Monday, August 2, 2010

What is Zoning?

Zoning is a method used by cities to regulate growth. The broadest form of zoning divides up land generally into residential, commercial, and industrial uses.   But usually, cities break down their zoning into details so fine, they can regulate the size of the lots, the height of the building, the density of residents, you name it.

Zoning began in Europe in the 1870s as part of more comprehensive land planning.  The U.S. started to adopt zoning ordinances in the 1920's and by the end of the decade 60% of all cities had such an ordinance.  San Antonio, wishing to stay up with the times, began to think about zoning in 1923.  According to the
San Antonio Remembers Blog on January 18, 1923

Local real estate men are planning to have a city ordinance adopted which will divide the city into definite business, industrial, wholesale and residential districts.
Many times, zoning was used to set aside more desirable property for wealthy residential neighborhoods, if the uses were separated then a wealthy land owner with a large house would never have to worry about a Mom and Pop store being built next door.  Land uses became very segregated.  Funny thing is, zoning was actually used in the south to ensure racial segregation.
The first to pass an ordinance zoning a city into white and black residential areas was Louisville. The Supreme Court struck this one down (Buchanan vs. Warley, 1917) though not for any of the reasons that would seem obvious to us today. The justices found the ordinance violated the Fourteenth Amendment, by depriving sellers of property of the right to select their buyers.
This is somewhat ironic because the Fourteenth Amendment was one of the amendments put into the Constitution after the civil war to end slavery.

In San Antonio it was done more subtly by zoning less desirable land (near industrial uses or unattractive property) on the east side and west side for higher density (apartments or single family houses on very small lots) and for very low density on the north side (think Alamo Heights.)  This not only segregates people by race but also by class, and is still practiced to some degree today.

Many traditional African American neighborhoods throughout the south suffer from high pollution levels due to zoning.  In the 1920s zoning was considered scientific.

Washington got its zoning plan past the courts in the 1920's with the help of a local doctor who testified that flies from grocery stores might bring disease to children, and therefore by no means must shops be allowed to locate near homes.
So the children of upper class families were normally protected from dangerous uses, while lower class families had to settle for what they could afford.

In my next post I'm going to talk about how zoning changed the ways people conducted business in cities.

No comments:

Post a Comment