The Geography of Inequality: How Land Use Regulation Produces Segregation and Polarization
High levels of racial segregation persist in the United States. We argue that land use control is an important tool for maintaining this pattern. Cities have the capacity to make housing and public goods available or not, thereby affecting the demographics of the community. Since the early 20th century white communities have invested significant effort into protecting their homogeneity. We draw on precinct level initiative elections from several California cities to show that, even today, whiter neighborhoods are more supportive of restricting development. We draw on ballot statements to offer evidence that voters were likely to have understood the consequences of their vote for density, housing prices, and housing availability – which in turn, affect segregation. Then, we show that these results are also reflected in the aggregate. Cities that were whiter than their metropolitan area in 1970 are more likely to have restrictive land use patterns in 2006. We use distance from slave ports as an instrument for the city’s racial makeup. Finally, relying on Federal Fair Housing Act lawsuits to generate changes in land use policy, we show that restrictive land use helps to explain metropolitan area segregation patterns over time. In sum, we build a compelling case for the important power of land use in maintaining racial segregation.