Case Study Selection and Method

Durham provides a good case study for the examination of the role of race in zoning because as a southern city, a large percentage of the city’s residents have been people of color throughout the period of investigation. The city was 63.4% white and 36.6% “Negro” in 1950 (US Census Bureau, 1952), 51.9% white and 47.1% black in 1980 (US Census Bureau, 1981), and 41% white and 42.5% black or African American in 2010 (US Census Bureau, 2012). Thus, a large proportion of the city’s residents have also been white: rapid annexation has resulted in the city acquiring much of its expanding suburban area. Durham is also a good case study because it has consistently had many industrial areas (Figure 10.1). The city’s early growth stemmed from its tobacco and textile industries. As these declined in the 20th century, the city strived to preserve its industrial base, improving trucking access to existing industrial areas through freeway building (Durham City-County Planning Department, 1991). Third, Durham provides a good case study because its history featured a period of relative African American disempowerment, followed by relative empowerment. While African Americans composed a third of the city’s population and a quarter of its voter registration in 1965 (Sarratt, 1969), Durham had only elected one African American to the council by that time, in part because all elections for city council were held citywide. From 1967 until 1976 only two of the city’s 13 council members were African American and then two to four until 1984. From 1984 Durham had at least five African American council members who, along with allied white progressives, constituted a dominant coalition on the council until the close of the century. In 2001, the city reduced the number of council members to six and has had three African American councilmembers since then.

Durham never zoned the city into separate racial districts, as many other Southern cities did, but its initial zoning scheme placed every African American neighborhood beyond the downtown tenement area within Residence Zone “C,” allowing 27 units per acre, while placing every white neighborhood beyond downtown within the more exclusive “A” or “B” districts, allowing 9 and 18 units per acre, respectively (Durham Zoning Commission, 1926).

To conduct my study, I used a mixed-method approach based on Maan-tay’s (2002) analysis of industrial zoning in New York City. Given what many scholars have argued about zoning, I expected to find residential downzonings and refused residential upzonings occurring on average in

Central Durham (NC) showing places and features mentioned

Figure 10.1 Central Durham (NC) showing places and features mentioned

Source: Originally appeared in Whittemore, A. H. (2017b). Racial and class bias in zoning: Rezoning involving heavy commercial and industrial land use in Durham (NC), 1945-2018. Journal of the American Planning Association, 83(3), 235-248.

Note: Hatching indicates African American neighborhoods circa 1945.

areas of higher incomes, higher homeownership rates, and a lower number of people of color—relative both to the citywide averages of these characteristics and the averages in the areas where residential upzonings occurred. Similarly, I anticipated industrial/heavy commercial downzonings to occur, on average, in areas of higher incomes, higher homeownership rates, and a lower number of people of color, relative both to the city as a whole and the areas where industrial/heavy commercial upzonings occurred.

To see if this was actually the case, I took the average percentage of whites, the average median household income, and the average homeownership rate across all Durham census tracts where a given type of zoning decision (e.g., residential upzonings) took place, weighting the characteristics of each tract by the number of decisions that happened in each.4 For decisions occurring from 1945 through 1954,1 used 1950 census data; for those occurring from 1955 through 1964,1 used 1960 data; and so on.

Because the mid-1980s represented such a significant shift in the city’s zoning practices, and because there were sometimes very small numbers of specific decision types in certain decades, I ended up dividing the data into two periods: 1945 to 1984 and 1985 to 2014. I took a statistically significant difference between the characteristics of any two average areas (e.g., between the average characteristics of the tracts where residential upzonings took place and those of the tracts where residential downzonings took place) to indicate that there was a disparate distribution of that decision type between areas of different homeownership, income, or racial characteristics.

I also reviewed city council minutes, planning and zoning commission minutes, planning department publications, and other primary materials related to the rezoning decisions. While I could not build a comprehensive database of the stated reasons for every decision—there was not always discussion included in the council’s meeting minutes—these documents provided insight into motivations for many of the rezonings and were especially useful in revealing inconsistencies in the way the council handled similar cases in areas of different racial characteristics.

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