Arbitrary Lines is the newest must read book on zoning by land use scholar and Market Urbanism contributor, Nolan Gray. The book is split into three sections, starting with what zoning is and where it comes from followed by chapters on its varied negative effects, and ending with recommendations for reform. For even deep in the weeds YIMBYs, it’s well worth picking up. There’s nothing dramatically controversial here, but give it a thorough read and you’re guaranteed to learn something new.
In particular, the book’s third section on reforms is outstanding. It starts with a slate of policy proposals typical to this kind of text, but quickly goes much farther afield. After suggested policy changes, we’re invited to consider a world without zoning via an in-depth look at Houston’s land use regime. Here we’re treated to both an explanation of how it works and the unique political history that left the city unsaddled with zoning. Nolan goes on to close his recommendations with a call to reimagine what a city planner could be in a post-zoning American city; a call that, as a former New York City planner, he is uniquely fit to make.
Aside from the content, this book deserves points for prose. Arbitrary Lines is blessedly readable. The writing flows and the varied anecdotes interspersed throughout the book make it feel less like a policy tract and more like a conversation with your favorite professor during office hours.
For those already initiated, buy the book and enjoy nodding your head and learning a couple new things. And for those trying to share the good news of land use reform, consider making Arbitrary Lines that one thing you get friends or family to read. It’s among the most accessible books on land use I’ve ever read, and it’s a great addition to the growing arcana of the YIMBY cannon.