Split Apart: How Regulations Designated Populations to Different Parts of the City

  • Sonia A. HirtEmail author


This chapter reviews how urban regulations in history have been used to relegate populations to different parts of the city and its environs. Its main purpose is to place the twentieth-century U.S. zoning experience in historic and international context. To this end, based mostly on secondary sources, the chapter first surveys a selection of major civilizations in history and the regulations they invented in order to keep populations apart. Then, based on primary sources, it discusses the emergence of three methods of residential segregation through zoning which took root in early twentieth-century United States. The three methods are: segregating people by race, segregating them by different land-area standards, and segregating them based on both land-area standards and a taxonomy of single- versus multi-family housing.

1 Introduction

In the United States, zoning—the widely used municipal instrument that separates the land into sections, or zones, with different rules governing activities on that land (Levy, 2009; Pendall, Puentes, & Martin, 2006)—has exercised enormous power in shaping the built environment for about a hundred years (Fischel, 2000; Kayden, 2004; Whittemore, 2013). One standard feature in North American (U.S. but also Canadian) zoning ordinances has been the dichotomy of detached single-family homes and multi-family housing. The single-family category is omnipresent in American zoning ordinances to the point that it is hard to find an ordinance that does not use it. As Hirt (2013a) argues, this is true not only for the thousands of traditional ordinances around the country but also for the fashionable form-based codes (for example, Denver’s and Miami’s). Clearly, the zoning taxonomy exists so that that different types of housing are placed in separate parts of town: the housing types (and therefore the people living in them) are expected to reside in different areas. In other words, the taxonomy is an instrument for segregation by type of residence. And since zoning’s housing taxonomy often intersects with race and class divisions, it can serve as a mechanism of race and class exclusion: hence, the long-standing critique of the traditional U.S. zoning model as exclusionary.1

The traditional zoning categories, including those of the single- and multi-family residential districts, are so commonplace in the United States that justification is rarely demanded (Levine, 2010), and the categories have attained a status of normalcy and inevitability (Wickersham, 2000). Yet, all categories come from somewhere; they may take root in certain contexts yet be absent in others. In today’s European countries, for example, exclusive single-family districts are rarely defined and the legal border between single-family and multi-family housing is not nearly as firm as it is in the United States (Hirt, 2007, 2012).

This chapter traces how today’s routine taxonomies of single- versus multi-family housing developed. My focus is on the U.S. experience in the early twentieth-century, when this system of classification gained acceptance. However, I am also interested whether this (or another) taxonomy as a tool of housing segregation is a common historic occurrence. Did other societies in world history embed a similar housing typology in their urban rules? What were these rules and were they used for exclusionary purposes too? Is the U.S. case distinct at all? Placing the U.S. experience in a broad historic and international context helps appreciate the fact that no rules and regulations are “normal” or inevitable; on the contrary, they are always the product of specific times and places.

The chapter is divided into two major parts. First, I survey a selection of major civilizations in history and the rules they passed to foster residential segregation in cities and their environs. Because of the breadth of this survey, it is admittedly fragmented. It is also based mostly on secondary sources. Next, based mostly on primary sources, I discuss the development of U.S. zoning regulations that sought residential segregation in the early 1900s. I present three major ideas from U.S. cities during this time period: to segregate people and their housing by race, to segregate them by different land-area standards, and to segregate them based both on land-area standards and a housing typology of single- versus multi-family homes. Finally, I suggest some reasons for the popularity of restrictive single-family zoning in the U.S. planning tradition.

2 Precedents

In all likelihood, urban residential segregation has been a constant feature of human settlements throughout world history, and it is only its extent and type that vary (Lofland, 1985; Low, 2004; Marcuse & Van Kempen, 2002). For example, the common axes of division in ancient and medieval cities were caste, ethnicity, religion and occupation (Sjoberg, 1960; Vance, 1990). Separation based on these criteria could have been driven by authoritative action, social customs, or the economic advantages emanating from the co-location of work activities (e.g., because different groups specialized in different types of production). In contemporary contexts, including U.S. metropolises of today, some traditional divisions such as those by occupation have faded due to the separation of home and work (i.e., the economic advantages following from the co-location of similar work activities in residential quarters have been lost). Yet other spatial divisions—by income and race—persist (Fry & Taylor, 2012), even if some contemporary public policies, such as inclusionary zoning, may be trying to soften them.2

Discussing the evolution and causes of residential segregation over time is, undoubtedly, an endeavor of encyclopedic proportions, perhaps best achieved by C. Nightingale in his excellent recent monograph (Nightingale, 2012). Below, I take on a simpler and more modest task. I offer a brief historic survey not of de facto residential segregation but of segregation as a matter of zoning-like law imposed by some type of city authority.3

2.1 The Ancient World

Evidence that residential segregation was deliberately pursued in the major ancient civilizations is mixed. We find several civilizations in which rules of segregation existed. But we also find that the rules were weak (or weakly enforced), because most parts of cities ended up quite mixed.

According to Nightingale (2012), the ancient Mesopotamian city of Eridu was the birthplace of legally mandated residential segregation: Babylonian poets writing circa 600 BCE believed that the God Marduk ordered that his temple be surrounded by the homes of king-gods, whereas the ordinary mortals were sent to reside separately in the outer town.4 This type of socio-spatial division was the original method of housing segregation forced upon cities and their environs: elites (royals, priests and their immediate circles) in planned walled enclaves; everyone else outside (Van Kempen & Şule Özüekren, 1998). This tradition was carried on in the other major cities in the region; for example, Ur, which peaked at about 2000 BCE; and Babylon, which was founded at about that time. Shang-dynasty China (second millennium BCE) had similar rules, as explained in later ritual texts such as the Chou Li (second century BCE). In this Chinese tradition, only the royals and their entourage had the right to live in “forbidden” walled inner cities. But, whereas the inner cities were planned and homogeneous, the outer cities, which were home to the large majority of the population, showed a less orderly pattern of social differentiation (Benevolo, 1980; Knox & McCarthy, 2005; Smith, 2010). If there were rules on the outer cities, they must not have been rigidly enforced. Still, the formal division of elite insiders and lower-class outsiders had vast consequences for cities and their laws through history.5 U.S. zoning advocates of the early 1900s explicitly recognized it as a predecessor of modern zoning (Bassett, 1922a).

In some of the famous planned Egyptian cities such as Tel-el-Amarna, which was built about 1300 BCE, there were rules for a more intricate type of housing division. This time, separate areas were purposefully reserved for people of specific occupations: for example, building workers east of the city center. However, most of the urban fabric was not clearly differentiated by status or profession. According to H. Fairman: “What appears to have happened is that the wealthiest people selected their own house sites, and built along the main streets, to whose line they generally adhered. Less wealthy people then built in vacant spaces behind the houses of the rich and finally the houses of the poor were squeezed in, with little attempt at order, wherever space could be found. The houses of all types were found in a single quarter, and though there were slum areas it is evident that there was no zoning” (Fairman, 1949). A stricter and more sophisticated spatial partition by occupation, which coincided with caste, spread in the cities of ancient Indus from roughly the time of Tel-el-Amarna. This is according to the Vedic treatises written between 1500 and 1000 BCE (Heitzman, 2008). Among a myriad of other issues, the Vedic treatises outlined detailed building rules specific to caste and occupation. For example, “the houses of the Brahmans [the priests/scholars]… must occupy four sides of the quadrangle which is an open space in the center” and “the houses of the Kshatriyas [the soldier class] must occupy the three sides of the rectangular plot” (LeGates, 2004). The castes were expected to occupy different quarters of planned cities—a tendency that appears to have only strengthened with time, as the caste system of the Indian civilization became more sophisticated. Plans for towns from the eight century BCE, for instance, show delineated districts for different people: Brahmins and priests in the center, surrounded by Sudras (artisans), Vaisayas (mid-caste farmers and tradesmen) and guards. Each of the lower castes and professions (e.g., shoemakers, potters, milkmen, basket-weavers, blacksmiths, fishermen and hunters) was assigned a district in the next ring of the town plan (Ben-Joseph & Kiefer, 2005). According to Heitzman (2008), the Arthasastra, written some five hundred years later, prescribed a highly stratified society formally organized by caste and occupation (e.g., from craftsmen to entertainers, from food producers to jewelers). The caste system translated into zoning-like divisions. As Dutt (1925) explains, once the principal streets were laid out, planned cities were divided into wards: “Distribution of professions and castes as well as allotment of sites were made entirely with reference to pada-vinyāsa, a pada or block being set for a caste or a profession”.

That some (but few) of the Greeks attempted zoning we know from Aristotle regarding Piraeus.6 The city is famous for its grid plan designed by Hippodamus of Miletus about 450 BCE. What is less known is that Hippodamus proposed a proto-zoning division for Piraeus. Based on this, Aristotle erroneously credited Hippodamus with being the inventor of “the art of planning cities” and “the divisioning of cities”.7 Specifically, Hippodamus proposed a caste-based, tri-part division consisting of sacred, public and private urban areas, each corresponding to one of the three classes he believed existed in Greek society. In Aristotle’s words, Hippodamus “cut up Piraeus”; he “planned a state, consisting of ten thousand persons, divided into three parts, one consisting of artisans, another of husbandmen, and the third of soldiers; he also divided the lands into three parts, and allotted one to sacred purposes, another to the public, and the third to individuals. The first of these was to supply what was necessary for the established worship of the gods; the second was to be allotted to the support of the soldiery; and the third was to be the property of the husbandman”. The division was meant to be not merely symbolic but also physical: the inscriptions on boundary stones from the fifth century BCE show that the various districts were meant to serve the three different purposes as Hippodamus envisioned them. However, we do not know whether the authorities enforced them over time (Gates, 2010). Further, no clear evidence exists that physical divisions were legally mandated and enforced in cities which were not highly planned (like Piraeus) from the start—that is, in most cities.

The Roman case seems to have been similar to the Greek. Despite the presence of highly sophisticated planning and building laws, residential stratification in space was clearly exhibited in few cases; in the Roman case, typically in new towns settled by military conquest, where the different quarters were designated based on status (Hugo-Brunt, 1972). Surely, as in all societies where inequality and labor specialization existed, there were groupings of different types of people in different places: artisans tended to congregate in some locations of Rome; merchants in others (Van Ham, Manley, Bailey, Simpson, & Maclennan, 2012); and the wealthy had made a haven of luxury villas in the scenic eastern hills of the great city (Bruegmann, 2006).

The Roman census used one particular division that coincides with some of today’s zoning taxonomies. It recognized two housing categories: the domus (the high-class detached homes) and the insulae (the cramped multi-story buildings, where the large majority of the urban population lived).8 But it is not clear whether the spatial separation of domus and insulae was legally pursued. Despite Rome’s notoriously brutal treatment of slaves and other oppressed people, the city itself was only mildly segregated; its classes mingled freely (Arnott & McMillen, 2008; Lofland, 1985). According to Morris (1979): “With the exception of the emperors’ palaces on the Palatine Hill and possibly separate working-class districts on the downstream banks of the Tiber and the slopes of the Aventine, high and low, patricians and plebeians, everywhere rubbed shoulders without coming into conflict. On the subject of workers’ housing Carcopino states that “they did not live congregated in dense, compact, exclusive masses; their living quarters were scattered almost in every corner of the city but nowhere did they form a town within the town” (Morris, 1979). Similarly, according to Reynolds: “First of all is the close juxtaposition of the wealthy and the single-room high-rise apartment dwellings of the poor. As this and many other plan fragments show [referring to Emperor Severus’s map of Rome from 200 AD], there was no significant economic segregation in Rome” (Reynolds, 1997).

2.2 From the Medievals to the Early Moderns

One of the clear predecessors of modern-day partitions through zoning was conceived by the European and Middle Eastern cultures during the medieval age. This method was the fondaco (in Italian; foundax for the Byzantines and funduq for Arabs) and was used for foreign groups residing in a city.9 Although this institution has ancient origins,10 it flourished in the early-to-mid part of the second millennium, after cities had recovered from post-Roman decline and multi-national trade had intensified. Fondaco-like arrangements were especially popular in port cities along the Mediterranean, the Black Sea and the Baltic coasts, and in other nodes of energetic foreign trade (Keene, Nagy, & Szende, 2009). Initially, fondaco referred to a large single structure comprising housing, shops, baths, and storage facilities occupied by foreign merchants who resided in a city on a permanent or temporary basis. Eventually, however, it came to denote an entire town quarter designated to a particular group, a quarter that was often walled off and locked at night. In Byzantium’s capital Constantinople, likely the most advanced city of the early second millennium, groups of foreigners were in the dozens, most of them comprising large numbers of merchants specializing in different types of goods.11 And whereas Constantinople’s indigenous rich and poor tended to live side by side, the foreigners did not and their co-existence with the locals was not always easy. At least as far back as the early 1000s, the Byzantine Emperor began assigning city quarters to different foreign groups; for example, the Venetians got their quarter in 1082 (Dursteler, 2006). In city-states too, the establishment of a fondaco required a government decree. Venice granted fondachi to a whole string of communities: Germans, Dutch, Persians, Arabs, Greeks, Armenians, etc. (Constable, 2004; Kostylo, 2012). Some national groups craved them because the fondachi offered a degree of autonomy and the possibility of having one’s own cultural and religious community. The Jewish people, for example, who were routinely prosecuted elsewhere throughout Europe, perceived the fondaco granted to them by Venice as desirable.12 It carried the name getto—reportedly the first use of this term, but without today’s negative connotations. As evidence of the appeal of the Venetian fondachi, in 1526, residents of Venice who were subjects to the Ottoman Sultan petitioned the city authorities for a place of their own, just “as the Jews have their ghetto” (Kostylo, 2012). But whereas the ethnic enclaves offered security from hostile local commoners, they could not protect their residents when the very authorities who granted them embarked on the war path. At one point, Byzantine authorities locked Arab, Jewish, Venetian, Genoese and Pisan merchants in their walled enclaves and massacred them wholesale (Nightingale, 2012).

Several other important predecessors of modern zoning spread during the late medieval and Renaissance age in England. During the intense urban growth of the Elizabethan age, the Queen passed a series of decrees that sharply divided urban insiders and outsiders. Specifically, she forbade building within three miles of the gates of the cities of London and Westminster.13 In addition, she banned the further subdivision and subletting of houses within the cities, and set stricter requirements for building materials (Green, 2011). Because the lowest classes of English society were precisely the ones to settle in self-built structures in the immediate vicinity of cities or in cramped and poorly constructed shared dwellings within cities, Elizabeth’s decrees had the effect of restricting the inflow of undesirable populations to England’s premier urban nodes. English nuisance laws—another antecedent of zoning—predated the Elizabethan age. They were first used in England in the twelfth century (Fifoot, 1949). But whereas the concept was originally employed only against encroachments upon royal lands and public roadways, as urban growth intensified, the doctrine was expanded greatly to acquire modern-day exclusionary undertones; for example, offenders were accused of having subdivided their houses to the point where they had become “overpestered” with the poor (Abrams & Washington, 1989). As growth continued, London’s developed increasingly more sophisticated regulations. The famous Rebuilding Act of London of 1667 that followed the Great Fire established a formal distinction between the houses of the high-class Londoners and those of the rest: “There shall be only four sorts of buildings: the first and least sort fronting by-lanes, the second sort fronting streets and lanes of note, the third sort fronting high and principal streets… The fourth and largest sort of mansion houses for citizens or other persons of extraordinary quality not fronting the three former ways”.14 But there is no evidence that the goal was to separate the rich from the poor spatially. In his acclaimed plan for the reconstruction of London, Christopher Wren proposed to ban suburbs (which at the time were all slums), but the Crown rejected his idea. Thus, London—very much a city of mixed wealth and poverty—was rebuilt mostly on the intact foundations of the burnt-down buildings. Urban social mixture was thus not rooted out (Adams, 1935).

This is not to say that residential segregation by wealth and power was absent. The status of West-End Londoners was clearly higher than that of East-End Londoners. But when the West End began to grow after the Great Fire, it was not even subject to public rules (i.e., the Rebuilding Act) because it was outside of the city limits. Attempts to launch parliament legislation to designate the West End for the rich failed (Nightingale, 2012), and the area developed following private contracts between landowners, builders, and occupants (Platt, 2004). As Green (2011) rightfully argues, much like players of the same sort today, London’s seventeenth- and eighteenth-century large landowners had a “vested interest in minimizing uncertainty”. The contracts they created covered many issues, from site layout to aesthetics, which are reminiscent of today’s zoning. They also sought to ensure that the class composition of the new residents remained stable. According to Rasmussen (1937): “When an earl or a duke did turn his property to account, he wanted to determine what neighbors he got. The great landlord and the speculative builder found each other, and together they created the London square with its character of unity, surrounded as it is by dignified houses all alike”. These class-based private regulations flourished through the next century and became a dominant means for protecting upper-class housing enclaves from various undesirable others both in England (McKenzie, 1994) and, as I further discuss, in the United States.

But restrictive deeds covered just fragments of the metropolis. Throughout London, wealth (or poverty) did not guarantee spatial seclusion. Mixing the homes of the rich, who generally lived along the main streets, and those of the poor, who generally lived along the back alleys remained the norm all the way to the industrial era. Robert Fishman (1987) cites how one observer saw social mixture in London in 1748: “Here lives a personage of high distinction; next door a butcher with his stinking shambles! A Tallow-chandler shall be seen from my Lord’s nice Venetian window; and two or three brawny naked Curriers in their Pits shall face a fine Lady in her back Closet, and disturb her spiritual Thoughts”.

2.3 Modern-Day Segregation in Europe and its Colonies

A new way of thinking about human diversity and, therefore, about residential segregation in cities came into being in the late 1700s, when the West Europeans began to perceive themselves as a single race that was qualitatively different from the races of the people they were colonizing. Certainly, as the long list of pro-segregationist rules shows, many other explicit and implicit definitions of human difference and incompatibility had developed throughout history. Not until the late 1700s, however, did race enter the conversation as a generalizing category denoting commonality and otherness among peoples (Hannaford, 1996). From then on, as vast as the perceived differences (and therefore animosities) may have been between, say, British Protestants and Irish Catholics, they paled in comparison with the perceived contrasts between people of European and non-European descent.

The expanding European empires developed a wide range of laws and building practices meant to separate “black town” from “white town” in their colonies. As Nightingale (2012) reports, these date back to the Dutch construction of divided cities in the island of Java and the British construction of divided cities in India and other parts of Asia (e.g., Kolkata, Madras, Bombay, Shanghai and Hong Kong). The French and Belgians employed similar methods in their African colonies; the Spanish and the Portuguese in Central and South America. Co-existence was perceived as a threat to public security, health, sanitation, and morals; in contrast, segregation was characterized as natural and beneficial to all parties involved. For instance, when in 1819 the modern-day city of Singapore was established on the grounds of an ancient settlement, its British lieutenant-governor S. Raffles used the mouth of the Singapore River as a racial border. Nightingale (2012) claims that one of his first acts was to designate prime lands on the northeast side of the river “exclusively for the accommodation of European… settlers.” Chinese, Indian and Muslim groups were given their own zones, ostensibly because such an arrangement would maximize the “comfort and security of the different classes of inhabitants.”

Laws as brutally divisive were not the norm in cities within Europe at the time. But, as the Industrial Revolution transformed European cities into places of nightmarish overcrowding and pollution, many other types of laws (sanitation, health and building) become the standard fare (Hall, 2003; Talen, 2012). By the late 1800s, Germany established itself as the world leader in “scientific” urban administration. The “example of Germany,” to borrow the title of a book written by an early twentieth century British reformer (Horsfall, 1904), was heavily studied and eventually emulated through Europe and North America (Akimoto, 2009; Cherry, 1996; Mullin, 1976).

America’s foremost legal experts at the time, such as Frank Backus Williams,15 attributed the birth of modern-day zoning to the Germans (Williams, 1914; Williams, 1922). The particular inventor was Professor Reinhard Baumeister of Karlsruhe, who in a 500-pages-long tractate from 1876 observed that certain land uses (e.g., manufacturing, warehousing, retail, etc.) tended to congregate in industrial-age cities more than at other points of history. His proposal was to craft a municipal instrument that would legally cement the economics-based congregations and mandate a greater separation between industry and dwelling quarters, since industry posed greater hazards to human health than ever before. This type of zoning proposal was different from the many sporadic attempts made throughout history to partially divide cities in sectors with different populations, as discussed in the earlier sections of this chapter. German municipal zoning was systematic and citywide, was based on the idea that the urban fabric can be scientifically evaluated and arranged to make cities healthier and more efficient, and included very detailed regulations on building density and shape as well as land use—precisely the type of regulations we find in today’s zoning codes. Baumeister did not envision municipal laws that would segregate the population of German cities by class, ethnicity or some other traditional axis of division (which of course is not to say that such separations did not exist in real life). In fact, he was rather vague on the subject and claimed that municipal administrators should promote segregation in some parts of town and integration in others (Baumeister, 1876). But when his idea first became reality, in Frankfurt of 1891, a division of the population based on status became embedded into the city’s pioneering comprehensive zoning act through the establishment of residential districts with different land-use and building rules (Mullin, 1976). Frankfurt had two types of residential zones. The country-dwellings district was clearly intended to house the well-to-do. It was situated in the panoramic parts of the city, away from polluting manufacturing. It required that a large part of each residential lot be kept open, thus promoting the development of detached homes at low densities. The second, less desirable residential zone was intended for the small homes of the working class. But the division was not absolute: the ordinance relied on its area and bulk rules to distinguish between the two housing types without setting a firm legal border between them. It was legally possible to build small individual homes or multi-family dwellings in either residential zone. Within a few short years, most large German cities had followed the example of Frankfurt. Some, like Munich and Essen, made a distinction between districts for detached and bloc (attached) structures (Williams, 1913). Still, the boundaries between them remained vague (Liebmann, 2002; Light, 1999; Logan, 1976). The authorities reserved the right to permit housing blocs in the areas designated for detached homes. According to Williams (1913), in Essen, for instance, even in the areas zoned for detached buildings “practically everybody applies for permission to build double houses or groups”. It was later in the United States, as I argue next, that the dichotomy between single- and multi-family housing became established.

3 Residential Taxonomies as Means of Segregation in American Zoning

As the Industrial Revolution crossed the North Atlantic, booming American cities were overwhelmed by the same dreadful crowding and pollution that characterized the European industrial capitals and had led to a proliferation of building, health and sanitation laws in nineteenth-century Europe. Yet as the United States embraced free-market capitalism more resolutely than other industrializing nations, its political climate was less receptive to government action. Thus, laws dealing with urban problems lagged behind (Knox & McCarthy, 2012; Power, 1989; Toll, 1969). Well into the late nineteenth century, nuisance laws (rather than health, building and zoning laws) were still the chief means of controlling the environment of American cities. The nuisance doctrine became the basis for the first generation of U.S. municipal laws that divided populations in districts, as I will discuss further. The other major source of zoning regulation were restrictive private deeds. These deeds, which were enforced by private neighborhood associations, date back likely to 1826, when a “Committee of Proprietors” congregated to preserve the character of Louisburg Square, an upscale subdivision in Boston.16 Becoming widespread in the mid- and late nineteenth century, the deeds covered a broad range of issues, some of which later became standard fare in municipal zoning ordinances: e.g., they prohibited the sale or conversion of residential property to other uses, required setbacks, restricted building heights, and dictated that no more than one house be built per lot. They also mandated lawn-mowing and relegated the hanging of laundry to rear yards.17 Some provisions sought either implicitly or explicitly to exclude “undesirable” people who tended to depreciate property values because of their “ignorance, incompetence, bad taste, or knavery”, as the firm of the venerable landscape architect F. L. Olmsted put it.18 Implicit exclusionary tools were those that set bulk and area criteria (such as minimum house and lot size), or required a minimum cost of construction. Explicit exclusionary rules prohibited non-Caucasians (and, on occasion, specific Caucasian groups) in the neighborhood outright. For example: “It is hereby covenanted and agreed by and between the parties hereto and it is a part of the consideration of this indenture … that the said property shall not be sold, leased, or rented to any persons other than of the Caucasian race, nor shall any person or persons other than of Caucasian race be permitted to occupy said lot or lots.”19

Building on the nuisance laws and private covenants, three primary methods of classifying populations and their housing developed in U.S. zoning ordinances of the early 1900s. In addition to local lineage, each of the three methods had international precedents. To recall from the introduction, the three methods are: segregating people and their housing by race, segregating them by different area standards, and segregating them based both on area standards and a typology of single- versus multi-family homes.

3.1 The Racial Ordinances

The first zoning method of segregating people in the United States—segregating them by race—started without explicitly mentioning race in the law but using it as a criterion for law enforcement. This approach was embraced by the first proto-zoning ordinances: those adopted in a string of Northern Californian cities, such as San Francisco and Modesto, from 1870 to 1890.20 These cities extended what was then the standard method of controlling urban environments—nuisance law—to exclude certain types of business, especially laundry facilities, from the newly established residential zones and permit them only in industrial ones (Toll, 1969). For example, an 1885 ordinance declared that “it shall be unlawful for any purpose to establish, maintain, or carry on the business of a public laundry or washhouse where articles are washed and cleansed for hire, within the City of Modesto, except within that part of the city which lies west of the railroad track and south of G Street.”21 These ordinances led to a series of legal disputes known as the “laundry cases.” There certainly were some valid public health and safety reasons to impose restrictions on the laundry buildings which served as places of both business and residence for their Chinese occupants. The laundries increased the risk of fire due to their extensive use of boiling water and heating irons at a time when most buildings were wood frame. But we can prove that safety was not the main motivation behind these ordinances because they were never applied to Caucasian owners, while being readily used to expel Asians in response to “Anglo” residents’ concerns that the areas were “becoming clubs of the Chinese”.22 As the New York Heights of Buildings Commission reported in retrospect: “When [Los Angeles] had been districted about 110 Chinese and Japanese laundries found themselves in the residential district [where laundries were prohibited]. According to New York Heights of Buildings Commission (1913), the city immediately undertook to remove them to the industrial districts.” Based on information obtained from Bither (1915), at a time when racism was not seen as evil, leaders of the California zoning movement spoke of the racial factor in the laundry ordinances openly and appreciatively: “We [Californians] are ahead of most states [in adopting zoning] thanks to the persistent proclivity of the ‘heathen Chinese’ to clean our garments in our midst.”23

A couple of decades after the laundry cases, California’s cities passed more comprehensive zoning approaches and took leadership of the movement in a different way, as we will see later. But circa 1910, the epicenter of racist zoning moved to Southern cities which, operating in a Jim Crow mode, wrote race into law for the first time in U.S. municipal zoning history. Baltimore—a city which had wide experience with racially restrictive private deeds24—was the first U.S. city to pass an explicitly racially divisive zoning code in 1910 (Boger, 2009; Manning & Ritzdorf, 1997). This zoning ordinance expanded the private deeds’ restrictions to a citywide scale. It stated, in strikingly blatant terms:

  1. 1.

    That no negro may take up his residence in a block within the city limits of Baltimore wherein more than half the residents are white.

  2. 2.

    That no white person may take up his residence in such a block wherein more than half the residents are negroes.

  3. 3.

    That whenever building is commenced in a new city block the builder or contractor must specify in his application for a permit for which race the proposed house or houses are intended.


Baltimore Mayor B. Marhool was cited in The New York Times (1910), explaining the rationale behind the ordinance as follows: “Here in Baltimore we have a large colored population… Many blocks of houses formerly occupied by whites have now a mixture of colored—and the white and colored races cannot live in the same block in peace and with due regard to property security.” Baltimore’s lead was followed by a string of Southern cities: Atlanta, Louisville, New Orleans, Richmond, St. Louis, etc. But soon thereafter the idea to segregate housing areas on overt racial grounds was struck down. In 1917 the U.S. Supreme Court reviewed the 1914 ordinance of Louisville. It declared: “A city ordinance which forbids colored persons to occupy houses in blocks where the greater number of houses are occupied by white persons, in practical effect, prevents the sale of lots in such blocks to colored persons, and is unconstitutional.”25

This did not end the pursuit of racial housing segregation via planning means. To begin with, some cities like Richmond kept their zoning ordinances unrevised for a few years after 1917, until another court struck them down (Manning & Ritzdorf, 1997). In most cases, however, the ordinances were changed but the racially divisive intent behind them was pursued through alternative means. For example, some local officials employed more careful racial labels in the new ordinances. Atlanta, for instance, revised its ordinance in 1922 to include the following classification: R1-white district, R2-colored district, and R3-undetermined. Its chief author, Robert Whitten, argued that segregation would instill in blacks “a more intelligent and responsible citizenship” and that racially homogeneous areas would enhance social stability (Manning & Ritzdorf, 1997). The hope was that by linking racial labels to neutral residential labels (R1, R2 and R3), the code would survive a court challenge. It did not. Other cities used racial classifications but only in their master plans (rather than in the zoning ordinances). This was the case of Austin, Texas in 1928 (Tretter, Sounny, & Student, 2012). Simultaneously, the popularity of racially loaded private deeds throughout the South practically exploded. Using constitutional and property justifications, the courts respected them for four decades, all the way until 1948.26

3.2 Housing Separation by Area Standards

The second method of segregation by zoning, which gained popularity a few years later, was subtler. This method involved using the area and bulk rules of zoning ordinances to relegate different forms of housing to different quarters of the city. As larger private houses constructed on larger lots and at lower densities were likely to be owned by higher-status people, the method could be utilized to create different areas dominated by different classes and therefore different races (since the two are related), but without explicitly referring to either class or race. Physical form attributes, such as minimum lot areas and densities, could serve as proxies for social status.

This method was most prominently used in the first comprehensive and citywide zoning ordinance in the United States, New York’s of 1916. Edward Bassett, a highly-respected lawyer and chief author of New York’s ordinance, was this method’s distinguished proponent.27 New York’s zoning resolution split the city into overlapping land-use, height and area districts—the types of districts that are very common in ordinances today. There were three types of use districts: residential, business and unrestricted. And there were six types of area districts, each with different standards for lot coverage: from the A district, which permitted 100 per cent lot coverage, to the E district, which permitted only 30 per cent lot coverage.28 In residence districts, no building could be erected other than dwellings and a few types of civic structures (clubs, churches, schools, etc.) as well as hotels. But these districts made no difference between single- and multi-family homes. Dwellings were simply all those that housed “one or more families and boarding houses”.29 In its lengthy discussion pages, the report of the New York’s Board of Estimate and Apportionment did speak of single- versus multi-family housing as separate types of habitat. It considered apartment buildings as something closer to stores and factories, than to homes: “[T]ake the case of the man who builds a home in a district which at the time seems peculiarly suited for single family dwellings. In a few years the value of his property may be largely destroyed by the erection of apartment houses, shutting off light and air and completely changing the character of the neighborhood. When single family dwellings, apartment houses, stores and factories are thrown together indiscriminately, the health and comfort of home life are destroyed and property and rental values are reduced”.30 Bassett, in his later writings, also explained that detached homes and apartments cannot co-exist: “A vacant unrestricted lot in a high-class district residential district had a high exploitive value.” Without zoning, he went on, single-family areas would be “exploited by a dozen apartment houses,” ostensibly causing decline in the values of the detached homes and worsening quality of life (Bassett, 1922a).

Yet despite the incompatibility of “private residences” with apartments that Bassett saw, the taxonomy did not enter New York’s zoning resolution. Why? Bassett explained it clearly half a dozen years after the resolution was adopted. He did not believe courts would sustain an autonomous district for detached homes. Thus, he used the E area districts, which regulated area and bulk (e.g., setbacks, yard size, lot coverage) and overlapped with some of the residence districts, to achieve the same effect: “The E zones of New York… have been considered one of the most important results of the new [zoning] movement because they perpetuate the highly restrictive [i.e., high-class] residential developments. According to Bassett (1922a), in New York, it is not practical to put up any residential building on 30 per cent of the lot except a one-family private residence.” In Bassett’s view, the E districts gave constitutional cover to restrict an area to single-family housing without using the term. As he said, “One may ask why they are called E districts instead of private residential districts. The reason is that the method of creating districts from 100 per cent to 30 per cent is a plan employment of the police power with a recognition of health and safety considerations, and the courts will protect a plan which is based on such a foundation. In New York… an apartment house covering not over 30 per cent of the lot would be substantially as safe and healthful as a one-family house, although as a matter of practice landowners in E districts will not erect apartment houses (Bassett, 1922a).”

3.3 Enter the Single-Family District

Whereas 1916 New York remained on the safe side, another city, across the country, took the bolder step of putting on paper the single-family district that has since then so defined the American zoning tradition. The year was still 1916 and the city was Berkeley, California. The idea of carving a district exclusively for single-family homes surely did not come out of the blue. As we saw in the previous section, it was very much on the minds of the crafters of New York’s resolution. Still it did not crystallize easily either. Initially, the idea was to distinguish one- and two-family homes, on one side, from apartments, on the other. Henry Morgenthau, Chairman of the New York City Commission on Congestion, proposed it at the very first National Conference on City Planning (Morgenthau, 1909): “We can make city plans establishing factory zones and residence zones… and then restrict certain zones to… one- and two-family houses.” In 1913 the New York state legislature passed an act stating that residential districts could be limited to one- and two-family homes (New York Heights of Buildings Commission, 1913). Two cities in the state, Utica and Syracuse, created “residence districts” immediately thereafter (Scott, 1978) for both single- and two-family homes.31

But Berkeley carved space for the individual home more resolutely than others (Toll, 1969). Its 1916 ordinance included eight use districts, of which the first three were residential. In Class I districts, “no building or structure shall be erected, constructed or maintained which shall be used for or designed or intended to be used for any purpose other than that of a single family dwelling.” The Class II district included single- and two-family homes and Class III permitted row buildings, along with single- and two-family homes.32 Berkeley’s code was drafted under the leadership of architect Charles Cheney,33 who believed that an “apartment house will condemn the whole tract…of fine residences.”34 The position was widely held by people of his class, including the other major activists, whose writings we find in Berkeley’s brochures dedicated to zoning propaganda brochures from that time. J. Bither, the same who was cited earlier on the “heathen Chinese” in California, argued that “apartment houses are the bane of the owner of the single-family dwelling” (Bither, 1915). In the first petition that asked the city to apply Class I (single-family) regulations to a neighborhood,35 the author Duncan McDafee36 explained that his neighborhood must be restricted to single-family dwellings because this “will afford them a protection against the invasion of their district by flats, apartment houses and stores, with the deterioration of values that is sure to follow” (McDuffee, 1916).

A decade passed and in the landmark case of Euclid v. Ambler, the U.S. Supreme Court legally blessed Berkeley’s approach (thus surpassing Bassett’s expectations). The borders of the single-family district were firmly articulated. Apartments, along with stores, factories and all sorts of other “nuisances” were jointly defined as outsiders to the single-family district: “With particular reference to apartment houses, it is pointed out that the development of detached house sections is greatly retarded by the coming of apartment houses, which has sometimes resulted in destroying the entire section for private house purposes; that, in such sections, very often the apartment house is a mere parasite, constructed in order to take advantage of the open spaces and attractive surroundings created by the residential character of the district. Moreover, the coming of one apartment house is followed by others… Under these circumstances, apartment houses, which in a different environment would be not only entirely unobjectionable but highly desirable, come very near to being nuisances.”37

From that point on, U.S. municipalities adopted exclusive single-family districts en masse. The federal government endorsed the idea as the norm, recommending that “zoning separate residence districts by homogeneous types of dwellings” and that residence districts be divided “for one-family dwelling districts, two-family dwelling districts, multiple dwelling districts”, in order to “encourage the development of neighborhoods with such uniformity of type of dwelling as will secure the best social and economic conditions” (Gries & Ford, 1932). It also aided the idea in practice through myriad federal actions, such as those of the Federal Housing Administration, which for decades denied mortgages for areas that were not zoned for homogeneous types of housing (Whittemore, 2013).

4 Discussion and Conclusion

This chapter provided a brief review of how some major civilizations attempted to spatially separate the places of residence of their urban populations, typically granting a privileged spatial position to their elites. As we have seen, public rules to segregate populations span many centuries. But the specific rules applied, as well as the divisions deemed appropriate, varied widely in different contexts. Some civilizations saw a basic distinction between semi-divine royals and peasant mortals; others perceived a division between castes defined by birth and occupation; others imagined a mosaic of faiths, ethnicities and nationalities; still others viewed people as fitting into consolidated categories called “races,” etc. In each civilization, the act of categorizing must have held immense powers. As Bourdieu (1989) put it, “the power to impose and to inculcate a vision of divisions, that is, the power to make visible and explicit social divisions that are implicit, is political power par excellence. It is the power to make groups, to manipulate the objective structure of society.”

Upon this background, the chapter offered a chronology of the early twentieth-century American zoning movement that led to the idea of the single-family district as an autonomous category. The first zoning method that emerged in U.S. cities was based on explicit racial divisions: in Californian cities circa 1870–90 (mostly against Asians) and in Southern cities circa 1910–30 (mostly against African Americans). This method most closely resembled what had existed in other world civilizations, especially the European colonial empires: people perceived as belonging to different races were told bluntly to live separately.38 But this method did not survive the constitutional test in the United States and this is testimony that, with its well-known flaws, early twentieth-century America had some democratic guards that the European empires had lacked. At this time, U.S. zoning shifted strategy. Rather than directly referring to the characteristics of residents, it focused on the seemingly more neutral characteristics of residences (e.g., house size and density). Within this strategy, two contemporaneous strains emerged. The first was exemplified by New York’s 1916 ordinance, which relied on bulk and area characteristics to distinguish between districts. This was similar to what was common in Germany—the primary country from which U.S. reformers were learning at the time. The second was exemplified by Berkeley’s ordinance, also from 1916, which treated the single-family home as a distinct type of habitat that should not interact with others. Once the latter method was legally confirmed, it spread around the country. Over time, New York’s and Berkeley’s methods converged. The single- and multi-family districts in U.S. cities and suburbs were continuously divided into sub-types: single-family homes of various lot and bulk sizes, each in a distinct category and in a distinct quarter of the city, and multi-family buildings of various densities, also each in a distinct category and in a distinct part of the city.39 But it is the autonomous single-family district that truly distinguished the U.S. tradition from those of other major industrialized nations. The Germans never used it vigorously in cities in their country. Apparently neither did the English (Hirt, 2013b), nor did the French (Hall, 2006). And as familiar as this category may sound to Americans and Canadians today, it apparently never before served as a fundamental organizing concept in city laws, as we saw in the earlier part of this chapter. In the remaining paragraphs, I will highlight two reasons40 that may in part explain why the single-family zone came to play such a unique place in U.S. municipal regulation.

First, the single-family residential district established itself as an efficient covert instrument to overcome the democratic guards embedded in the U.S. Constitution. We could see this easily in 1922 Atlanta where, as mentioned earlier, Robert Whitten had hoped his ordinance would survive legal challenges if seemingly technical nomenclature (R1, R2, R3) is mixed with racial labels. Here is another clear example of thinking along these lines from the city pioneer in racial zoning, Baltimore. Baltimore’s Assistant Civil Engineer, J. Grinnalds, believed Baltimore could overcome the legal challenge created by the 1917 Supreme Court ruling. In a Baltimore newspaper, he cunningly observed “the tendency of [a certain kind] of people to live in a certain kind of house.” The recommended solution was a “scientific” survey of housing using the following types: one-family, two-family and multi-family: “Some sections of the city will show a preponderance of one family homes. Some will indicate that there is a considerable grouping into two family houses. Other neighborhoods will appear to be tenement or apartment districts almost as if by segregation.” Then, Grinnalds argued, zoning would legally cement the existing de facto partition and prevent mixing of housing types (and thus, types of people) in the future (Grinnalds, 1921).

This ideology was not only linked to race. On the contrary, it was widely believed at the time that there is a “natural” order not only to all races, but also to all classes and ethnicities41 and that spatial divisions between them would serve the greater social good.42 Aside from being a racist, Robert Whitten, for example, felt that: “Bankers and leading business men should live in one part of town, storekeepers, clerks and technicians in another, and working people in yet others where they enjoy the association of neighbors more or less of their own kind.”43

But even if this was the case, was a single-family district necessary? Surely, a method like Bassett’s, which used area criteria, could have just as well created separate zones for higher- and lower-class people without going through the trouble, legal or otherwise, of inventing a new category solely for single-family homes. So why bother write it into law and invite controversy?

The answer, I believe, is that early twentieth-century urban reformers (Bassett included) firmly believed that the American single-family home was a superior form of human habitat to the point that it had to be enshrined into law. Surely, individual homes located far from urban crowds were not an American invention. Bruegmann (2006) has shown how Roman elites cherished their out-of-town villas (while keeping urban dwellings too). And Robert Fishman (1987) has demonstrated that the English bourgeoisie, powered by new transportation technologies and informed by new social norms favoring the nuclear family, was the first in history to exit the city and move to permanent individual residences at the city’s edge. But neither movement translated into widespread city laws for districts only for detached family homes.44 It is in the United States that urban reformers had come to believe that mass living in detached homes is an integral part of the nation’s civilizational identity.45 The apartment house, regardless of whether it was rich or poor, was assumed to be inherently incapable of delivering the same social goods as the private detached home (Whittemore, 2013). The apartment was an unfit place to raise a family: not only did it bring “noise, street danger, litter, dust, contagion, light, air and fire risk”,46 but it was also “children-devouring” and “family-destroying.”47 And it ostensibly devoured children not just by fire or traffic accidents but also by moral corruption. The single-home family carried the paradigmatic values of American civilization and thus had to be defended as if it were a matter of defending the republic. As the New York’s City Board of Estimate and Apportionment phrased it while advocating zoning, “preserving the values of civilization is a matter of keen state interest… It is important from the standpoint of citizenship as well as from health, safety and comfort that sections be set aside where a man can own a home and have a little open space about it. It makes a man take a keener interest in his neighborhood and city. It has undoubted advantages in the rearing of future citizens.”48 A few years later, in 1925, the Supreme Court of California, in endorsing Los Angeles’s ordinance, which following Berkeley had created pure single-family zones, similarly proclaimed: “We think it may be safely and sensibly said that justification for residential zoning may… be rested upon the protection of the civic and social values of the American home. The establishment of such districts is for the general welfare because it tends to promote and perpetuate the American home… The home and its intrinsic influences are the very foundation of good citizenship”. And by “American home,” the judges meant only one type—the detached one housing an individual family (Whittemore, 2013).

Note the logical paradox that American zoning propagandists were setting themselves up for. On one side, many of them including Bassett, himself a man of modest origins, openly admitted that zoning was a tool of defending high-class interests. But on the other, if single-family homes would be available only to a small privileged class, how could America’s civilizational values persevere? If indeed single-family homeowners “make good citizens,” as Bassett (1922b) put it, yet few people fit that bill, wouldn’t America end up with too few “good citizens”? Thus while acknowledging class exclusion by zoning, Bassett also praised zoning for helping increase the sheer number of ordinary citizens residing in private homes. This was, as zoning propaganda from the period widely claimed, because once an area was zoned only for single-family homes, a greater number of developers were willing to build them and a greater number of people could obtain mortgages to buy them. One of the best things about zoning, Bassett (1922a) argued, was that once zoned, cities were “rapidly building up with the [private] homes of the best of the citizens who are not wealthy.” Exclusion mingled with populism—traits of U.S. zoning that still carry on.

This chapter demonstrated that zoning for residential segregation spans centuries. It was fed by imaginary divisions between gods and mortals, lords and peasants, and people of different castes, nationalities and colors. In the United States, the idea took a particular twist by centering on the perceived civilizational benefits of a particular physical form, the single-family home. The zoning methods that developed in the United States, as elsewhere, were never technical, normal or inevitable, and always the product of human values.


  1. 1.

    The literature on US exclusionary zoning is well-known and I will not repeat its basic charges here. The classics include P. Davidoff and M. Brooks. “Zoning out the poor”, in Suburbia: American dream and dilemma, edited by P. Dolce. Garden City: Anchor, 1976; A. Downs, Opening up the suburbs: An urban strategy for America. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1973; C. Haar and J. Kayden (eds). Zoning and the American Dream: Promises still to keep. Chicago: Planners Press, 1989.

  2. 2.

    Inclusionary zoning and zoning for affordable housing is also widely discussed in the literature and I will not repeat the basics here. For example, D. Porter Inclusionary Zoning for Affordable Housing. Washington, DC: Urban Land Institute, 2004; M. Morris, Incentive Zoning: Meeting Urban Design and Affordable Housing Objectives. Chicago: Planners Press, 2000.

  3. 3.

    We should keep in mind that zoning rules are only part of a package of actions through which governments may pursue residential segregation. The reshuffling of the Parisian population during the Haussmann rebuilding frenzy in the 1800s and the consolidation of public housing in U.S. central cities in the 1900s have caused residential segregation more than zoning rules could.

  4. 4.

    Since Marduk was not real, the order was likely passed by the priests who ruled in his name.

  5. 5.

    With the growth of suburbs in American history, the roles of urban center and periphery were reversed. Rather than the city centers, it was the suburbs that became “walled off” (via zoning, that is).

  6. 6.

    Aristotle, Politics, Book II (Chapter VII) (circa 350 BCE) (translated by W. Ellis) Accessed on July 18, 2012 at

  7. 7.

    I say “erroneously” because today we know these planning principles were already in use in earlier civilizations. S. Marshall, (ed.) Cities, Design and Evolution. London: Routledge, 24, 2009.

  8. 8.

    O. Robison, Ancient Rome, 15. The census at the end of the third century recorded 1790 domus and 44,300 insulae in Rome, according to L. Benevolo, The History of the City, 176.

  9. 9.

    This type of arrangement was also used by some Chinese and Japanese rulers. D. Keene, Cities and Empires. Journal of Urban History 32(1) (2005) 8–21.

  10. 10.

    Some ancient cities, going back all the way to Harappa, had areas outside of town designated for the foreign travelling merchants. See C. Nightingale, Segregation.

  11. 11.

    Medieval cities, like ancient ones, exhibited clear signs of occupational specialization in space. Medieval streets often carried the names of the occupational groups that dominated them: the street of goldsmiths, the street of glassworks (see Sjoberg, G, The Pre-industrial City). But unless occupation intersected with nationality or ethnicity (as in the case of foreign merchants), this separation followed from social customs and the advantages linked to the proximity of similar economic activities, rather than from law. The only relatively modern example of a government attempt to legally segregate a city by profession (and caste) that I could find comes from St. Petersburg, Russia. In 1703, Peter the Great tried to segregate the city. The population was divided into three groups: the merchants and professional specialists, the shopkeepers and craftsmen, and the commoners, each with their own quarters. But according to M. Hugo-Brunt, The History of City Planning, the authorities failed to maintain the separation.

  12. 12.

    Many medieval European cities had their Jewish populations confined to a quarter that “resembled a colony on an island or on a distant coast”; Lofland, A World of Strangers, 1973, 50. Other populations often confined to separate quarters were the sick and the “feeble-minded.”

  13. 13.

    This was a very mild treatment as compared to what the English were doing in Ireland. In the 1400s, the Crown decreed that farmers plow seventy miles of earthworks to keep the “wild Irish” away from English-speaking Dublin. Later monarchs even forbade Irish Catholics from living in any cities located on the island where they were born. See C. Nightingale, Segregation.

  14. 14.

    An Act for Erecting a Judicature for Determination of Differences Touching Houses Burned or Demolished in the Late Fire Which Happened in London (1667). Accessed on November 2, 2012 at

  15. 15.

    On his life and work, see G. Power, The advent of zoning. Planning Perspectives 4 (1989): 113.

  16. 16.

    This is about a century after such covenants had proliferated in London.

  17. 17.

    On private regulations, see: M. Weiss, The Rise of the Community Builders: The American real estate industry and urban land planning. New York: Columbia University Press, 1987; D. Young, Common Interest Developments: A Historical Review of CID Development, 1996. Accessed on March 10, 2013 at; R. Fogelson, Bourgeois Nightmares: Suburbia, 1870–1930, New Haven, Yale University Press, 2005; R. Fischler and K. Kolnik. American Zoning: German Import or Home Product?, 2006 Paper presented at the Second World Planning Schools Congress (Mexico City, July 1116).

  18. 18.

    Cited by Fogelson, Bourgeois Nightmares, 124.

  19. 19.

    Cited by R. Brooks and C. Rose Racial Covenants and Segregation, Yesterday and Today, 2010, 4. Accessed on September 12, 2012

  20. 20.

    Unlike their twentieth-century counterparts, these ordinances were not comprehensive and citywide.

  21. 21.

    Cited by W. Pollard, Outline of the law of zoning in the United States. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 155, Part 2: Zoning in the United States (1931): 1533.

  22. 22.

    Ibid., 18.

  23. 23.

    Bither was Director of the Manufacturers’ Association in Berkeley, California.

  24. 24.

    For instance, the neighborhood of Guilford Park, where no house could be occupied by “any person negro or of negro extraction.” Cited by R. Fogelson, 65.

  25. 25.

    Karst, K. L. Buchanan v. Warley 245 U.S. 60 (1917). Encyclopedia of the American Constitution, 1.

  26. 26.

    In 1948, the Supreme Court ruled in Shelley v. Kraemer (334 U.S. 1) that privately induced racial housing segregation is legally unenforceable: “Private agreements to exclude persons of designated race or color from the use or occupancy of real estate for residential purposes… [are] violative of the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.” In reality, racist deeds became unlawful only after the Fair Housing Act of 1968. R. Brooks and C. Rose, Saving the Neighborhood: Racially Restrictive Covenants, Law, and Social Norms. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2013.

  27. 27.

    On Bassett and zoning, see Toll, Zoned American, and Power, The Advent of Zoning, among many other sources.

  28. 28.

    New York Board of Estimate and Apportionment, New York City Building Zone Resolution, Restricting the Height and Use of Buildings and Prescribing the Minimum Sizes of Their Yards and Courts. New York: Author (1917).

  29. 29.


  30. 30.

    Ibid., 72.

  31. 31.

    Some cities outside of New York and California, like Minneapolis, had similarly experimented with such zones.

  32. 32.

    City of Berkeley, Districting Ordinance No. 452-N.S. Berkeley: Author, 1916.

  33. 33.

    On his life and work, see F. Akimoto, Charles H. Cheney of California. Planning Perspectives 18 (July) (2003): 253275.

  34. 34.

    C. Cheney, “The necessity for a zone ordinance in Berkeley”. Berkeley Civic Bulletin III(10) (1915), 165.

  35. 35.

    This example shows that, at least in the United States, the border between public and private regulations is ambiguous. In Berkeley and many other cities at the time, a municipality would create zoning rules, but they would take effect only if residents petitioned it to apply them to their neighborhood. A version of public-private partnership in rule-making exists today in Houston. See C. Berry, Land use regulation and residential segregation: Does zoning matter? American Law and Economics Review 3(2) (2001) 251274; M. Lewyn, How overregulation creates sprawl (even in a city without zoning). Wayne Law Review 50 (2004) 11711208.

  36. 36.

    He was President of the Civic Art Commission.

  37. 37.

    Village of Euclid, v Ambler Realty Co., 272 U.S. 365 (1926).

  38. 38.

    I have never found a quote from an early twentieth-century US zoning advocate admitting to have learned from the European colonial practices. I imagine such a confession would have been politically unacceptable. But this does mean that such “learning” never happened. Notably, racial separation in both America and the European colonies was justified in health, safety, and comfort terms (see Nightingale, Segregation).

  39. 39.

    On how zoning districts subdivided and multiplied, see D. Elliott, A better way to zone: Ten principles to create more livable cities. Washington, DC: Island Press, 2008.

  40. 40.

    The reasons I discuss are cultural. For an economic explanation of zoning, see W. Fischel, The Homevoter Hypothesis: How Home Values Affect Government Taxation, School Finance and Land-use Policies. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001. My interpretation comes closest to C. Perin Everything in Its Place: Social order and Land Use in America. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1977; M. Lees, Preserving property values? Preserving proper homes? Preserving privilege: The pre-Euclid debate over zoning for exclusively private residential areas, 1916–1926. University of Pittsburgh Law Review 56 (1994) 367–428; and Hirt, Home, Sweet Home.

  41. 41.

    The theories of the Chicago School are a good example.

  42. 42.

    See also R. Fischler, Health, safety and welfare: Markets, politics, and social science in early land-use regulation and community design. Journal of Urban History 24 (1998a) 675–719; R. Fischler, Toward a genealogy of planning: Zoning and the welfare state. Planning Perspectives 13 (1998b) 389–410.

  43. 43.

    Cited in Zoning in Atlanta, Journal of the American Institute of Architects, 1922 (10), 205.

  44. 44.

    Note that only a quarter of dwellings in the United Kingdom are detached homes and that, as earlier said, the English never employed exclusive single-family zoning as did the United States.

  45. 45.

    In the words of Andrew Jackson Downing, by building family “cottages,” America could distinguish itself other “coarse and brutal people.” A. Downing, “The architecture of country houses,” The suburb reader, edited by B. Nicolaides and A. Weise. New York: Routledge, 2006 [1850].

  46. 46.

    E. Bassett, “Present attitudes of courts toward zoning”, in Planning problems of town, city and region: Papers and discussions at the fifteenth National Conference on City Planning held at Buffalo and Niagara Falls, New York. Philadelphia: Fell, 1923, 117.

  47. 47.

    A. Crawford, “What zoning is,” in Zoning as an element in city planning, and for protection of property values, public safety and public health, edited by L. Purdy, H. Bartholomew, E. Bassett, A. Crawford and H. Swan. Washington, DC: American Civic Association, 1920, 7.

  48. 48.

    New York’s City Board of Estimate and Apportionment, New York City Building Zone Resolution, 2022, 31.


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© Springer International Publishing AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Architecture, Planning and PreservationUniversity of MarylandCollege ParkUSA

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