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The Quiet Revolution Revived: Sustainable Design, Land Use Regulation, and the States

August 2010

Citation: ELR 10733

Author: Sara C. Bronin

In 1971, The Quiet Revolution in Land Use Control inspired numerous scholarly debates about the states' role in land use regulation. In that book, Fred Bosselman and David Callies recognized that localities have long borrowed states' police power to regulate land use. They nonetheless argued that certain land use issues, such as those involving the environment, transcended local government boundaries and competencies. A quiet revolution, the authors claimed, should occur to shift governmental authority from local governments to entities that could more adequately address "extralocal" issues. They turned not to regional authorities or the federal government, but to the states, arguing that states should take back their police power to regulate extralocal issues in a manner that maintained two core values of the quiet revolution: the preservation of the existing land use system and the respect for local autonomy.

Thirty-seven years later, their anticipated transformation has not yet occurred. Carol Rose has noted that since the quiet revolution was first heralded, state and regional governments have not limited--and in fact, may have expanded-- local discretion with respect to land use decisionmaking. In 2002, David Callies himself acknowledged that localities play an increasingly important role in, among other areas, environmental protection.

It is time, however, to revive the call of the quiet revolution for states to become more involved in regulating land use, particularly in light of growing evidence of the negative externalities of conventional construction. As written and enforced, "traditional" local land use laws such as zoning ordinances and design controls hinder efforts to build green. This Article examines this conflict and suggests reforms to our land use regulatory system that would facilitate sustainable design.

Sara C. Bronin is an associate professor at the University of Connecticut School of Law. Trained as an architect, she has researched and published in the areas of property, land use, historic preservation, green building, and renewable energy law. Her scholarship focuses on creating economically and environmentally sustainable American cities.

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