Why Zoning Matters

Zoning laws determine what can be built where

There are different classifications of zoning, such as residential, agricultural, commercial, industrial, mixed-use, and so on. Zoning is beneficial because it helps cities develop with intention, and prevent things like chemical plants from moving into residential neighborhoods.

Though zoning is often thought of as boring and technical, it has a tremendous impact on housing affordability, housing segregation, gentrification, traffic and public transportation, climate change, economic vitality, and even inequality in public education. 

Currently, our zoning code allows only single-family homes on roughly 83% of residential land—which raises housing cost by reducing growth in our housing supply and banning everything but the most expensive type of housing in the majority of the city.

Single-family zoning first became widespread in the United States after the Supreme Court banned racially exclusionary zoning—the idea being that if white neighborhoods couldn’t explicitly prohibit people of color from moving in, they could make it too expensive by banning more affordable kinds of housing. This achieved its goal, and even today, cities that have the highest proportions of single-family zoning are the ones that are most segregated by race and class.

Single-family zoning contributes to gentrification, by forcing much of our new development into non-single-family areas, causing rapid increases in housing prices in what are typically low-income and historically marginalized communities.

Mary and Peter have lived in the Mill St Neighborhood for decades. But now they are worried they could lose their neighbors or their home as housing costs rise precipitously in their neighborhood.

It also drives urban sprawl, by pushing a lot of new housing to the outer edges of the city, increasing the distances people have to drive, which worsens traffic and makes it harder to develop effective public transportation. This dynamic increases our overall carbon emissions and decreases our air quality, making life worse for people in Colorado Springs and all over the world.

Luckily, the city is undergoing a comprehensive revision of the current zoning code, giving us a huge opportunity to make positive change. Check out the RetoolCOS Process page to learn about what’s going on and how you can get involved.

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