Divide and Sprawl, Decline and Fall: A Comparative Critique of Euclidean Zoning

Eliza Hall


As many commentators have pointed out, the land use patterns prevalent in the United States since the advent of Euclidean-style zoning have played a direct role in the development of a surprisingly broad range of problems: “[b]y fostering or requiring low density development with a high separation of uses, Euclidean zoning is one of the great generators of suburban sprawl, with all of its environmental, economic, and social costs.” These costs include pollution, loss of wilderness and farmland, racial and socioeconomic segregation of the population, and legal obstacles to effective urban rehabilitation.6 Moreover, in combination with prevailing patterns of local funding, the socioeconomic segregation caused by Euclidean zoning perpetuates itself by channeling less well-off children into chronically underequipped public schools and stretching the resources of many urban municipalities too thin, leaving them to choose between raising property tax rates or allowing their infrastructure to decay. That devil’s bargain bolsters the tendency of middle- and higher-income people to live in suburbs rather than cities, deepening the downward spiral in which many American cities find themselves. And the damage goes even further: “many current zoning practices disregard or even work against crime prevention goals” in both cities and suburbs. This is particularly problematic in light of the fact that “Euclidean systems of separation—conventional zoning—have been implemented ubiquitously” in the United States: “[a]bout ninety-seven percent of incorporated communities zone.”

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.5195/lawreview.2007.77


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