Wednesday, 21 June 2006

Zoning and 'Smart Growth': The New Segregation?

Is zoning and urban planning racist? Are environmentalists guilty of racial injustice? Are planners the new segregationists? Randal O'Toole of the Thoreau Institute has this to say:
In 2002 the National Center for Public Policy Research put out a report calling smart growth (the current urban planning fad) "The New Segregation." The report, written by Portland economist Randall Pozdena, estimated that if all U.S. cities had Portland-style planning, more than a million families would not have been able to purchase their first homes in the last decade. [That report is presently being downloaded at the rate of four-hundred per week.]

In 1999, an Oregon planning group called Coalition for a Livable Future (closely associated with 1000 Friends of Oregon) did a study documenting how high housing prices had caused the dispersal of Portland's African-American population from the historically black neighborhoods of North and Northeast Portland to the suburbs. The report indicated this was a bad thing (more integration is bad?) but failed to acknowledge that the same land-use policies that the group
was supporting was causing housing prices to go up. The report, "Displacement: The Dismantling of a Community," is no longer available on line [but can be purchased here].

What is really happening, of course, is that poor black families are displaced from rental housing (often single-family homes) into section 8 housing (usually apartments built in response to subsidies for "New Urban" high-density housing) elsewhere in the region. The families may lose easy access to churches, community centers, and other support services, although I haven't seen this documented.

Nationally, nearly three out of four white families own their own homes while less than half of black and Hispanic families do. (You can download state-by-state and metro-area-by-metro-area figures from here.) Since 95 percent of the country is rural open space, it seems like people who regard themselves as "progressive" should be more interested in boosting minority homeownership rates than saving open space.
"Is is fair to blame these attitudes on environmentalists?" asks O'Toole. "I blame them,' he concludes, "on urban planners." Urban planners whose policies are strangling land use, and as a result are making housing even more unaffordable for first-home buyers than it would otherwise need to be.

LINKS: The New Segregation - US National Center for Public Policy Research, [PDF report, 2002]
How Smart Growth makes housing unaffordable - American Dream Coalition [PDF download]

TAGS: Racism, Urban_Design


  1. PC do you hold the same view as to school zoning ? My opinion is that there must be some restriction on out of zone school enrollment. If not, there will be problems with the explosion of numbers, in which resources are scarce to deal with such huge influx. You probably know, that most parents in South Auckland want to enrol their sons at Auckland Grammar? If school zoning is allowed then no one will ever enrol at Otahuhu college, Hillary college , etc.

    I am sure you remember, that my friend was talking to you about, if his son can use your Castle, Epsom address for his boy's application to Auckland Grammar, because his boy is out of zone (Onehunga). So , I believe that there must be some restriction in school zoning.

  2. This isn't an urban planning issue, it's a simple growth issue. Minorities don't get pushed out of urban areas because of smart growth, they get pushed out because there's growth, period. As a population grows (especially in a mid-size city such as Portland), there's going to be an increasing number of affluent (i.e., white) residents who want to live centrally. They buy up property in centrally located areas, tear down and remodel, and push up home values and property taxes, thereby pushing out poorer residents. That's gentrification, and it's been around forever.

  3. Also, smart growth policies aren't designed to preserve open space. They're designed to actually increase density, which Portland has done. Likewise, they don't necessarily push out rental property; they encourage mixed housing. Now, one could argue that Portland's urban planning has indirectly increased housing prices by making Portland an extremely desirable place to live. But really, that's the primary reason that housing prices are so high in Portland...a lot of people want to live there.

  4. I guess the overarching point, Shannon, is that housing in Portland and other cities that have adopted Smart Growth policies are more unaffordable in terms of average income than are other comparable, and equally desirable cities.

    The land strangulation effected by Smart Growth's forced compaction of cities -- one reason given for which is that it 'preserves open space around cities' -- raises land prices far beyond what they would otherwise be. This is exactly as you'd expect from a set of policies that restrict supply. If you restrict supply in a market in which demand is high ... well , you know the result as well as I do. The effect in this case is that cities with explicit policies restricting supply have put that 'first house' further beyond reach for low-income earners than it would otherwise be.

    This is an urban planning issue, because the urban planning regime in place in a city has a drastic effect on how a city is allowed to grow. The recent Demographia report on housing affordability pointed this out. I blogged it here and here. The 'American Dream Coalition' report makes exactly the same points.


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