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.
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
I’ve been reading “Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream,” and have been appreciating the authors’ analysis of suburban planning. Who knows if I’ll agree with their solutions.
Here are some quotes from the beginning of the book:
Since each piece of suburbia serves only one type of activity, and since daily life involves a wide variety of activities, the residents of suburbia spend an unprecedented amount of time and money moving from one place to the next.
Why the country’s planners were so uniformly convinced of the efficacy of zoning — the segregation of the different aspects of daily life — is a story that dates back to the previous century and the first victory of the planning profession. At that time, Europe’s industrialized cities were shrouded in the smoke of Blake’s “dark, satanic mills.” City planners wisely advocated the separation of such factories from residential areas, with dramatic results. … This segregation, once applied only to incompatible uses, is now applied to every use.
The problem with suburbia is that, in spite of all its regulatory controls, it is not functional: it simply does not efficiently serve society or preserve the environment.
So far, I can recommend the book. It’s certainly written at a reasonable level for the interested layman.
Photo by Millicent Bystander on Flickr
Are suburbs the new slum?
Great article at theatlantic.com. Especially page three, where the author predicts the future.
For 60 years, Americans have pushed steadily into the suburbs, transforming the landscape and (until recently) leaving cities behind. But today the pendulum is swinging back toward urban living, and there are many reasons to believe this swing will continue. As it does, many low-density suburbs and McMansion subdivisions, including some that are lovely and affluent today, may become what inner cities became in the 1960s and ’70s—slums characterized by poverty, crime, and decay.
Despite this glum forecast for many swaths of suburbia, we should not lose sight of the bigger picture—the shift that’s under way toward walkable urban living is a healthy development. In the most literal sense, it may lead to better personal health and a slimmer population. The environment, of course, will also benefit: if New York City were its own state, it would be the most energy-efficient state in the union; most Manhattanites not only walk or take public transit to get around, they unintentionally share heat with their upstairs neighbors.
photo by evetsggod on flickr
Triple Pundit gives its view on the “sub-prime meltdown,” and it says it’s simply too many people buying too much house with too little money. Look at the areas hardest hit by the sub-prime collapse:
“Subdivisions built on the edges of urban areas where once arable land is bulldozed to make way for over-sized, energy-intensive houses, with landscaping consisting (of) grassy yards adorned with non-native species of trees and shrubs, the whole lot of it out of character with the natural surroundings and located so that most residents are forced to drive miles and miles to get to work, for too often there is no public transportation available.”
As they commented over at TreeHugger:
“Houses that need too much energy to heat or cool, too much gas to get to, and too much money to pay for. No wonder people are walking away.”
What lessons do the sub-prime collapse teach us? Is it too simple to say that this proves that lust really is a deadly sin after all?
Related: Atlantic Monthly’s article “There Goes The Neighborhood.” Hat tip: The Next American City blog. Photo by t taudigani via stock.xchng.