As the only major U.S. city without formal zoning, Houston has a reputation as a freewheeling place where anything goes. But in truth, a complex patchwork of public and private regulation has evolved to impose order.
In Houston, the lone major city in the United States that never has enacted zoning, the actual landscape hardly matches a dire hypothetical scenario. “If you drive around Houston after you’ve been to other major cities, you’ll find that, in many ways, we look very similar,” says Patrick Walsh, the city’s planning director. “We have commercial corridors with a lot of activity and a mix of uses; residential neighborhoods that are distinct and fairly uniform.”