So I’ve been reading away on Sonia Hirt’s 2014 book
Zoned in the USA: The Origins and Implications of American Land Use Regulation, and finding it quite helpful. Sonia was one of my colleagues at Virginia Tech, and she’s really a wonderful thinker. She’s from eastern Europe, and she’s from architecture, which means she has a unique way of looking at land use and American practices in a way that helps us see things we normally don’t.
I’m not that far into yet, and I’ve been a rotten reader and have been reading out of order, but so far, she’s focussed in on the American cultural aspects of zoning. I’m never sure how to evaluate these sorts of claims about cultural predilections. They feel apt enough, but then there’s the nagging question of how you seek and formulate evidence, a common enough complaint about cultural histories, where charges of essentialism loom.
The book’s organization is a bit surprising, which is one reason I’ve been jumping about a bit; you start with how American zoning works. This is a very nice chapter for planning students, along with the subsequent chapter, on how other, most European, countries approach zoning. The last chapters have to do with explaining the beginnings of zonings, so that it’s a bit inverted. I think the structure does work, particularly for students.