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A Better Way to Zone: Ten Principles to Create More Livable Cities Paperback – March 15, 2008

ISBN-13: 978-1597261814 ISBN-10: 1597261815 Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Island Press; 1 edition (March 15, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1597261815
  • ISBN-13: 978-1597261814
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #180,347 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"Sometimes you find a book that you wish you could give to everyone you work with. A Better Way to Zone is such a book. It is a must-read for every professional planner, planning student, planning commissioner and city councilperson. This book clearly explains how we got to where we are today and provides a roadmap to the future of land use regulation. Mr. Elliot brings together his broad knowledge of planning law and an international perspective to provide us with a unique insight to our future."
(Frank Gray Frank Gray, Planning Director, City of Scottsdale)

"Author Don Elliott was very involved in the planning of the Gateway project in Denver. He used this experience to formulate a plan for reforming the American zoning system to make it more responsive to the needs of citizens, and to build more sustainable cities. Throughout the book, he retraces the history, legal context, and development of our current Euclidean zoning system. Zoning is clearly explained in very readable language and exposed for its misconceptions, and Elliott makes a clear case for an overhaul of our zoning laws. He lays out a five-step plan based on ten principles of reform that will transform the way towns and neighborhoods are developed throughout the country."
(City Matters Bulletin)

"Urban zoning has become too strict with too many rules—and something has got to change, according to Donald Elliott. He's been a zoning and land-use consultant for 24 years, and works for Clarion Associates in Denver as an attorney and consultant.In Elliott's recently published book, A Better Way to Zone: Ten Principles to Create More Livable Cities he outlines how he thinks the rules should change."
(Denver Business Journal)

"Elliott's concise accounts of the origins and logic of most cities' 'Euclidean Hybrid Zoning' would serve as a good primer on the subject for students or citizens new to the field...I think the mantra about simplicity is the most important part of the book, and completely agree with Elliott that 'the more the public knows, the better they can participate at the policy- and rule-making level.' Let's hope his call for simplicity and transparency is heeded."
(Rob Goodspeed Goodspeed Update)

"A Better Way to Zone just may be the best book on planning and zoning since The Zoning Game was published in 1966. Elliott's analysis of the politics, economics, law, techniques, and process of land development and zoning in America today is informed by his nationally distinguished career as a planner and attorney in the trenches of modern zoning. The book's final chapters should be required reading for anyone who believes that zoning should actually be about the 'general welfare.' A highly readable, informative, and insightful book—it is a remarkable contribution to this field."
(Edward H. Ziegler Professor of law, University of Denver)

About the Author

Donald L. Elliott is an attorney and city planner with extensive experience in real estate and land use planning. He is a senior consultant in the Denver, Colorado, office of Clarion Associates, a national land-use and real estate consulting firm. Elliott is a Fellow of the American Institute of Certified Planners and a former project director for downtown and Gateway zoning for the City and County of Denver.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Michael Lewyn VINE VOICE on February 8, 2009
Format: Paperback
This book analyzes existing zoning codes, and proposes a few ways to make those codes simpler and more predictable. Unlike environmentalist and libertarian critics of zoning, Elliott does not propose a specific vision of urban form, nor does he wish to radically deregulate land use. Rather, he assumes that such radical reforms are unlikely, and seeks to make the status quo less complex and frustrating.

For example:

*Elliott criticizes out-of-control use regulation. When zoning was born in the 1920s, cities were divided into a few major zones: residential, commercial, industrial, etc. But large buildings in each of these categories often have more of an impact upon neighbors than smaller commercial buildings, and different types of commercial and industrial uses have different effects upon neighbors. As a result, landowners and their neighbors started requesting uses "like the status quo, but a little different" causing the number of zones to multiply. What's wrong with that? As zoning gets more complex, the amount of money and time required to administer zoning has grown.

Elliott's solution: divide zones uses into three major categories: single-family residential, mixed-use, and special purpose districts for unusual uses that don't fit well with other uses (such as airports). Single-family residential zones are necessary because that's what buyers want- even in pedestrian-friendy "new urbanist" developments, most houses are in blocks surrounded by houses, even if commercial zones are within walking distance. Mixed-use zones make sense because generally, multifamily housing fits together with commerce, and the line between commercial and light industrial activity is often so blurry that there is no reason for separate one from the other.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Mahoney on December 7, 2009
Format: Paperback
Traditionally, both the law and city planning professions have a reputation for communicating in rather technical language that the layman often struggles to understand. City zoning ordinances, which have developed at the intersection of these two professions, offer a case in point. In his 2008 book, "A Better Way to Zone," author Donald L. Elliott acknowledges as much in his very first two sentences. "Zoning is not a sexy topic," he writes. "No one - except people like me - reads zoning ordinances, because they are boring" (Elliott, 1).

Yet, Elliott - despite his background as both a lawyer and city planner - manages in "A Better Way to Zone" to make government land use regulations comprehensible to any city resident. The author's passion for the "filters that determine what gets built on private land" produced a thoughtful, well-organized analysis that takes great care to explain the variables that have given rise to current zoning codes (Elliott, 2). Herein lies the book's greatest strength. Elliott resists the temptation to merely deliver a zoning prescription that reflects his own preferences for how cities should look and what they should offer. In fact, he ultimately makes suggestions only about how the zoning process needs to change; not what the ideal zoning code would allow or prohibit. Rather, Elliott devotes most of his time to deconstructing the current zoning system to expose the assumptions, market forces, political processes, and legal framework that comprise the system's foundation.

The author's methodology isolates the individual roles that different stakeholders play in this important aspect of city planning, enabling the reader to relate more easily to an otherwise obscure process.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Planner, Book Lover on May 22, 2009
Format: Paperback
Most land use books focus on urban design (e.g., Is it better to have 15' wide roads or 25' wide roads?), but this one focuses on the politics and the process. Getting to good design brought with back room deals and/or activist protests over years of permitting is an unsustainable model of growth. I cannot praise A Better Way to Zone enough for finally addressing the issue of governance. This book lays out how land use decisions are made and why, and how cities (and citizens) can do a better job of shaping the built environment through good governance. Please give it to everyone you know in local government, the building trades, and especially planners and land use activists.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Pierre Gauthier on June 30, 2009
Format: Paperback
The author begins with an interesting history of zoning and a pertinent critique of its application over the past 90 years.

He then introduces 10 pragmatic principles to improve the situation and make zoning tools match current urban concerns.

The approach is definitely evolutionary and not revolutionary.

Many practitioners who delve daily in zoning matters will consider this extremely useful.
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