Engineering Earth pp 2053-2065 | Cite as

Zoning as a Form of Social Engineering

  • Bobby M. Wilson
  • Seth Appiah-Opoku


Zoning affects almost every aspect of life in the U.S. It helps determine where and how homes, factories, parks, hospitals, schools, roads, sewers and other essential services are located in our communities. Strong market forces, as well as individual and societal values play a major role in decisions regarding types and intensities of land uses. For instance, developers, preservationists, homeowners, renters, businesses, planners and politicians have respectable but different perspectives concerning the use of land. In this sense, zoning mirrors the clash of values in our society. This chapter discusses the history and evolution of zoning as a land use regulatory tool in the U.S. The nature, purpose, legal basis and the limitations of zoning as practiced in the U.S. are also discussed. Zoning involves the division of a community into districts and determining what can and cannot be built on the parcels of land within each district. Historically the districts or zones took the shape of a pyramid in structure and this is typically known as the Euclidean zoning. A major criticism of Euclidean zoning was its inflexibility. In response, local governments have increasingly enacted sophisticated zoning tools designed to resolve rigid and conflicting interests in land use. More flexible zoning methods like overlay zones, floating zones, conditional and performance zoning have evolved to support more sustainable communities. The chapter concludes with a discussion of specific case examples that underline the fact that zoning is a form of social engineering designed to ensure both flexibility and predictability in land use decisions in the U.S.


Property Owner Urban Renewal Affordable Housing Social Engineering Performance Zoning 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Alexander, J., & Schmidt, K. H. W. (1996). Social engineering: Genealogy of a concept. In A. Podgorecki, J. Alexander, & R. Shields (Eds.), Social engineering (pp. 1–19). Ottawa, ON: Carleton University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Babcock, R. F. (1966). The zoning game. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.Google Scholar
  3. Buckley v. Valeo. (1976). 424 U.S. 1.Google Scholar
  4. Connerly, C. (2005). The most segregated city in America: City planning and civil rights in Birmingham, 1920–1980. Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press.Google Scholar
  5. Connerly, C., & Wilson, B. M. (1997). The roots and origins of African American planning in Birmingham, Alabama. In M. Thomas & M. Ritzdorf (Eds.), Urban planning and the African American community: In the shadows (pp. 201–219). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  6. Corrigan v. Buckley (1926). 271 U.S. 323.Google Scholar
  7. Cullingworth, B., & Caves, R. W. (2003). Planning in the USA: Policies, issues and processes (2nd ed.). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  8. Daniels, T. L., Keller, J. K., & Lapping, M. K. (1995). The small town planning handbook (2nd ed.). Chicago, IL: APA Press.Google Scholar
  9. Delaney, D. (1998). Race, place, and the law 1836–1948. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.Google Scholar
  10. DiMento, J. (1981). The consistency doctrine: Continuing controversy. Zoning and Planning Law Report, 4, 89–96.Google Scholar
  11. Euclid v. Ambler Realty Co. (1926). 272 U.S. 365 (1926).Google Scholar
  12. Fischel, W. A. (1985). The economics of zoning laws: A property rights approach to American land use controls. Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  13. Golden v. Planning Board of the Town of Ramapo (1972). 30 N.Y.2d 359, 334 N.Y.S.2d 1381, 285 N.E.2d 291, app. dism’d, 409 U.S. 1003.Google Scholar
  14. Greenbaum, R.(1978, December). Zoning, taking, and inverse condemnation. Zoning and Planning Law Review, 2, 97–104.Google Scholar
  15. Inclusionary Zoning. (2009). Conference Resources. American Planning Association. Retrieved May 13, 2009, from
  16. Juergensmeyer, J. C., & Roberts, T. E. (2007). Land use planning and development regulation law. St. Paul, MN: West Group.Google Scholar
  17. Kirby, R. F., de Leeuv, F., & Silverman, W. (1972). Residential zoning and equal housing opportunities: a case study in Black Jack, Missouri. Washington, DC: Urban Institute.Google Scholar
  18. Leung, H. K. (1989). Land use planning made simple. Kingston, ON: Ronald Frye and Company.Google Scholar
  19. Levy, J. M. (2000). Contemporary urban planning (5th ed.). New Jersey: Prentice Hall.Google Scholar
  20. McCarthy, D. J. (1995) Local government law. St. Paul, MN: West.Google Scholar
  21. Monell v. New York City Department of Social Services. (1978). 98 S. Ct. 2018, 56 L. Ed.2d 611 (No. 75-1914).Google Scholar
  22. Moskowitz, D. H. (1977). Exclusionary zoning litigation. Cambridge: Ballinger.Google Scholar
  23. Mulger v. Kansas. (1887). 123 U.S. 623.Google Scholar
  24. Nelson, R. (1977). Zoning and property rights: An analysis of the American system of land-use regulation. Cambridge: The MIT Press.Google Scholar
  25. Pennsylvania Coal v. Mahon. (1922). 260 U.S. 393.Google Scholar
  26. Polisky, P. S. (1978). Regulation of signs and billboards. Zoning and Planning Law Report, 1(May), 49–56.Google Scholar
  27. Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. (2000). 106th Congress, 2d Session.Google Scholar
  28. Riegler, E. (1978) Amortization of nonconforming uses. Zoning and Planning Law Report, 2, 89–96.Google Scholar
  29. Riis, J. A. (1918 [1890]). How the other half lives: Studies among the tenements of New York. New York: C. Scribner’s Sons.Google Scholar
  30. Rose, J. G., & Rothman, R. E. (1977). After Mount Laurel: The new suburban zoning. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers: The State University of New Jersey.Google Scholar
  31. Smith, H. H. (1993). The citizen’s guide to planning. Chicago, IL: American Planning Association.Google Scholar
  32. So, F. S., & Getzels, J. (1988). The practice of local government planning (2nd ed.). Washington, DC: International City Management Association.Google Scholar
  33. State ex rel. Dema Realty Co. v. McDonald, (1929) 168 La. 172, 121 So. 613, cert. denied, 280 U.S. 556 (1929).Google Scholar
  34. State ex rel. Dema Realty Co. v. Jacoby (1929), 168 La. 752, 123 So. 314.Google Scholar
  35. Strom, F. A. (1978). Local zoning and the federal courts. Part I and II. Zoning and Planning Law Report, 1(September and October), 73–88.Google Scholar
  36. Surge, T. (1996). The origins of the urban crisis: Race and inequality in postwar Detroit. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  37. U.S. v. City of Black Jack, (1974) 372 F. Supp. 319 (E. D. Mo.)Google Scholar
  38. Village of Arlington Heights et al. v. Metropolitan Housing Development Corp. et al. (1977) 429 U.S. 252.Google Scholar
  39. Wickersham, K., Jr. (1978). Reform of discretionary land-use decision-making: Point systems and beyond. Zoning and Planning Law Report, 1, 65–72.Google Scholar
  40. Zabel v. Tabb, 430 F. 2d 199, 215 (5th Circuit 1970, cert. denied 401 U.S. 910 (1970).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of GeographyUniversity of AlabamaTuscaloosaUSA

Personalised recommendations