Another Way to Achieve Racial Justice: Zoning Reform

An opinion piece calls out suburban communities for perpetuating structural inequality and housing discrimination. Recently converted social justice advocates should focus their zeal on zoning reform, according to the argument that follows.

June 14, 2020, 7:00 AM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell


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Sara C. Bronin writes an opinion piece for the Courier Journal in Louisville connecting the calls for racial and social justice to land use reform as expressed by local zoning laws: "We must not forget about one of the most important perpetuators of fundamental inequalities in the country today: zoning."

"Every resident of an affluent, suburban town who marched in solidarity should be on the phone today with their elected leaders, trying to get zoning reforms on their town’s agenda," according to Bronin, to change the ongoing legacies of the exclusionary and discriminatory history of zoning. 

It's no coincidence that Bronin's opinion piece is found in Louisville's local daily newspaper. 

In 1916, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down this type of “racial zoning” as unconstitutional, in a case called Buchanan v. Warley. At issue was a Louisville zoning ordinance that was written “to prevent conflict and ill feeling between white and colored races,” and “to preserve the public peace.” The method of achieving these goals? The “use of separate blocks for residences, places of abode, and places of assembly by white and colored people respectively.” 

Although Louisville's racial zoning didn't pass muster with the 14th Amendment, zoning practices still "perpetuate structural inequities and block access to opportunity," according to Bronin, and in 2020, the Supreme Court can't be relied on to overturn the ongoing discriminatory practices of zoning.

As documented by a recent Planetizen feature, Louisville is still struggling to correct massive disparities in public health outcomes for low-income neighborhoods and people of color.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020 in Louisville Courier Journal

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