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Did suburban zoning become more restrictive?

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The US National Commission on Urban Problems in 1968 alleged that an increase in minimum residential lot sizes in the suburbs was a leading cause of suburban restrictiveness, and that part of the motivation for the increase was discrimination against households of low and moderate income. An examination of the zoning ordinances in all of the suburban municipalities in Cook County, Illinois for 1946 and 1971 shows that, except for a few prominent examples, such an allegation cannot be substantiated. Cook County is the second-largest county in the USA and had a suburban population of 2.124 million in 1970. Suburban Cook County consisted largely of dormitory suburbs in 1940. Eleven suburbs increased the restrictiveness of zoning during the 1946-71 period, but only two of these are of major importance. Nine suburbs reduced the restrictiveness of zoning, of which eight reduced the land requirements for multi-family housing. The study confirms the view that, in the 25 years after Word War II, some of the impact of restrictive zoning was mitigated by the availability of a wide variety of jurisdictions.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Center for Urban Real Estate, College of Business Administration University of Illinois at Chicago 601 S. Morgan St. Chicago IL 60607-7122 USA (), Email:

Publication date: 2004-10-01

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