Why America keeps condoning its zoning

So, why did America adopt its decades-old exclusionary zoning policies and culture? Blame the central governments of the 1920s:

The leap from morality to legalism was solidified by the Euclid Supreme Court decision of 1926, which confirmed cities’ right to segregate land uses. Around that time, the American Planning Association encouraged cities to adopt zoning codes that would promote, “health, safety, morals, convenience, prosperity and the general welfare.” In other words, they had carte blanche to be as exclusive, racist, and elitist as they wanted. But whereas racism and elitism would not hold water publicly, planners came up with economic and political justifications for strict separation of uses.

And it’s not just to bolster ownership:

The United States does not have an “ownership society” so much as it has a sprawl society. The United States ranks 17th out of a survey of 26 developed countries in homeownership rates, so homeownership per se does not explain why European cities are compact and American cities are spread out. The difference lies is in whether those homes share walls with other homes. …

Zoning was originally conceived as a way of separating noxious or harmful land uses from people who might be harmed by them. Europeans enacted hierarchical zoning, in which objectionable uses were excluded and anything not explicitly excluded was permitted.

The United States takes the opposite approach. Noxious uses aren’t segregated. Instead, prized uses are the ones that are segregated. Under this “flat” zoning scheme, “urban and suburban worlds in which everything was not only in its place but was also in its own separate place.”

Read the entire review of Sonja Hirt’s book “Zoning in the USA” at Planetizen.

The suburban general store

Would our friends in Aboite or north of Dupont welcome such an idea as a general store in the neighborhood?

(W)hat if every suburban subdivision had the equivalent of a local bodega? That’s the idea behind the Suburban General Store, which would provide a central place for residents to pick up sundry items as well as recycle their bottles, drop off DVDs, and buy stamps—all within a five-minute walk.

“We began thinking about subdivisions much less as vast areas of suburbia but as towns,” says Frank Ruchala, a 31-year-old urban planner and architect. “Then we wondered whether a general store could work just as well in that context as it did in small villages a hundred years ago.”

… Under their scheme, everyday amenities would be shoehorned into an existing building such as a pool house, and an added porch would create space for socializing.

Of course, the big problem with such stores is that they’re usually illegal, thanks to zoning regulations.

But if you live in the suburbs, would a small retail establishment be handy? Would you use it? Or would you oppose it?

Photo from Allen County Photo Album

Chesterton on the modern world

“The special mark of the modern world is not that it is skeptical, but that it is dogmatic without knowing it. It says, in mockery of old devotees, that they believed without knowing why they believed.

“But the moderns believe without knowing what they believe — and without even knowing that they do believe it. Their freedom consists in first freely assuming a creed, and then freely forgetting that they are assuming it.”

— G.K. Chesterton