“Houston has no zoning” is a very popular urban planning meme. It has its roots in Houston’s lacks one very specific kind of zoning: Euclidean separation of residential, commercial, and industrial uses. Euclidean zoning happens to be the one kind of planning that people easily understand (the whole meatpacking-plant-in-my-backyard fear), and so the usual panoply of density-inhibiting regulations (parking minimums, minimum lot requirements, FAR restrictions, etc.) is downplayed or even outright ignored, despite Michael Lewyn’s claims that Houston is in many ways more restrictive than even its Sun Belt neighbors.
But still, despite its pervasiveness, I was surprised to hear from commenter Alon Levy that in a 2001 interview with Reason Magazine, even Jane Jacobs was still laboring under the myth:
Reason: When the change comes, if it is an incremental, slowly evolving, uncontrolled sort of natural change, it’s easy for society to accommodate that, isn’t it?
Jacobs: Yes it is. But if all that zoning is kept, that can’t happen.
Reason: This is why I’m one of the few people you’ve met who likes Houston, because it has no zoning.
Jacobs: It has no zoning. But all the same, it looks like all the places that do have zoning. Because the same developers and bankers who deal with places that do have zoning carry their same ideas when they finance or build something in Houston.
Reason: There are not enough Houstons to change the way things are built or developed?
Maybe I’m just a sadist, but my favorite part of the interview was the first few pages where the interviewer tries to get Jacobs to support the usual libertarian “war on cars” line and she deftly avoids it. Finally, he thinks he’s gotten her when she says something bad about New Urbanism, but then it turns out that her issue seems more to be that New Urbanist communities aren’t really urban enough.