Epstein on Land Use Regulation in Medieval Norway

Medieval Libertarians
Richard A. Epstein
August 25, 2009

Enough for the moment of current affairs! My recent trip to Norway included a tour of the Bryggen Museum--Bryggen is Norwegian for wharf--in Bergen, located on the North Sea due east of Oslo. I did not go touring in the hopes of gaining fresh insights into land-use regulation. But odd historical turns in this ancient trading city revealed a wealth of insights into the relationship between private property and land-use control that offer us useful lessons today.

The usual assumption in much current literature on land-use planning is that the complex dynamics of modern urban life require ever-heavier doses of zoning and other land-use regulation. Bergen's history shows how this gets things exactly backwards. One word--fire--tells much of the tale.

Richard A. Epstein