Civic Innovations

Technology, Government Innovation, and Open Data

Revisiting “Density and Destiny”

I wrote this blog post almost 8 years ago on the impact of local zoning regulations on income inequity and racial segregation. Looking at it now, I think I got a critical piece of it wrong.

In this post, I make the argument that local zoning rules – an important factor affecting economic mobility – are often not understood well and governed by little understood bodies of local officials. I argued for members of the civic tech community to become more aware and more involved in local elections, to influence how those bodies worked.

In the time since I wrote this, the problems caused by exclusionary zoning rules as gotten dramatically worse – the affordable housing issue in New York State has now reached crisis levels. It seems pretty clear that any process which affords individual municipalities the ability to deny approval to build new housing (particularly housing with an affordability component) won’t fix the problem.

Governor Kathy Hochul has proposed new rules that would allow the state to approve proposals for new housing unless local governments could show clear health or safety issues. It would set specific growth targets that local government must meet. In essence, it addresses the one thing that has made the current process so dysfunctional – it removes the ability of local governments to simply say because a proposed development affects the “character” of the local community.

Delegating the power of deciding who gets to live where solely to local zoning boards doesn’t work. The Governor’s proposal makes sense, and I sincerely hope she can get it through the State Legislature.

The future of New York depends in it.

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About Me

I am the former Chief Data Officer for the City of Philadelphia. I also served as Director of Government Relations at Code for America, and as Director of the State of Delaware’s Government Information Center. For about six years, I served in the General Services Administration’s Technology Transformation Services (TTS), and helped pioneer their work with state and local governments. I also led platform evangelism efforts for TTS’ cloud platform, which supports over 30 critical federal agency systems.

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