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Proper Zoning Creates Growth and Vibrancy

17 December 2023

Small communities often seek tools and resources to spur economic growth and vibrancy. Many often overlook one the tools that cost them nothing and are the most vital for transformation. One powerful tool that can catalyze positive change is proper zoning. Zoning, when thoughtfully planned and implemented, can create a conducive environment for economic development, community engagement, and overall prosperity. Let’s explore how proper zoning can be a catalyst for the growth and vibrancy of small communities.


When done correctly, zoning spurs strategic land use, and the planning that considers any of the unique characteristics of a small community. By identifying key areas for residential, commercial, and industrial development, communities will foster a balanced and sustainable environment. For example, the town of Seaside in Florida strategically zoned its waterfront for mixed-use development, creating a vibrant blend of residential, retail, and recreational spaces. As a result, Seaside experienced a 94% increase in property values and became a model for successful community planning.


Zoning is often used to encourage economic diversification, helping small communities reduce dependency on a single industry. When zoning regulations permit the development of diverse businesses, it fosters a resilient local economy. The city of Chattanooga, Tennessee, strategically used zoning to attract a mix of industries, transforming from a declining manufacturing hub into a thriving innovation and technology center. By embracing diverse economic activities, Chattanooga achieved a 10% decrease in unemployment and a 15% increase in median household income.


One of the most powerful zoning strategies for promoting vibrancy is the incorporation of mixed-use development. Mixed-use development can integrate residential, commercial, and recreational spaces within the same neighborhood, fostering a sense of community and reducing the need for extensive commutes. While a larger community, Portland, Oregon’s Pearl District revitalized its urban landscape by embracing mixed-use zoning. The result was a 40% increase in population density, a surge in small businesses, and a vibrant cultural scene.


We can never overlook the crucial role in preserving the cultural heritage of small communities. Zoning regulations can be designed to protect historic districts, ensuring that unique architectural elements and cultural landmarks are preserved. For instance, Charleston, South Carolina, implemented strict zoning laws to safeguard its historic downtown area. This preservation effort not only maintained the city's charm but also became a magnet for tourism, contributing significantly to the local economy.


Zoning can be a powerful tool for creating community hubs and social spaces. Consideration for adding parks, public squares, and recreational facilities fosters social interaction and a sense of belonging. While outside the country, Bogotá, Colombia, showcases the success of this approach. By closing certain streets to vehicular traffic on Sundays and allocating them for community activities, Bogotá transformed public spaces, leading to increased community engagement, improved health, and a boost in local businesses and enhanced vibrancy.


One can never neglect the need for proper infrastructure development as it relates to zoning.  Zoning can be used to dictate where and how essential facilities are located. By strategically planning the placement of schools, healthcare facilities, and transportation hubs, small communities can enhance their overall appeal. The city of Gilbert, Arizona, embraced forward-thinking zoning to plan for infrastructure alongside residential development. This resulted in a 23% increase in population growth, attracted businesses, and improved the overall quality of life for residents.


The bottom-line is simple, proper zoning drives growth, vibrancy, and economic sustainability.  The inverse is also true, lack of strategic zoning hinders growth, stifles economic development, and contributes to a lack of vibrancy.    If you are in a community that lacks strategic zoning, you are in a community that will always have extreme difficulty spurring economic development, in fact, it will NEVER reach its potential, that is assured.  Through strategic land use planning, economic diversification, mixed-use development, cultural heritage preservation, community engagement, and infrastructure development, small communities can unleash their true potential.  As we navigate the challenges of the 21st century, empowering small communities through proper zoning becomes not only a strategic imperative but also a moral responsibility to create inclusive, resilient, and thriving societies.


John Newby is a nationally recognized Columnist, Speaker, & Publisher. He consults with Chambers, Communities, Business & Media. His “Building Main Street, not Wall Street,” column appears in 60+ newspapers and media outlets. As founder of Truly-Local, he assists chambers, communities, media, and businesses in creating synergies that build vibrant communities. He can be reached at: John@Truly-Local.org.