Race, Ethnicity, and Discriminatory Zoning

Allison Shertzer, Tate Twinam, Randall P. Walsh

NBER Working Paper No. 20108
Issued in May 2014
NBER Program(s):   DAE   EEE   LE

Zoning has been cited as a discriminatory policy tool by critics, who argue that ordinances are used to locate manufacturing activity in minority neighborhoods (environmental racism) and deter the entry of minority residents into good neighborhoods using density restrictions (exclusionary zoning). However, empirically documenting such discriminatory behavior is complicated by the fact that zoning and land use have been co-evolving for nearly a century in most American cities, rendering discrimination and sorting observationally equivalent. We employ a novel approach to overcome this challenge, studying the introduction of comprehensive zoning in Chicago. Using fine-scale spatial data on the location of African Americans and immigrants across the city along with maps of pre-existing land use, we find strong evidence of environmental racism. Both southern black and immigrant neighborhoods appear to have been targeted for increased levels of industrial use zoning. We also find evidence of a pre-cursor to modern day exclusionary zoning.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w20108

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