Suburbanization and Constitutional Interpretation: Exclusionary Zoning and the Supreme Court Legacy of Enabling Sprawl

Suburbanization and Constitutional Interpretation: Exclusionary Zoning and the Supreme Court Legacy of Enabling Sprawl

By Dr. Wayne Batchis+

+ Assistant Professor, University of Delaware. Ph.D., Johns Hopkins University, 2009; J.D., University of Pennsylvania, 1999.

Excerpt from Suburbanization and Constitutional Interpretation: Exclusionary Zoning and the Supreme Court Legacy of Enabling Sprawl, 8 Stan. J.C.R. & C.L. 1 (April, 2012)

Introduction
 
It is impossible to mark to the precise moment in American history when suburbanization began. What can be stated with certainty is that, today, the United States is a decidedly suburban nation. The suburban landscape of single-family homes surrounded by more or less well-manicured lawns, resting in isolated pods of socioeconomically homogenous neighbors, has become the norm. Mixed-use, mixed-income neighborhoods are now an aberration. In fact, today more Americans live in suburbia than in rural areas and inner cities combined. 2 Many of the cities that experienced rapid growth during and after the post-World War Two housing boom, such as Phoenix and Atlanta, are themselves dominated by landscapes that are simultaneously urban and suburban. In such cities, even neighborhoods that are ostensibly urban are typically dominated by low-density, automobile-centric development patterns. The word "sprawl' has come to define this modern phenomenon. In recent years, the high social costs of this form of development have come into particularly high relief as foreclosure rates have risen to unprecedented levels in low-density Sunbelt cities and far reaching suburban (or exurban) areas. Many have lamented the toll sprawl has exacted on American life and seek to better understand its origins. Among the many explanations typically provided, however, the Supreme Court's jurisprudence is rarely mentioned. This omission is notable, for the Court has had many opportunities - and many good reasons - to declare laws that mandate sprawl development unconstitutional. Time and again, it has failed to do so.

Sprawl has been ...

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