I've been reading Don't Call It Sprawl: Metropolitan Structure in the 21st Century by economist William Bogart. Despite its title, it's not really another ideological entry in the sprawl debate. He uses techniques from trade theory to analyze zoning's impacts.
His basic point is this: A city's neighborhoods trade with one another just like countries do. The typical downtown imports labor and buildings, and exports, say, financial and legal services. A bedroom community exports labor and imports services.
One of the effects of open trade is to encourage specialization by creating larger markets for services. The larger markets make it feasible to offer more diverse services. This is why big cities offer lots of diversity and small towns don't. It's also why you find furniture stores clumped with other furniture stores: an area that specializes in furniture "exports" can support a bunch of specialized niche stores.
"Binding" zoning acts like a tariff on the import of labor and the factors of production -- mainly buildings. (Zoning is binding when (1) someone wants to build something that the zoning won't allow; and (2) the city won't change the zoning to allow it.) By limiting the import of people and buildings, zoning limits a neighborhood's exports of goods and services. In many ways, binding zoning acts like a tariff on exports.
Restricting exports from one neighborhood to the rest of the city is not costless. Trade is inevitably shifted elsewhere -- perhaps to a place with fewer natural advantages. And it stunts the economies of scale that permit a rich offering of goods and services.
Another way of thinking about it is this: Unless we want the city to be merely a collection of small towns, we need neighborhood commercial centers that serve the entire city. This is the only way to get the specialization that makes a city more attractive (to some) than living in a small town.
Reading this book of course made me think of Northcross. Despite RG4N's claims, the Northcross area is not "neighborhood" retail. One day while waiting on a delayed flight, I totaled up the commercial and retail square footage in the Anderson/Burnet/Steck area. I got nearly 2 million square feet without even counting all the little stuff. This area is one of the city's main commercial and retail centers.
It is also the principle "exporter" of furniture to the rest of the city. There are lots of small, specialty furniture stores in the area that would not exist without the Northcross area's agglomeration of furniture stores and other retail. RG4N is effectively asking the City to impose export restrictions on this important trading center. (What distinguishes this from most zoning cases is that RG4N is asking to impose new trade restrictions; usually, the neighbors are fighting the relaxation of existing trade restrictions.)
The trade perspective points up the conflict inherent in most zoning disputes. If we consistently give in whenever local residents demand restrictions on trade, we cripple the diversity that makes the city a real city.