The Role of Land Use Planning

Perhaps more than any other country, the USA highlights the ambiguous role of land use planning in redressing or exacerbating problems of housing affordability and access to urban opportunities (von Hoffman 2009). As outlined in this chapter so far, the evolution of land use planning in the USA—early building and tenement controls, and subsequently the rigid system of land use zoning, reflected strong support for private enterprise and the market on the one hand, and private property on the other. Notions that the government might intervene in the land and housing market to directly provide housing for lower-income groups, or even to redistribute some of the windfalls arising from public policy decisions and investments (allocating land for urban development, provision of public infrastructure), were strongly resisted by industry groups such as the National Association of Real Estate Boards. Indeed, land use planning— implemented through zoning ordinances—was a critical tool in maintaining the status quo in favour of suburban home owners. Arguably, the role of zoning as an instrument for social exclusion increased following a 1948 US Supreme ruling against the validity of covenants (used to prevent home owners from selling to minority racial groups), and the subsequent passage of the Fair Housing Act in 1968, which prohibited racial discrimination in the sale or rental of housing (Fischel 2004).

 
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