Zoned in the USA
The Origins and Implications of American Land-Use Regulation
Why are American cities, suburbs, and towns so distinct? Compared to European cities, those in the United States are characterized by lower densities and greater distances; neat, geometric layouts; an abundance of green space; a greater level of social segregation reflected in space; and—perhaps most noticeably—a greater share of individual, single-family detached housing. In Zoned in the USA, Sonia A. Hirt argues that zoning laws are among the important but understudied reasons for the cross-continental differences.
Hirt shows that rather than being imported from Europe, U.S. municipal zoning law was in fact an institution that quickly developed its own, distinctly American profile. A distinct spatial culture of individualism—founded on an ideal of separate, single-family residences apart from the dirt and turmoil of industrial and agricultural production—has driven much of municipal regulation, defined land-use, and, ultimately, shaped American life. Hirt explores municipal zoning from a comparative and international perspective, drawing on archival resources and contemporary land-use laws from England, Germany, France, Australia, Russia, Canada, and Japan to challenge assumptions about American cities and the laws that guide them.
"This is an excellent book and an impeccable introduction to American zoning for anyone interested in US city planning and urban geography. In one sense, it is a primer on US zoning theory and practice: it provides all the basic elements and history in a mercifully succinct manner in under two hundred pages. This would be an ideal book to give to a student or colleague just cutting his or her teeth in urban studies. Yet, at the same time, Sonia Hirt makes some original
"[Hirt] provides a succinct overview of the history of zoning in the US. She compares zoning in the US to five European countries—England, France, Sweden, Germany, and Russia—to highlight its distinctiveness.The story of American zoning reveals its origins in the early-20th century, fashioned to maintain property values and protect Americans' investments in their homes. The book tells
"This kind of comparative research deserves more support and encouragement. Although it is difficult to do, it holds out the promise of a richer analysis of the historical development of institutions—particularly, as in this case, when cross-national policy transfer is an explicit part of the history."—Jerome Hodos, Journal of American History (March 2016)
"Sonia Hirt contends that America's approach to land-use control, which puts such a premium on insulating single-family homes from all other uses, is unique from most other places in the western world. American exceptionalism is effectively demonstrated in this comparative analysis. Hirt is careful not to overly judge the American system and suggests a paradox regarding our demonstrated proclivity to value individualism (as symbolized by the single-family detached house) and yet
"This very important book represents a significant contribution to the literature on U.S. land-use regulatory practices. The comparative framework of Zoned in the USA is distinctive. It allows Sonia Hirt to identify the uniqueness of U.S. zoning in its origins, its institutional arrangement, and its physical outcome. I know of no other work that as insightfully compares U.S. practices to the international experience. Hirt shows that the U.S. approach to land-use
Sonia A. Hirt
Sonia A. Hirt is Professor and Associate Dean of Academic Affairs in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies, Virginia Tech. She is the author of Iron Curtains: Gates, Suburbs and Privatization of Space in the Post-socialist City and coeditor most recently of The Urban Wisdom of Jane Jacobs.