Wednesday, September 13, 2006
What is “land use law”? It is remarkable how many people, including academics, cannot tell you that this is the umbrella term for law that addresses community development, zoning, sprawl, racial segregation, affordable housing, transportation, and other issues concerning how law shapes the spatial structure of our society, and vice versa. Land use law suffers from a lack of public awareness in part because it was only fairly recently that many people recognized the links among all of its components. Many still refer to the field as “land use planning,” which to me implies that it is still limited to the bureaucratic world of comprehensive plans, zoning maps, and variances. But this is no longer the case. Indeed, professional land use “planners” complain about the overuse and shapelessness of the word “planning,” as noted in this essay by Penn professor and city planner Eugenie Birch.
Prawfslawgs is collecting a legal “research canon,” yet it was only recently that somebody saw fit to tack on land use law to the “property” category (which usually focuses on the rights of private owners vis-à-vis each other). Others place land use law in “state and local government” (although topics such as environmental regulation and housing discrimination are federal).
Isn’t it time that land use law got its due? After all, as I like to say, this field of law arguably affects human happiness on a day-to-day basis (through rules that affect housing prices, traffic, and social integration) more than any other world of law.