In urban planning, zoning is a method in which a municipality or other tier of government divides land into "zones", each of which has a set of regulations for new development that differs from other zones.


Is there a democracy where the national government can directly determine the zoning of a municipality? In Canada, the federal government cannot direct cities to modify the zoning to allow for more home construction for example. It can only create an incentive for the zoning to be done, is this the case for all major Western democracies? I am guessing some countries like North Korea and China may differ, but I am wondering if all democracies have similar laws.

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    Could I also ask what you mean by "can"? There are many countries where the legislature has the power to pass a law like "no building may have more than 3 stories" (or where the executive could create regulations to the same effect). In fact, I can't think of a unitary state which couldn't
    – origimbo
    Oct 7, 2023 at 16:58
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    You should also note that North American style city planning via strict Euclidean zoning is, well North American and by no means universal. You might want to compare planning permission in the UK, which runs at the local authority level, but is intended to follow regional development plans
    – origimbo
    Oct 7, 2023 at 17:09
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    Singapore, but that is kinda cheating
    – Jon Custer
    Oct 7, 2023 at 19:02
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    Canada isn't a good example here as it has a robust level of government at the provincial level. It would be a province/state's prerogative to do zoning in a federal system (California dropping 1 family home zoning for example). Whether or not non-federal countries exist that control zoning "from the top" is a good question however. Oct 7, 2023 at 23:06
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    @JonCuster: Singapore is not a democracy.
    – user103496
    Oct 8, 2023 at 8:19

1 Answer 1


In Japan, zoning is the responsibility of boards appointed by the national government in charge of zoning large regions, rather than being a responsibility of local governments, but it is not truly done at the national level.

When the decisions are made by local governments, they are dominated by property owners who own real estate that is already in place who want to maximize their property values. The interests of people who do not currently own property in a municipality who want to, for example, develop more affordable housing options in a way that reduces the property values of existing property owners near where the affordable housing would be built in that municipality, basically aren't considered. But, if you do zoning at a larger scale that doesn't just have political pressure on zoning officials that is dominated by local existing property owners in a municipality, you tend to get less restrictive zoning rules.

You see something similar in California where state officials have recently forced local governments to relax their zoning restrictions due to essentially the same analysis of political influences on zoning officials.

This is an important reason that Japanese real estate economics are quite different from most developed countries. Tokyo, for example, has seen far less of a surge in housing prices (and more generally real estate prices) than other major international cities.

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