NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

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 deter the entry of minority residents into majority neighborhoods through density restrictions (exclusionary zoning) and locate manufacturing activity in minority neighborhoods (environmental racism). However, identifying discrimination in these regulations is complicated by the fact that land use and zoning have been co-evolving for nearly a century in most American cities, rendering residential sorting and inequitable treatment 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 pre-existing land uses and the locations of minority neighborhoods, we find evidence of a pre-cursor to exclusionary zoning that was applied to black neighborhoods. We also find strong evidence of inequitable treatment of both southern black and immigrant neighborhoods with both appearing to have been targeted for increased levels of industrial use zoning.

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This paper was revised on October 27, 2014

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w20108

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