these good intentions into a practical law. If there were a law which limited population density to 1000 people per sq. km., is there are real difference between a population density of 999 people per sq. km. and 1001 people per sq. km.? Is there are real difference between a 37 dwellings per hectare and 38dwellings per hectare? (http://guelph.ca/wp-content/uploads/Section5ResidentialZones.pdf p. 12 and what is the meaning of that trade off between density and parking?)
Categories of land use may be easy to enforce but are they relevant? The relevant difference between an industrial land use and a residential land use is something which is easier to write into law. Forcing density controls especially into the legal language of categories is, literally, like trying to fit the reality of a curved peg into the legalism that all holes are square. Maybe it is time to remove the lawyers from the discussion.
A more radical experiment would be to do away with zoning entirely. Houston Texas offers an illustrative alternative. Toronto is experimenting with “the Two Kings” (i.e. King-Spadina and King-Parliament Reinvestment Areas ) with reduced regulations of several types. Are the costs of the current system really producing sufficient extra benefits?