Zoning: Emancipative or Restrictive?
In the early 1900s, leaders of West Hartford sought to implement zoning restrictions. West Hartford was a farming town with nearly as many cows as people and was hopeful of becoming a larger residential suburb for workers from the city of Hartford to escape to. (Butterworth 23). Intended or not, there were repercussions that occurred due to the Zoning Act of 1924. Today, we still see similar statistics, which leads us to believe there could be a correlation between zoning and racial segregation.
The 1924 zoning committee planned to be the first in the area to create these regulations. Robert Whitten came to Hartford by invitation from the committee and was wanted on board for his intelligence and persistence. The committee wanted zoning to create a desirable community for people leaving the city of Hartford in hope of finding peace and space. The Zoning Acts were developed in an attempt to ensure the calmness and quality size of the land. “On the economic side, zoning means increased industrial efficiency and the prevention of enormous waste. On the human side, zoning means better homes and an increase of health, comfort and happiness for all the people.” (Whitten Cover). Zoning was also used to keep the area neat, eliminate trash, and provide people with reassurance that their property would be safe and protected from a decrease in value.
What Was the Plan?
The Hartford Zoning Committee covered many aspects in regards to building restrictions in their proposal. West Hartford was to be divided into three areas: residential, business, and industrial. Each section had its own restrictions as to what was allowed. There were a lot of restrictions within the residential district. Sidewalks were to be set 20 to 40 feet back from the road in order to ensure less traffic and more parking availability. Every building area was allowed to have a garage. However, the larger the lot, the greater amount of cars was permitted. (Whitten12). There were also regulations included to avoid obstruction of view, regulate side and front yards, and unify the height of all structures.
The document specified that for a large amount of money you could live in a certain area and have the entire lot to yourself. For a lesser amount of money, you could still be in the town, but it was a smaller section and the houses were not only smaller but they were right on top of each other. Ultimately, this was an attempt to segregate the town into rich and poor. “It is recognized, however, that it would be unwise to implement any rule of this kind. It is quite likely that it limited portions of these areas provision for two family houses, group houses and even apartment houses will be economically and socially desirable.” (Whitten 14). Entirely, West Hartford was considered economically undesirable to all families who were not financially capable of purchasing under the new regulations. It deterred people from building multi-family houses and promoted the purchase of single-family pricier homes.
The Hidden Plan
Zoning may not have been the sole cause of the current wage gaps of residents in West Hartford vs. Hartford. However, it is apparent that zoning laws had an influential role in segregating people by income. Consequently, people who were left unable to afford the new property were left to settle in Hartford. Race and income are very commonly linked which meant that the poor minorities were primarily located in Hartford while the white middle class settled in West Hartford. The Zoning Act of 1924 made West Hartford a very exclusive, privileged place to live.
The Zoning Act was put in place to accommodate all classes of people/workers who were migrating from the city of Hartford. Today, if we look at a map showing racial change in Hartford, it becomes evident that the surrounding suburbs are 90-100 percent occupied by white residents. (Magic Lib 1). In an attempt for equality, the zoning laws inadvertently caused the minorities to settle in the poor city of Hartford. Hartford is filled with apartment buildings and complexes that accommodate multiple families. The suburbs lend themselves to single family homes, which allow for a higher class of residents to purchase property. In addition to a differentiation in location of races in the Hartford area, today there are also significant differences in household income when comparing Hartford and West Hartford. (Social Explorer). West Hartford’s average household income is $80,061 while Hartford’s is $29,107.
Zoning originated as a proposition for a safer, healthier, community. The commissioners, along with Robert Whitten, proposed rules and regulations that would ensure stability. Whether or not zoning directly caused racial and economic segregation is a question largely debated? What we do know is that the area of Hartford and the surrounding suburbs are not areas of equal emancipation when it comes to opportunities in life. Clearly the effects of zoning demonstrate segregation. Perhaps the question should be: “Was there a hidden agenda when zoning was implemented?”
Butterworth, Miriam, Ellsworth S. Grant, and Richard Woodworth. Celebrate! West Hartford: An Illustrated History. West Hartford, CT: Celebrate West Hartford, 2001. Print.
“Racial Change in the Hartford Region, 1900-2010” University of Connecticut Libraries Map and Geographic Information Center – MAGIC . Web. 20 Jun. <http://magic.lib.uconn.edu/otl/timeslider_racethematic.html>.
Social Explorer Tables: ACS 2007 to 2011 (5-Year Estimates) (SE), ACS 2007 — 2011 (5-Year Estimates), Social Explorer; U.S. Census Bureau
Whitten, Robert Harvey, West Hartford Zoning: Report to the Zoning Commission on the Zoning of West Hartford (West Hartford, Conn: Zoning Commission, 1924),
“Zoning Maps of West Hartford, Connecticut, 1924 to Present.” University of Connecticut Libraries Map and Geographic Information Center – MAGIC . Web. 20 Jun. 2012. <http://magic.lib.uconn.edu/otl/dualcontrol_zoning_westhartford.html>.