An Economic History of Zoning and a Cure for its Exclusionary Effects

41 Pages Posted: 10 Nov 2003

See all articles by William A. Fischel

William A. Fischel

Dartmouth College - Department of Economics

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I outline the twentieth-century history of American zoning to explain how homeowners came to dominate its content and administration in most jurisdictions. Zoning's original purpose was to protect homeowners in residential areas from devaluation by industrial and apartment uses that had been made footloose by trucks and buses around 1910-1920. Large-scale developers were generally in favor of zoning in because prospective buyers balked at purchasing homes without sufficient protection for their investment. Completion of the interstate highway system around 1970 made jobs and employees so mobile that suburbs adopted growth controls to stem the tide. Legal attempts to develop low-income housing in suburbs induced many communities to adopt the facially neutral policy of excluding all development. The burgeoning environmental movement was enlisted to rationalize such exclusion. If zoning is indeed a substitute for home-value insurance, it seems worthwhile to investigate the possibility of home-equity insurance to reduce the demand for exclusionary zoning.

Keywords: zoning, housing development, homeowner insurance, suburban exclusion, transportation and land use

JEL Classification: R52, N9, H7

Suggested Citation

Fischel, William A., An Economic History of Zoning and a Cure for its Exclusionary Effects. Available at SSRN: or

William A. Fischel (Contact Author)

Dartmouth College - Department of Economics ( email )

Hanover, NH 03755
United States
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