Exclusionary zoning: born bad, and even worse than we thought

(This is the second of a series that started with Exclusionary zoning: born bad. The next is Exclusionary zoning and the big lies of Seattle land use and planning, part 1.)

From its inception, zoning was a tool used to put pollution near people of color and people of color near pollution. In St. Louis, for example:

“The new [1919] ordinance designated zones for future industrial development if they were in or adjacent to neighborhoods with substantial black populations….On other occasions the commission changed an area’s zoning from residential to industrial if black families began to move into it. In 1927, violating its normal policy, the commission placed a park and playground in an industrial, not residential area, in hopes that this placement would draw black families to seek housing nearby….In 1948, commissioners explained that they were designating a U-shaped industrial zone to create a buffer between black residences inside the U and white residences outside it.”

But today we know something we didn’t know back then.

Black Americans are 40 percent more likely to have asthma than whites, as three times as likely to die as a result.

Air pollution, especially traffic-related pollution, increases the chances of developing asthma in adults and, in particular, school children.

Living within 200 meters of a major road elevates the risk.

We’ve also learned that living less than 50 metres from a major road or less than 150 metres from a highway is associated with a higher risk of developing dementia, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and MS, likely due to increased exposure to air pollution.

Meanwhile, today in Seattle:

 [W]ith some exceptions, persons of color disproportionately live in areas of the city with zoning for multifamily housing or “commercial” zoning (which allows a combination of multifamily housing and commercial uses). In Seattle, this housing is primarily located along, or otherwise in proximity to, major roadways. Within a 200-meter radius of T-1 and T-2 roadways, roadways that carry an average annual gross tonnage of more than 4 million, the noise and air pollution impacts are most acute. Despite representing only 21% of Seattle land area and 19% of the total population, 40% of the miles of T-1 and T-2 roadways are in the areas with the highest population of our most affected classes.  This means that people in protected classes are more likely to be living with exposure to acute noise and air pollution coming from high truck traffic roadways…

Seattle’s willful policy of limiting multifamily housing mostly to tight proximity to major roadways is causally having a disparate impact on the health and longevity of Black households.

And it is, in point of fact, while this is heaping insult onto injury for Black households, it is bad for everyone priced out of owning or renting a single family detached house. To isolate the impact of genetic or household risk factors for asthma one study evaluated health data for low birth weight children of all races living in zip codes where more than half the population was African American. Within these neighborhoods, the racial disparities vanished: all low birthweight children had a higher risk of asthma. And the study of the other diseases was comprised of 678,000 people of all races.

While there are many reasons one might think segregation by race or class is a bad thing, limiting housing that is more likely to be within financial reach of people of color and people with less rather than more money to unhealthful areas, on purpose, stands out.

And the relentlessness with which we hold to this stands out, too.

We now know the effects of Seattle’s policy of limited multifamily housing to tight proximity to major roads. One would like to think it was an innocent mistake, made with the best of intentions.

Unfortunately we have strong evidence it was undertaken in bad faith, and for the wrong reasons. We’ll cover that in a future post: Exclusionary zoning and the big lie of Seattle land use and planning.