There is no doubt that zoning plays a big role in urban planning and design, though until a week ago I was clueless about the several types of zoning that are considered when plans are being drawn by consultants or municipal agencies. As a potential sociology minor, I find studies of minority groups the most intriguing so Inclusionary zoning resonated the most with me. While I was always aware that low-income housing spanned a small, but well populated part of my neighborhood, I never knew they were legally required to include them in planning for a city. The Mt. Laurel II cases made it an obligation for communities to provide housing for low to moderate income households, as was explained in Contemporary Urban Planning by John Levy (Levy 81).
For example, my town North Bergen, NJ in Hudson County. It is largely residential with businesses and family restaurants scattered throughout, but the housing put aside for low-income residents bears a stark contrast to the rest of the residences. They are these big brown brick towers pushed far back in the street with a large expanse of lawn that is most often littered with garbage. The buildings look as if they have been around for ages and could use a good makeover. It’s not just that the property itself looks a little haggard, but the atmosphere around that block seems to always be gloomy, with trees blocking the sunlight and small sidewalks that only allow single file walking. I always thought to myself, why build this type of housing complex on the main street running through the whole town? The buildings almost seem to be a strange afterthought, as though they were made with good intentions, but with leftover materials. Nowadays as I look around my town with a more critical eye, I wonder if the planner who thought to include it believed bringing the housing to the forefront of the community would be a good way to maintain diversity and acceptance.
People seem to think that those who live in low-income housing should be excluded, or tucked away in some extremity of the town. However, in my town, I like that it is incorporated, though somewhat strangely, into the heart of the place. It stands tall and holds a variety of people that really illustrates the diversity of North Bergen. While I initially thought that the complex was totally out of place and should have been built elsewhere, I now realize that it is exactly where it should be. It allows these families to have a support system of diverse people that is easily accessible and this shows the benefits of Inclusionary zoning. I believe that Inclusionary zoning shouldn’t just be a requirement included into the plan, but it should be at the forefront of the planning process. Creating a town centered around an integrated community of citizens with different economic backgrounds will generate more interest and involvement in planning.