Zoning’s New Role in Environmental Justice

Long used to promote inequality, zoning and land use are now helping to keep vulnerable communities safer and cleaner.

1 minute read

May 13, 2019, 8:00 AM PDT

By Camille Fink


Urban Pollution

Erik Jaeger / Flickr

Nicole Javorsky writes about a new report from the Tisch Environment and Design Center at The New School that looks at how local zoning and land use policies are promoting environmental justice. Historically, municipalities used these planning tools to perpetuate segregation and force low-income communities and communities of color to bear the burdens of polluting facilities and industries.

But, in cities across the country, zoning and land use regulations are now keeping hazards out of neighborhoods, providing the impetus for environmental justice programs, encouraging an environmental justice lens as part of the environmental review process, and bringing environmental justice considerations into comprehensive planning.

While many examples affect future projects, existing land uses are also the target of this strategy, says Javorsky:

For example, National City [in California] grappled for a long time with “an excess of polluting industries due to mixed-use industrial and residential zoning,” according to the report. Now, National City has an amortization ordinance, which phases out industries near sensitive areas and includes a process for relocating businesses.

The report also points out that local governments are most often responsible for the decisions about where to site hazardous facilities and inaction at the state and federal levels has helped drive local environmental justice efforts.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019 in CityLab

Aerial view of homes on beach in Maui, Hawaii

Hawaii Passes First Legislation Regulating Short-Term Rentals Statewide

The new law will give counties the power to limit number or short-term rentals and convert existing short-term rental units back into long-term residential housing.

May 13, 2024 - USA Today

Google office building in Virginia.

Virginia Data Centers Draining State’s Water Supply

Being the world’s largest data center hub is having a severe impact on local water resources.

May 9, 2024 - Grist

Entrance to a drive-through car wash at night with green 'Enter' sign.

Ohio Towns Move to Ban New Car Washes

City officials in northeast Ohio are putting limits on how many car wash facilities can open in their towns.

May 16, 2024 - News 5 Cleveland

Blue electric bus labeled with 'All-Electric Bus Wind Powered by PGE' in white in Tigard, Oregon.

TriMet Ridership Grows Thanks to Realignment, Schedule Changes

The agency’s response to post-pandemic changes in travel behavior is paying off.

1 hour ago - Portland Tribune

Close-up from back of woman walking on crosswalk with two small children on either side of her riding bicycles with training wheels.

When Small Projects Make a Big Impact

Small, mundane infrastructure projects can make meaningful changes for pedestrian and bike safety.

3 hours ago - Mayors Innovation Project

Grand Coulee Dam in Washington state.

Northwest Power Demand Could Surge as Data Centers, Transportation Electrification Ramps Up

New estimates project a steady increase in electricity demand due to population growth, data centers, and the shift to electric power in homes, buildings, and transportation.

May 17 - Governing

News from HUD User

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

Call for Speakers

Mpact Transit + Community

New Updates on PD&R Edge

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Planning for Universal Design

Learn the tools for implementing Universal Design in planning regulations.