With nothing quick to blog about and not being in the mood to write something long, I dug into the Google Scholar pool for some interesting empirical work, which is something this blog hasn’t featured in a while. This paper shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, but it’s interesting empirical work nonetheless (.pdf):
The foregoing analysis suggests that patterns and processes of racial segregation in the post-civil rights American city are strongly affected by density zoning. At any point in time from 1990 to 2000, intermetropolitan variation in Black-White segregation and Black isolation was strongly predicted by a metropolitan area’s relative openness to housing construction, as embodied in maximum zoning rules—the greater the allowable density, the lower the level of racial segregation. Moreover, our instrumental variable analysis suggests that the causal arrow runs from regulation to segregation even if the reverse is also true.
In keeping with these cross-sectional findings, we also found that the prospects for desegregation are greater in areas with more liberal density regulations. From 1980 to 2000, metropolitan areas that allowed higher density development moved more rapidly toward racial integration than their counterparts with strict density limitations, even after controlling for a battery of social, geographic, and economic characteristics and for potential reverse causality between segregation and zoning. Our confidence that anti-density zoning is a true source of segregation is increased by a recent working paper by Rothwell (2009b) that uses the same data and finds essentially the same results for levels of Asian and Hispanic segregation, and consistent with Pendall’s (2000) analysis, we do not find any consistent pattern emerging for other land-use regulations.
In terms of underlying mechanisms, we argue that restrictive density zoning produces higher housing prices in White areas and limits opportunities for people with modest incomes to leave segregated areas, a perspective in accordance with a great deal of research showing that zoning increases housing prices (Rothwell 2009a; Glaeser and Gyourko 2002; Glaeser, Gyourko, and Saks 2005; Fischel 1985).
In their analysis, Cutler and Glaeser (1997) found evidence that decentralized White racism, as revealed in housing preferences, perpetuated contemporary segregation in U.S. metropolitan areas. Our analysis suggests that whatever their racial motivations, homeowners reveal their political preferences to exclude households of modest means through low-density zoning under certain predictable conditions. These conditions are found in metropolitan areas where local governments are relatively fragmented, rural settlements are prevalent, jurisdictions rely heavily on property taxation, and the percentage of African-Americans is high. We believe federal policy should be brought to bear on local land regulations, prohibiting the most severe density restrictions.