Argument: class concerns behind zoning laws

One commentator suggests that activities commonly banned by zoning laws are banned because they don’t meet middle-class or upper-class standards:

1. Clotheslines instead of dryers. Reason: Looks poor. Might suggest you can’t afford a dryer. Plus, you might see underwear that isn’t your own. This is a major cause of sin.

2. No livestock, but large pets are acceptable. Reason: Ostensible reasons are health based, a few even broadly grounded in fact, They ignore, however, that carnivore manures are almost certainly more dangerous than any other livestock manure, and health issues are at least as prevalent from pets. The same is true of considerations of size, noise, etc… – barking dogs the size of ponies are permitted while three quiet hens are not. The real reason is that pets are broadly a sign of affluence, since they cost us money, while livestock are a sign of poverty, because they provide economic benefits.

3. No front yard gardens. Reason: The lawn is a sign of affluence – you have money, leisure and water enough to have a chunk of land, however tiny, that doesn’t produce anything.. It creates in many neighborhoods a seemingly contiguous but basically sterile, often chemically toxic and seeming “public” greenspace that is actually privatized and not very green. Gardens, on the other hand, have dirty wildlife and bugs in them, and might grow food, which is bad because it implies you can’t afford it – even if you can’t.

4. No rainwater collection. Reason: This is mostly in dry places in the Southwest, for fear that the tiny amount of available rainwater might not reach people who can’t afford to pay for it, or strangely believe that water that lands on their roof might belong to them, and who would like to have gardens anyway. A few other municipalities do it for fear of west nile disease because they seem never to have heard of screens or mosquito dunks. Oh, and barrels look like you can’t afford to water your lawn with sprinklers, even when it is raining. While western riparian water rights are an issue, research has shown over and over again that rainbarrels increase net water access and that lost water in storm surge that could have been collected in rainbarrels is a net gain. Fortunately, many cities are finally getting over this one.

5. No commerce that isn’t white collar. Reason – Class. Telecommuters who can make money out of their homes all they want, or upscale white collar professionals with home offices are generally permitted in residential zoning.. This means people who want to sell food, do hair, fix things, cannot hang a discrete sign selling their biscuits or offering their services. This is deemed ugly and bad – and it is a visible reminder that people might not have enough money to keep warm burning it, and might need to earn some.

This seems to get at one of the basic principles of suburban life in recent decades, particularly in places with homeowners associations: legislate against certain behaviors in order to protect your own property values. Voluntarily give up some of your property rights in order to protect yourself from neighbors who don’t care about their property as much as you do. Theoretically, everyone then wins because the neighborhood is protected.

This reminds me of accounts of some early suburbs in the United States where people built their own homes and frequently kept animals. Building your house yourself these days would likely run into all sorts of code concerns (unless you were a proficient plumber, electrician, etc.). Additionally, I imagine the home might look less “perfect” than mass produced housing and these accounts told about how people frequently were adding on to their homes or leaving certain parts in various states of repair.

Many suburbs and communities have faced the question in recent years about residents keeping animals. Some have allowed it, some have not. I assume this is not as much of a concern in wealthier suburbs but it would be interesting to see if there are patterns in which communities allowed animals and which did not.

Overall, zoning is often black and white in its approach and residential zones are meant to be only for residences.

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