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Mixed-Use Zoning: An Ultimate Free Market Expression

Happy 100th birthday to Jane Jacobs, a favorite figure of many of us in the area of urban studies. Jane once said, “Intricate minglings of different uses in cities are not a form of chaos. On the contrary, they represent a complex and highly developed form of order.”

As Fargo debates the merits of mixed-use infill and appropriate density, the argument of the “free market” is often raised in opposition to the encouragement of infill. Jane Jacobs was a supporter of the free market, and understood that adding vast tracts of taxpayer-subsidized infrastructure leading to single-use zoning is the ultimate hindrance to the free real estate market.

Single-use zoning is the local government telling its citizens which parts of the city they will live, work and play in – as long as those things aren’t near each other. If a residential neighborhood has demand for a coffee shop on the corner of a block, that’s too bad, because it cannot legally be supplied – the invisible hand of the free market has been tied. Instead, those neighbors are required to get into a car and head to a commercially-zoned area of the city where it has been deemed acceptable for coffee to be sold – talk about picking winners and losers.

Jacobs complex and highly developed form of orderĀ comes from the fact that in an appropriately-dense, mixed-use neighborhood, the free market reigns. If there is demand, supply can follow. If consumer preferences change, so can building uses. People have the freedom to choose whether they’d like to walk, bike, bus or drive to meet their needs.

Happy birthday Jane, and may we as Fargoans continue to embrace intricate minglings.

Courtland Miller is a market research analyst for Kilbourne Group.

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