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

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