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Lay of the Land 2003: A National Survey of Zoning Reform

In 1999, the Metropolitan Planning Council conducted research for the City of Chicago on the zoning rewrite process in 50 major U.S. cities. Chicago was about to embark on a daunting and historic effort to rewrite its zoning code and planned to use MPC’s research to inform its process. The purpose of the research effort was to ascertain how other cities approached zoning reform. Lay of the Land: A National Survey of Zoning Reform was published by MPC in September 1999. It highlighted zoning processes in 10 of the 50 cities: Boston; Detroit; Milwaukee; Minneapolis; New York; Pittsburgh; San Diego; San Jose, Calif.; Seattle; and Tucson.

In June 2000, Chicago embarked on this comprehensive zoning reform process. The mapping portion, which will identify where new zoning rules apply, takes place after the new text is adopted. As the text portion of the rewrite was nearing completion in Chicago, MPC began to investigate how other major cities tackled remapping, the critical next phase of a zoning rewrite effort. MPC contacted the same cities surveyed for the 1999 report to track their progress on zoning reform. Cincinnati, Oh. and New Orleans, La. were included because each had completed a rewrite process since the publication of Lay of the Land.

This research focuses exclusively on the mapping process: level of citizen participation and lessons learned in the zoning rewrite process for each city. The research is based on surveys conducted with city planners, neighborhood leaders and consultants from the selected cities. Certain cities included in the first report (Detroit, Honolulu and Tucson) are not reviewed here because of a lack of substantial change since the 1999 report. Research was conducted beginning in September 2002 through June 2003. The purpose of the second report is to help Chicago and other cities make informed decisions about remapping and public participation by learning from the zoning reform efforts of other municipalities.

Table of Contents

For a downloadable version of the report, click here.


We are deeply grateful to the following funders who supported the work on which this report is based:

Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity
Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts
Steans Family Foundation
Woods Fund of Chicago