Zoning is a common legal practice, exercised in America and other developed countries, implemented to control and appropriate land use on the grounds of certain regulations. Some guidelines specify government approved functions and utilizations of properties while others detail physical logistics pertaining to the building and maintenance of structures occupying particular land plots, such as dimensions and similar quantitative measures (Wikipedia). While zoning laws may appear relatively straightforward and even neutral on their face, a history of racial manipulation and long lasting segregation in America serves as a cautionary precursor to the uninformed or contextually removed citizen.
The facilitation and organization of suburban communities and urban societies within greater America was historically influenced and passionately fueled by a discriminatory wave of systematically categorizing neighborhoods on the basis of race, ethnicity, and class. Taking advantage of the racial panic over minority infiltration and competition that manifested as a nationwide white epidemic, realtors and other government actors installed both formal and informal housing policies and tactics including restrictive covenants, redlining, and blockbusting, to combat the integration of racial and ethnic minorities into predominantly white communities (Massey 36). Exclusionary zoning emerged as an additional method of legal combat and in its earliest stages, took the form of strict regulations on low-density and age-restricted zoning, multi-family development projects, and smallest designated plot size (Reece 20) When combined, these strategies openly, methodically, and successfully restricted racial minorities access to fair housing up until exclusionary zoning practices were challenged by a landmark Supreme Court case, Euclid v. Ambler Realty, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968, a product of the Civil Rights Movement (Wikipedia).
Though zoning restrictions don’t appear to directly target citizens based on race, their ramifications continue to adversely affect minorities of low socioeconomic class today. Fiscal zoning regulations, arguably a form of disguised exclusionary zoning, complicate and monetarily amplify the process of purchasing a home or acquiring a permit to build on existing property. These inflated development costs ultimately dictate housing prices, and therefore affordable options, for citizens wishing to live in the suburbs (Reece 20). Zoning and associated land use policies also effect quality and access to public programs as cities and towns are forced to generate financial support byway of collecting property taxes. Of course, the most profitable taxes are derived from single-family homes located on large land plots thereby creating government incentive to uphold such defining policies (Reece 20).
It is no coincidence then that Americans of low socioeconomic status reside in most, if not all, of the United States’ economically poorest neighborhoods today. Such residential regions are commonly plagued by inadequate infrastructure, unsatisfactory housing options, and steady rates of unemployment. Additionally, these communities are characterized by several detrimental factors that rarely, if ever, affect citizens of higher socioeconomic status who continue to occupy neighborhoods unparalleled in quality to those of the lower socioeconomic class. These disparities reflect disproportionately high crime rates, inferior public health conditions, substandard schooling, and strained access to opportunities that serve to neutralize such conditional inequalities and ultimately, to improve the quality of life (Reece 2). Zoning and other such land use policies continue to affect citizens of low socioeconomic status and contribute to many of the social and political issues we struggle with as a nation today, namely segregated neighborhoods, heightened racial tensions, national economic decline, and unequal opportunities and outcomes for minority citizens.
“Exclusionary Zoning.” Wikipedia. 16 Sept. 2012. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exclusionary_zoning
Massey, Douglas. American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1993.
Player, Lydia. Dealing with Government Red Tape. Digital image. North Dallas Homes. 17 Sept. 2012. http://lydiaplayer.blogspot.com/2009/01/dealing-with-government-red-tape.html
Reece, Jason. “People, Place and Opportunity: Mapping Communities of Opportunity in Connecticut.” Connecticut Fair Housing Center: 1-32.