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Dahlman
defines zoning as a government tool to determine land use that, “restricts or
prescribes the use to which parcels of land may be put” (Dahlman, 2015). Due to
local governments, historically being averse to planning, zoning is typically
more restrictive than prescriptive, it is more commonly utilized to dictate
what cannot be done with a parcel of land. Dahlman further notes that, “most
urban experts believe that the separation of land uses has been overemphasized”
(Dahlman, 2015). New York City passed the countries first city-wide zoning laws
with the 1916 Zoning Resolution as an attempt to stop massive buildings from
blocking sunlight and airflow to the streets below, but have since expanded
across the state and country, as well as in terms of scope and application
(Erickson, 2012).

 

There
are numerous benefits of having zoning laws. Advocates believe that zoning
promotes the conservation of natural resources and energy, as well as improving
a community’s sustainability (Barnes,
2016).
Zoning can be attractive to developers, as it can lead to more efficient and
less costly construction permitting and takes out perceived unknowns in the
process (Cali, 201). Furthermore, it can protect
property values, as communities are protected from undesirable development
projects, such as landfills.  

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However,
there are many critics of zoning laws. The first of these criticisms is that
zoning laws infringes on the constitutional right of protection from the
regulatory seizing or restriction of property (Kahlenberg, 2017). Another
criticism is that zoning is merely a tool to promote social and economic
segregation through exclusion. This criticism can be seen with the first
experiment with zoning in San Francisco in 1885 (Erickson, 2012). During this time,
the city banned public laundries from most areas, which were primarily run by
Chinese immigrants. While the law was invalidated by the Supreme Court in 1886,
this clearly exemplifies how zoning can be used as a tool of segregation and
racism (Erickson, 2012).

 

In
1916, only eight U.S. cities has implemented various degrees of zoning laws,
but by 1936 that number had grown to 1,246. Critics further argue that by
utilizing “exclusionary zoning,” and the policy that require neighborhoods to
consist wholly of single-family homes perpetuated systematic segregation
(Kahlenberg, 2017). In the Supreme Court case of Euclid v. Ambler, this policy
was upheld citing that an apartment house could be, “a mere parasite” (Quick,
2017).

 

Recent
studies have found a direct correlation between the wealth and density of a
city and the severity of its zoning laws, with the Northeast having some of the
strictest exclusionary zoning in the country (Kahlenberg, 2017). In Freedom in
the 50 states, released by the Mercatus Center in 2013, states were ranked
according the “Property Rights Protection.” The least free states were New
Jersey, Maryland, California, New York, and Hawaii (Quick, 2017).

 

Like
any policy or law, the benefit of zoning depends wholly on its application. In
the best-case scenario, zoning helps cities with future development planning
and ensures marketplace predictability (Barnes, 2016). It is also a critical tool for protecting natural resources
as well as property values. However, zoning has also been misused to encourage
segregation through exclusionary policies.

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