Health, safety and public welfare. This phrase embodies the public’s justification to regulate land use. The text has made it clear that local governments and the community can legally, to some extent, control the way that private land is utilized and built in order to retain the aesthetics and order of an area. Of course, any individual would gladly agree to this jurisdiction being that it pertains to the “public interest” as a moral imperative; however, who exactly are these decisions made for? Are all parts of the population taken into account? And is there enough being done to improve the health, safety and public welfare of a community rather than simply using it as an excuse to control private land?
To be specific, it seems to me that although zoning is a very successful method to shape the way a city grows, it also allows the opportunity to positively shape the growing poverty of cities like New York City for example – through inclusionary zoning for affordable housing – but we do not work to this potential. This is very relevant in the results from NYC’s Voluntary Inclusionary Zoning Program which started in 2005. Inclusionary zoning requires a municipality to set aside a percentage of dwelling units for affordable housing, or to provide a certain amount in the area for every new housing development. NYC Council member Brad Lander revealed the yielded results. Since this option was passed for building developers, only 2% of all multifamily units built followed the program, even in area with significant development. In the two areas where there was decent growth in affordable housing, — Manhattan West Side and the Brooklyn Waterfront — the IZ Program proved to be successful. Clearly though, a voluntary approach to inclusionary zoning is ineffective.
A New York Times article reported that the poverty rate in NYC grew significantly from 20.1 percent in 2010 to 21.2 percent in 2012. And although these rates have since leveled off, the population continues to increase, meaning the city needs to grow with it – poverty and all. Such few legislation has been passed to aid this issue, and it is clear that the only way that a significant change will occur is if the government and law is involved in order to be able to fund and change policies. The New York Times Editorial Board stated that we “must also rethink how it uses policy tools, including subsidies, taxes and zoning rules” in order to provide affordable housing to accompany this increase in poverty.
So will health, safety and public welfare one day be more than just a reason to prevent the building of shadow-casting skyscrapers and preserving historical aesthetics of a municipality? Will changes in city zoning be made solely to create improvements to the lives of a communities citizens, rather than just for commercial and preferential reasons? We can only hope that the local governments can act and use their resources to their best potential and improve the population’s well being.