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Excerpted From: Jonathan Rosenbloom, Reducing Racial Bias Embedded in Land Use Codes, 26 City Law 49 (2020) (Full Document)

Even though the Supreme Court struck down race-based land use controls over a hundred years ago in Jonathan RosenbloomBuchanan v. Warley, 245 U.S. 60 (1917) it has long been known that zoning continues to create or increase racial and economic segregation. Today communities across the U.S. are reexamining their zoning regulations to create more equal, equitable, inclusive, and resilient communities by removing requirements, limitations, or prohibitions that disproportionately and negatively impact individuals based on race or class.

This article surveys twenty-three recommendations communities can implement to help address racial and class-based injustice. The recommendations are not all-encompassing. They focus specifically on common “neutral” land use provisions. These are provisions that do not mention race, but nonetheless may have widespread deleterious effects based on race or class.

Not every recommendation is applicable to every community, and many communities have acted on some of these recommended areas. New York City, for example, has been addressing several of these issues. The purpose of listing the recommendations is to bring them together in a single list and to provide a starting point to view zoning as a positive force for inclusion and racial justice.

The recommendations are categorized in five groups: increasing homeownership and security, accommodating diversity of employment opportunities, increasing food security and sovereignty, increasing pedestrian mobility and safety, and increasing inclusion in land use processes.

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The examples in this article were taken from the Sustainable Development Code. The Sustainable Development Code,, provides a free and searchable website containing best practices to increase sustainability across the development code and development process. The Sustainable Development Code was developed by an interdisciplinary group of practitioners and academics from across the U.S. The Sustainable Development Code supports its recommendations with 6-10 examples of enacted ordinances, and is divided into 32 chapters, which correspond to 32 areas of sustainability that are implicated in local development. Chapters cover topics including food security and sovereignty, climate change, affordable housing, and health and safety.

According to the U.S. Census, there are approximately 39,000 local governments in the U.S. Each faces uncertainty brought about by Covid-19, decreasing revenues, flooding, heat waves, wildfires, droughts, biodiversity loss, rapid population increases or decreases, and, most relevant to this article, racial and class-based injustice. Many local codes--written decades ago--exacerbate or, at times, encourage systemic inequalities and climate and spatial justice concerns, particularly in formerly redlined areas. Many local governments do not have the resources or finances to adapt to this uncertainty as it arises. The Sustainable Development Code is designed to fill this gap. It seeks to help disentangle zoning codes from having unsustainable impacts and inequitable treatment.

Jonathan Rosenbloom is a Professor of Law at Vermont Law School.

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