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Kendall Sq., Cambridge, MA Upzoning
Upzoning, in present usage, means changing the zoning of a land area to more intensive, mixed, and/or higher-density use. For example, from "single-family" zoning allowing just one unit per land lot, to a designation allowing a 4-unit building on the same lot.

In earlier times, especially prior to 1970, "upzoning" commonly meant the opposite: rezoning land to more restrictive and particularly residential uses. Fischel [2015] suggests that this came from the metaphor of the land-use pyramid, with restricted residential use at the top of the pyramid of uses.



"in 1999, Houston enacted sweeping land-use reforms: it decreased the minimum residential lot size from 5,000 square feet to 1,400 in close-in neighborhoods. In effect, this reform legalized townhouses in areas with suburban-style houses on huge lots. Two or three houses could now take the spot of one.

"The political significance of these reforms cannot be overstated. Single family zoning is somewhat of a third rail in American local politics; it’s exceptionally rare for residents of suburban-style neighborhoods to allow denser development. Urbanist commentators have noted that “missing middle” housing — forms like duplexes and small multifamily apartments — has been regulated away in most American cities. Houston represents an important dissent from the notion that single family neighborhoods are to be preserved at all costs.

"The results of these reforms have been remarkable. Areas that were once made up entirely of ranch-style houses, McMansions, and underused lots are now covered in townhouses."
- [Ricci 2016]. 

townhouses in Houston's formerly single-family Rice Military neighborhood




Seattle Mayor Ed Murray has put forward plans (2017) for upzoning (in this context, allowing for taller and larger buildings) in certain designated zones in the city's downtown, South Lake Union and University districts as part of his Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) program. The taller, larger buildings (and connected tear-downs) would be allowed for areas supported by good transit and designated as "urban centers" and "urban villages." It would not touch single-family neighborhoods. The upzoning would go hand in hand with rent-regulated units being included in the new developments or developers' fees paid towards building affordable housing.


In Austin, Texas the conversation around "upzoning," particularly for opponents of the CodeNEXT land development codes of residential structures and developments that could take place while maintaining a "standard neighborhood look."

New York City

With plans for a Metro-North station on the horizon for Parkchester, Bronx (2017), Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. has spoken of "upzoning" Parkchester and two other Bronx neighborhoods slated for train stations. 

“I think that we would be remiss if we didn’t look at the area as a potential way where we can increase density, residential units as well as commercial and real estate spaces. These areas are just ripe for that,” Diaz said.

The tenure of Mayor Michael Bloomberg (2002-2013) saw a lot of upzoning in New York City. That has continued under Mayor Bill DeBlasio (took office in 2014)  who has also put a focus on affordable housing requirements and inclusionary zoning.

San Francisco 

see main article: Upzoning (SanFrancisco)

London YIMBY proposal for local upzoning