The importance of the city zoning in society

How the urban zoning in the cities shape the society and has created a lot of social inequities.

Through the last years and even centuries the zoning has shape society and the cities. The now more known “redlining” of the american cities is one of the biggest reasons for social inequity. For those who are less familiar with the redlining maps, I will give you a brief explanation.

In the early 20th century, many cities have a city map where they will divide the city for their uses and security. These maps where used by the banks and entities to adjust the housing market and not allowing people of color living in the nicest parts of town. The blue color was qualified as “Best” while the red was ” Hazardous”. This meant a total segregation of the city and neighborhoods. The redlining made very difficult to people of color to buy homes and increased the social gap. It is not a coincidence that the zoning maps in some cities, like Seattle, are very similar to those redlining maps. The previously red areas now are zoned largely for multifamily, commercial, and industrial uses and blue and green areas zoned for single-family.

The single family zoning means the detached home with yards in the suburb that characterizes the american dream. Besides all mentioned before, this type of housing encourage the urban sprawl which has a huge carbon footprint. We are suffering a global climate crisis and housing crisis which is changing the ways to plan the cities.

There is a big need to add density to neighborhoods because there is no more land to continue the urban sprawl. Also, the car is being displaced and the public transit is finally the solution for a lot of these problems. As a consequence, we need new mixed-use zones where the people who doesn’t own a car can have access to all the basic equipments.

The problem in Seattle and many cities is that more than the 70% of the land is single family zoning. This is being a big barrier to finish with the segregation and social inequity because it doesn’t facilitate the home ownership of people with lower or medium incomes.

The city is trying to give solutions to this problem and now in a single family zone lot, where usually there is one detached home you are able to build two additional dwelling units, one being attached and one detached. This will open a lot of possibilities to the housing market since the houses will vary in size, which will create greater communities finishing – or at least getting closer to finish – with the segregation by race or class.

Maria O'Connor


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