Zoning Minimalism

Zoning Practice — December 2021

By Norman Wright, AICP


ZP subscriber
List price
Sign In & Download

Not a member but want to buy a copy? You'll need to create a free My APA account to purchase. Create account

"Less, but better" is a time-tested principle of great design. While zoning ordinances are a product of design, they rarely adhere to this principle. Every practitioner has a sense that some rules are more effective than others. It begs the question: What is the most important rule in your zoning ordinance?

This question often provokes answers that focus on the relationships between the public and private realm, where street frontages, street types, and building placements determine so much of the eventual form and function. When we regulate these elements effectively, we achieve something akin to 90 percent of the urbanism we want with less than 10 percent of the regulations we administer.

This issue of Zoning Practice makes a case for why a minimalist approach to zoning may be necessary to achieve our core aims. It proposes five simple rules that could constitute the basis of an effective zoning code and demonstrates how these rules might work in practice.


Page Count
Date Published
Dec. 1, 2021
Adobe PDF
American Planning Association

About the Author

Norman Wright, AICP
Norman Wright is the founder and principal at Parameter, a consulting firm dedicated to improving local government. From 2005 to 2022, he served as a local government executive over-seeing planning, development, and many public services in cities and counties in Oregon, Colo-rado, Tennessee, and South Carolina. He holds a master’s degree in city and regional planning from Clemson University and is a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners.