Zoning proponents have presented zoning as the solution to many of the “problems” confronting Houston. At a time when the nation, and indeed much of the world, is rejecting government programs as the solution, zoning advocates endorse a massive government program as the solution to problems both real and imagined.
For nearly 75 years, zoning proponents have predicted that Houston would decay into various forms of depravity without zoning. Yet, all of these predictions have proven false. This has not stopped the most recent crop of zoning advocates– they have renewed these predictions while simultaneously ignoring the evidence which damns zoning.
Zoning advocates have made many claims about the “benefits” of zoning. Yet, they can provide no examples which substantiate their claims. They cannot point to a single municipality which does not experience higher housing costs, higher taxes, higher business costs, corruption, or other negative effects as a result of zoning. All they can offer is the promise that these things won’t happen in Houston.
The challenge to zoning advocates is to prove why Houston will not suffer these same detrimental consequences. It is easy to make claims, it is another thing to prove them. It is easy to say that Houston is different from other cities, it is another thing to explain and prove why.
We agree that Houston is different from other cities, but for a reason entirely different than what zoning advocates would have us believe. We believe that the citizens of Houston have a respect for property rights, for the right to pursue values which may not be generally accepted, but which do not violate the rights of others. We believe that Houstonians value their freedom.
There is a fundamental difference between zoning advocates and our organization, not just in terms of property rights and land use controls, but also in regard to the value placed on individual human beings.
Where zoning advocates believe that individuals should be compelled to sacrifice their values to those of the community, the neighborhood, or some other collective, we believe that individuals should be free to pursue their own values without interference from others.
The debate over zoning is a debate about the future of Houston. It is a debate which must be taken seriously. It is a debate which cannot be conducted via unsubstantiated claims of cost-free benefits and ad hominem attacks on the opponents. It is a debate which must be conducted on the principles which underlie zoning, and its alternatives. A “debate” conducted on anything less is not a debate, but a negotiation of the details of the implementation of commonly accepted principles. There are no common principles between zoning and freedom.
If city officials and the media are concerned about a principled debate over this issue, then let them open their forums to the principled opponents of zoning. Let them refrain from ad hominem smears and address the principles which underlie zoning.
The challenge to the advocates of zoning is to explain why Houstonians should willingly sacrifice their property rights. The challenge to the advocates of zoning is to explain why Houstonians should reject the principles of the United States Constitution. The challenge to the advocates of zoning is to justify the use of force to compel Houstonians to accept and live by their vision of proper land use.
Other Articles in Series: In Defense of Property Rights
The Right to Property (Part 1 of 6)
Over the past fifteen years, Houstonians have witnessed nearly constant attempts to place controls on the use of private property. These efforts have taken many forms — restrictions on billboards, prohibitions on indoor smoking, the landscaping ordinance, and zoning, to name a few — and have been led by many different people.
Attacks on Property Rights (Part 2 of 6)
“We assert that each individual is a sovereign entity, that each individual has a moral right to pursue his values without interference from others.”
The Nature of Zoning (Part 3 of 6)
Under zoning, a property owner may use his property, not by right, but by permission. By ignoring the principles which underlie zoning, its advocates have blinded themselves to the destructive consequences of the ideas which they advocate.
The Effects of Zoning (Part 4 of 6)
There are principles which underlie zoning, and those principles can be used to predict the consequences of “Houston-style” zoning, “neighborhood” zoning, or any of the variations zoning advocates can concoct. Zoning, by its very nature, is a violation of property rights, and destructive to human welfare.
The Freedom to Choose (Part 5 of 6)
” The only way to objectively violate another’s rights is through the use of physical force against him and/ or his property.” “This is what “empowering the people” means: It grants non-owners of a parcel of property a voice in its use. At the same time, the rightful owner is a hostage to the demands, desires, and decisions of others.
The Challenge to Zoning Advocates (Part 6 of 6)
The challenge to the advocates of zoning is to explain why Houstonians should willingly sacrifice their property rights.
Publisher’s Note: This article was part of a 1993 pamphlet that addressed the political philosophy underlying zoning as well as the specific arguments made by the pro-zoning advocates in Houston. The pamphlet was distributed by the Houston Objectivism Society, by the Committee for Property Rights, and by other anti-zoning groups in Houston. After months of contentious debate, zoning was defeated by Houston voters in a 1993 referendum.