It has been roughly a century since early advocates of zoning took notice of how crowded and congested housing conditions contributed to the spread of disease (including the then-recent H1N1 pandemic). The U.S. Supreme Court had just rejected on property rights grounds a city ordinance that expressly segregated neighborhoods by race. One hundred years later, the exposure of the weaknesses embedded in our system of public land use regulation during the crises of 2020 presents a unique and timely opportunity for serious consideration of major and minor adjustments to state statutes, local ordinances, and judicial decisions.
This Article calls for a comprehensive reform of zoning, eschewing pie-inthe-sky or revolutionary changes. It presents for the first time to state legislators, local officials, judges, academic commentators, and law and planning professionals a comprehensive set of achievable steps to take now in anticipation of future pandemics, in response to current and anticipated public health emergencies caused by climate change, and in addressing (at long last) social justice issues directly tied to undeniable elements of systemic racism caused and exacerbated by the paucity of safe, affordable housing. History will determine whether American public officials and private-sector participants will have attended to the painful lessons from the current crises in order to fine-tune zoning and land use regulation, or whether the U.S. will go back to our old and harmful habits once again.