Thursday, March 19, 2009

The future of urban land use … courtesy of a more diverse America? …

    How will the increasing ethnic diversity of America affect land use law?  One way that immigration is bound to change the law is that people from other nations will bring different perceptions of what makes a pleasant community.  The San Francisco Chronicle yesterday ran a story about a survey of how residents from different ethnic areas in Oakland (pic below) perceive their neighborhoods.  (Here’s a copy of a survey form.)     
Oakland    I’m beginning today my teaching of land use law to first-year law students.  One of the points that I’ll stress is that a bias in favor of single-family-home suburbia has been inherent in much American law over the past century.  With today’s rapid influx of people from other nations, however, the commonly shared ideal of a pleasant community (to the extent that there ever was one) may dissolve.  The Oakland survey found that immigrants from Latin America or China tend to prefer –- and tend to construct –- neighborhoods that remind them of their home country (or at least the comforting aspects of that home country).  This may involve less orientation toward the automobile and private space and more emphasis on pedestrianism, sidewalk commerce, and vibrant public spaces.    
   Who knows –- in 2026, we may get a judge who was the child of immigrants writing an important court opinion that, tossing 1926’s Village of Euclid v. Ambler Realty Co. on its head, by stating that “the integration of residential, business, and small industrial buildings will provide a more favorable environment for a community in which to rear children .…”    

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March 19, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

A history of the making of the ghetto …

   What causes racial segregation and “ghettos”?  Behavioral economists point out that if most people prefer not to be a racial minority in their neighborhood, rather extreme segregation may occur by private sorting.  Sociologists point to the isolation that ghettos engender, which almost ensures their persistence.  But legal scholars also point to the role that government land use laws play in segregating by race.  Indeed, the original “ghetto” in Venice was so-called because of laws that confined Jews to the area near the foundry (the word “ghetto” supposedly derives from the Venetian dialect’s word for foundry).   Although American governments have been prevented for nearly a century from zoning by race of residents, for decades the policies of various government agencies (including mortgage insurers) was to discourage racial integration, through the practice of “redlining.”
   A new book that is getting a lot of publicity is “Family Properties” by Beryl Satter (see this review in the Washington Post.)  Although I don’t usually like to refer to books that I haven’t read, Satter’s book seems to be particularly timely, in that it draws a link between the pushing of subprime loans on minority households in recent years to the abuses of black families in housing in earlier decades.  Focusing on Chicago, Satter’s thesis appears to be that redlining facilitated the mistreatment by lenders and landlords, playing a large role in creating the dreary ghettos that still plague cities such as Chicago today.

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March 18, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)