The hazards of "strings-attached zoning," "wishful zoning," and "Hungry Hungry Hippos zoning"

Zoning is often discussed like it’s an occult force with mystical powers. I’ve spent decades overseeing New York City’s zoning, and I promise, it’s not magic. It’s an important planning tool to direct where the housing, jobs, and other facilities the city needs can be added, but its mystique can obscure important realities.

The misuse of zoning, often driven by good intentions, is a major cause of the structural housing shortage that drives up housing prices for everyone, fuels gentrification pressure, drives some New Yorkers to leave the city, and leaves others inadequately housed or homeless. Decisions that look like they should move us forward push us backward. I call this phenomenon Illusionary Zoning.

Here is a field guide to common species of Illusionary Zoning, and how government decision-makers can better use zoning with other tools to alleviate our housing crisis.

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