Houston has been derided for years because of its lack of zoning. Houston has been called backward, ugly, and far worse things. And recently, two national publications—Money and Kiplinger’s Personal Finance— have called Houston the best city in the nation in which to live. See L.M. Sixel’s Houston Chronicle article for more details.
Among the reasons for the ratings are our relatively stable housing market, our certainly affordable housing, and our growing economy. Interestingly, the cities that zoning advocates would have us emulate are suffering from a collapsing real estate market, exorbitantly expensive housing, and a loss of jobs.
Even a cursory examination of history or recent events demonstrates, time after time, that freedom—i.e., the absence of government coercion—results in a more stable and vibrant economy.
Some may claim that the rising price of oil is the cause for our current economic situation. At best this is naïve, and at worst intellectually dishonest.
In the mid-1980’s the Houston economy suffered when oil prices dropped. Yet, the economy quickly recovered as businesses adjusted. Houston’s housing has been among the most affordable in the nation for decades, during good times and bad in the oil patch. Houston’s economy has grown for decades, regardless of the price of oil.
The reason is freedom. Houston is arguably the freest city in the freest nation on Earth. Freedom allows individuals to pursue their values without interference from others. Freedom allows individuals to adjust to changing market conditions without seeking government permission to do so.
Advocates of land use restrictions argue that government coercion is necessary to improve our quality of life, protect our neighborhoods, and a myriad of other nebulous promises. Obviously, zoning hasn’t done such things in those cities now suffering from economic turmoil.
But Houston’s economic successes are only the practical consequences of freedom. The real justification for lack of zoning is moral—each individual has a moral right to pursue his values without interference from others, so long as he respects their mutual rights.
I have long been proud to call Houston my home. I have long called Houston the freest city in America. And now I am even more proud that my city is considered the best in the nation. It is the best city in the nation, because it is the freest.
© J. Brian Phillips 2008