Planning Milagros: Environmental Justice and Land Use Regulation

154 Pages Posted: 4 Dec 2007

See all articles by Craig Anthony (Tony) Arnold

Craig Anthony (Tony) Arnold

University of Louisville - Brandeis School of Law


This article articulates a land use planning perspective on environmental justice, which is about the impacts of environmental and land use policies and practices on low-income and minority communities. In analyzing a typology of five conceptions of environmental justice (evidentiary, power/political, legal rights, environmental enforcement, and market/economic), the article identifies an underlying reactive character to environmental justice concepts and efforts. There is a need for an additional proactive, planning perspective on environmental justice, focused on the capacity of low-income neighborhoods of color to participate in decision making and to shape their local environments.

In developing the argument for a planning perspective, the article presents empirical evidence of disproportionate distributions of industrial and other intensive zoning by race and class, using analysis of zoning patterns in 31 census tracts in 7 cities. It also describes the historical failures of zoning, planning, and local infrastructure policies to protect low-income and minority neighborhoods or to treat them equally with other neighborhoods. Nonetheless, as 5 case studies illustrate, grassroots efforts in low-income and minority communities are now focusing on shaping land use plans, policies, and practices. The article analyzes a variety of land use regulatory mechanisms that can be used to seek environmental justice, including planning, zoning amendments, several flexible zoning techniques, and exactions. It concludes with an analysis of limits to local land use regulations as environmental justice tools, including private property rights protections, state preemption, and politics.

Keywords: environmental justice, land use, zoning, planning, racism, civil rights, environmental enforcement, localism, civic capacity, industrial zoning, brownfields, empirical study, private property rights, equity

Suggested Citation

Arnold, Craig (Tony) Anthony, Planning Milagros: Environmental Justice and Land Use Regulation. Denver University Law Review, Vol. 76, No. 1, p. 1, 1998, Available at SSRN:

Craig (Tony) Anthony Arnold (Contact Author)

University of Louisville - Brandeis School of Law ( email )

Wilson W. Wyatt Hall
Louisville, KY 40292
United States
502-852-6388 (Phone)
502-852-0862 (Fax)


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