A new paper out of UCLA, published this month in
the Journal of the American Planning Association, explores the link
between land-use regulation and the segregation of income groups in
metropolitan areas, and contains a number of insights that should
be of interest to policymakers and stakeholders in the development
Citing established links between neighbourhood social mix and
the improved physical, economic, and social health of community
members, authors Michael Lens and Paavo Monkkonen set out to
investigate how zoning and development regulation exacerbates the
segregation of various income groups.
The authors identify two primary culprits: density restrictions,
which tend to result in high-wealth enclaves, and the concentration
of zoning and development control at the local level, which tends
to isolate poor and working-class families.
Density restrictions may take many forms, from square-footage
minimums, to floor-space ratio maximums, to restrictive definitions
of single-family housing, but in all cases represent what the
authors describe as "barriers to housing opportunity".
These barriers result in proverbial 'walled-cities', in
which wealth is highly-concentrated and lower income groups are
Similarly, localized regulation of zoning and development is
found to be strongly linked with income segregation. The authors
point to political pressure from local interests (i.e. NIMBYism)
and a multiplicity of zoning and project approval requirements as
being strongly correlated with the segregation of low-income
households. Where zoning and development regulation are centralized
at the State level, the study finds that income segregation is
These findings suggest that British Columbia's
current transition to a new Building Act, which standardizes
building and construction regulation across the province and
streamlines the zoning and project approval process, is a step in
the right direction. But the paper raises two further insights that
suggest municipal authorities (particularly the City of Vancouver,
where the new Building Act will not apply) should be evaluating
their density restriction policies if they want to meaningfully
address income inequality in their communities.
Firstly, the authors note that inclusionary housing policies
(e.g., the introduction of affordable, multi-family housing into
wealthier, low-density neighbourhoods) are more effective at
addressing income segregation than policies aimed at gentrifying
low-income urban areas.
Second, the authors note that municipal bodies, by virtue of
their limited legislative capacity, typically lack the means to
address income inequality issues in a direct way. The deregulation
of density controls and the streamlining of approval processes are
two matters over which local governments exercise significant
control, and thereby have the potential to tangibly impact income
inequality and segregation in their communities.
Russell v. Township of Georgian Bay provides a useful reminder of the fact that while municipal officials sometimes appear to hold all of the cards in disputes with home owners, that is not always the case.
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