Ending Zoning’s Racist Legacy

Zoning Practice — January 2022

By Jennifer Raitt


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Land-use planning and zoning laws were born to wrangle the potential for human chaos. Early planners determined that separating uses and creating community order would create a new peace. That "chaos" and resulting "peace" initially meant dividing specific races and classes of people, locating multifamily dwellings away from single-family dwellings, and ensuring toxic industries were far from residential uses.

While the Supreme Court's 1917 decision in Buchanan v. Warley deemed explicit racial zoning ordinances unconstitutional, facially race-neutral zoning provisions continue to perpetuate segregation by race and income. Countering the historical failures of planning and zoning requires the profession to shift in thinking, methods, training, and practice.

This issue of Zoning Practice summarizes how exclusionary zoning practices reinforce patterns of segregation originally established by illegal racial zoning, racially restrictive covenants, and federal policies in the first half of the 20th century. And it highlights steps Boston and Louisville, Kentucky, have taken to begin to rectify these inequities through zoning reforms.


Page Count
Date Published
Jan. 1, 2022
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American Planning Association

About the Author

Jennifer Raitt
<p>Jennifer Raitt is Executive Director of the Northern Middlesex Council of Governments a regional planning agency and MPO based in Lowell, Massachusetts. She served as Director of Planning and Community Development for the Town of Arlington, MA for the past six years. She has worked with local, regional, state, and national housing, community development, and planning organizations. Her efforts have been awarded and recognized by the American Planning Association, Massachusetts Housing Partnership, Citizens&#39; Housing and Planning Association, Massachusetts Municipal Association, Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and local and regional organizations. She is a member of the APA Legislative and Policy Committee.</p>