Urban planner insists that zoning is racist

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      A senior urban planner and designer in Austin, Texas, generated some chatter over social media this weekend with a single tweet.

      "Zoning is racist," Meghan Skornia declared.

      "And my job depends on people wanting to buy zoning from me, so if I can say it, you can too."

      Skornia didn't stop there.

      She tweeted another message saying if urban design work doesn't already have police shooting and harassment data in the existing conditions, now is the time.

      "Public space improvements are not just physical," she stated.

      This isn't the first time that a statement like this has been made.

      The editor and publisher of The Corner Side Yard, urban planner Pete Saunders, has also pointed this out.

      All you have to do is search "racist zoning" on YouTube and various videos will come up.

      They include the one below, which highlights racist statements made by Harland Bartholomew, who created Vancouver's first town plan.

      Harland Bartholomew's racists comments were read aloud at a 2019 Seattle council meeting.

      Bartholomew's recommendations for Vancouver's streetscape, parks, schools, and zoning laid the foundation for the growth of the city's exclusive single-family neighbourhoods.

      In May, Vancouver–False Creek B.C. Liberal MLA Sam Sullivan posted a video on YouTube that also highlighted Bartholomew's racist views.

      "Bartholomew endorsed exclusionary aspects of zoning," Sullivan says in the video. "In the U.S., he claimed that zoning could prevent movement into finer residential districts by coloured people."

      Sam Sullivan's recent video reveals Harland Bartholomew's long-term impact on Vancouver.

      At the beginning of the video, Sullivan notes that back in the 1920s, some questioned why the City of Vancouver even hired Bartholomew, who came from the U.S. "regulatory, rule-based approach to zoning".

      "It starts with what can be built," Sullivan said. "Everything else is not possible."

      He described that as a "top-down" approach, which originated in Bismark's Germany.

      The B.C. Liberal MLA contrasted that with the U.K.'s "principle-based" approach, which begins with what cannot be built.

      Under this approach, everything else can possibly permitted—something Sullivan called a bottom-up method that's both incremental and organic.

      According to Sullivan, Bartholomew's zoning "froze the previously fluid boundaries right where they were in the 1920s".

      "They have barely moved in the 100 years since," Sullivan said.

      And that prevented apartments from being built in single-family residential districts.

      Nowadays, with the high price of single-family homes, those with lower incomes are effectively barred from living in these areas. Unless, of course, they rent a basement suite.


      Urban planner Amina Yasin wrote a very detailed article on the Tyee website about how to respond to racism in city-planning processes. It's available through her tweet below.