Urban Land-Use Regulation: Are Homevoters Overtaking the Growth Machine?


  • The authors thank participants in the Wolf Family Lecture Series at the University of Florida Levin College of Law, the Norman Williams Distinguished Lecture in Land Use Planning and the Law at the Vermont Law School, the Boxer Family Chair Lecture at New York University School of Law, the 2011 Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management Conference, the 2012 Property Works in Progress Conference, the 2010 American Law and Economics Conference, the New York University School of Law Colloquium on the Law, Economics and Politics of Urban Affairs, and the Furman Center Brown Bag Lunch Series. We also are grateful for comments from Ted Eisenberg, William Fischel, Richard Revesz, and two anonymous referees. We are indebted to an incredible group of current and former research assistants: Sean Capperis, Brice Chaney, Adam Eckstein, Tyler Jaeckel, Ira Klein, Jeff Leyco, Aaron Love, Marshall Morales, Gabriel Panek, Jennifer Perrone, Clint Wallace, Ben Winter, and Courtney Wolf. We benefitted enormously from the expertise and wisdom of our Advisory Group: Lenny Boxer, Donald Elliott, Michael Kwartler, Jay Furman, Alex Garvin, Mark Ginsberg, Marvin Meltzer, Ross Moskowitz, James Power, Carol Rosenthal, and others who prefer to remain anonymous. Professor Been is grateful for the support provided by the Filomen D'Agostino and Max E. Greenberg Research Account. Although this research was conducted by faculty and staff of the Furman Center, which is affiliated with NYU's School of Law and Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, it does not purport to present the institutional views (if any) of NYU or any of its schools.


The leading theory about urban land-use regulation argues that city zoning officials are full partners in the business and real estate elite's “growth machine.” Suburban land-use officials, in contrast, are thought to cater to the interests of the majority of their electorate—“homevoters.” A unique database regarding over 200,000 lots that the New York City Planning Commission considered for rezoning between 2002 and 2009 allows us to test various hypotheses suggested by these competing theories of land-use regulation. Our analysis reveals that homevoters are more powerful in urban politics than scholars, policymakers, and judges have assumed.