Ending Zoning’s Racist Legacy

Zoning Practice — January 2022

By Jennifer Raitt


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Land-use planning and zoning laws were born to wrangle the potential for human chaos. Early planners determined that separating uses and creating community order would create a new peace. That "chaos" and resulting "peace" initially meant dividing specific races and classes of people, locating multifamily dwellings away from single-family dwellings, and ensuring toxic industries were far from residential uses.

While the Supreme Court's 1917 decision in Buchanan v. Warley deemed explicit racial zoning ordinances unconstitutional, facially race-neutral zoning provisions continue to perpetuate segregation by race and income. Countering the historical failures of planning and zoning requires the profession to shift in thinking, methods, training, and practice.

This issue of Zoning Practice summarizes how exclusionary zoning practices reinforce patterns of segregation originally established by illegal racial zoning, racially restrictive covenants, and federal policies in the first half of the 20th century. And it highlights steps Boston and Louisville, Kentucky, have taken to begin to rectify these inequities through zoning reforms.


Page Count
Date Published
Jan. 1, 2022
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American Planning Association

About the Author

Jennifer Raitt
Jennifer (Jenny) Raitt is an executive leader who works in public ervice, public policy, housing and urban planning. She serves as is Executive Director of the Northern Middlesex Council of Governments, a regional planning agency based in Lowell, MA. Jenny has 25 years of experience serving local, regional, and state governments and nonprofit organizations in the fields of housing policy and planning, community development, and urban planning. In addition to her full-time role, she is active on many boards, including Brookline’s Community Preservation Committee and Housing Advisory Board, the American Planning Association Legislative and Policy Committee, TransitMatters as President, and B’nai B’rith Housing Board of Directors. She contributed to PAS Reports and co-authored a PAS Memo. Most recently, her piece, “Ending Zoning’s Racist Legacy” was the January 2022 issue of APA’s Zoning Practice. She has been the recipient of numerous awards, including from APA Divisions and the APA MA Chapter, and was recently recognized by two statewide organizations for her work in housing and fair housing: a Housing Hero award from the Massachusetts Housing Partnership and an Open Door Champion Award from the Citizens’ Housing and Planning Association (CHAPA).