ICYMI News-“Liberal” Cities’ Bastions of Segregation Confront Their Own Mirrors

Canary. Photo by 4028mdk09.

“Human diversity—which nearly everyone in this staunchly liberal city would say is a good thing—only goes as far as the housing stock.”

On Dec. 7, Minneapolis’ City Council passed a city ordinance policy they say will do away single-family home zoning, “a policy,” they say, “that has done as much as any to entrench segregation, high housing costs, and sprawl as the American urban paradigm over the past century,” the liberal website Slate.com reported.

“[T]he City Council passed Minneapolis 2040, a comprehensive plan to permit three-family homes in the city’s residential neighborhoods, abolish parking minimums for all new construction, and allow high-density buildings along transit corridors.”

Minneapolis mayor Jacob Frey told Slate, “Large swaths of our city are exclusively zoned for single-family homes, so unless you have the ability to build a very large home on a very large lot, you can’t live in the neighborhood.”

According to the City Council member Cam Gordon, “a lot of research has been done on the history” of the historical perspective of how government zoning and building codes “crafted by city planners” for more than a century helped lead them to their conclusions that, “the way the city is set up right now is based on [a] government-endorsed and sanctioned racist system.”

The 2017 book, The Color of Law – A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America, by Richard Rothstein, as well a project titled, Mapping Prejudice, a project using digital technologies “that shows how racial restrictions were embedded in the physical landscape” of their community, “unearthing racial covenants in Hennepin County property deeds” showing “how much land was reserved for the exclusive use of white people for most of the twentieth century,” have lent to the City Council’s decision as a way to “publicly confront the racist roots of single-family zoning – and try to address the issue.”

The U.S. Supreme Court struck down race-based zoning in 1917, but nine years later, found it constitutional for a Cleveland suburb to ban apartment buildings. The idea that you could legislate out not just gritty industrial facilities but also renters spread rapidly. In concert with racism in real estate, police departments, and housing finance, single-family zoning proved as effective at segregating northern neighborhoods (and their schools) as Jim Crow laws had in the South.

Opening up Minneapolis’ wealthiest, most exclusive districts to triplexes, the theory goes, will create new opportunities for people to move for schools or a job, provide a way for aging residents to downsize without leaving their neighborhoods, help ease the affordability crunch citywide, and stem the displacement of lower-income residents in gentrifying areas. Homeownership in Minneapolis diverges along racial lines, with minority groups’ rates lagging between 20 and 35 percentage points behind that of whites. More rental supply citywide, in addition to a new $40 million slice of the budget for affordable housing, is expected to help tenants find a foothold. The mayor, for what it’s worth, is a renter himself—maybe the first tenant-mayor in the history of a city where (like in most American cities) the majority of people live in rental housing.


According to the City Council’s president Lisa Bender, this is another step in a number of “incremental” changes, pointing to the “living history” of what the landscape looked like during development the city along the streetcar line that consisted of neighborhoods of “rich diversity of housing typed and land uses, including duplexes, triplexes, and smaller multi-family building,” that existed “before single-family zoning.”

For further reading, also see the June 20, 2017 New York Times book review article of Rothstein’s “The Color Of Law,” title, A Powerful, Disturbing History of Residential Segregation in America.

One of the great strengths of Rothstein’s account is the sheer weight of evidence he marshals. A research associate at the Economic Policy Institute, he quite simply demolishes the notion that government played a minor role in creating the racial ghettos that plague our suburbs and inner cities. Going back to the late 19th century, he uncovers a policy of de jure segregation in virtually every presidential administration, including those we normally describe as liberal on domestic issues.

New York Times

Also, Mapping Prejudice – Visualizing the hidden histories of race and privilege in Minneapolis and What are Covenants?

During the twentieth century, racially-restrictive deeds were a ubiquitous part of real estate transactions. Covenants were embedded in property deeds all over the country to keep people who were not white from buying or even occupying land; their popularity has been well documented in St. LouisSeattleChicagoHartford, ConnecticutKansas City and Washington D.C.

Mapping Prejudice.org

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