Posts Tagged ‘euclidean zoning’

Euclidean zoning has been incredibly efficient at organizing the land uses of our towns and cities. The organization patterns have become so efficient at segregating people and places that our communities do not realize the effects of the rigid zoning patterns until it is too late.

We have created an environment that lacks the possibility for adaptation – an environment that is full of monotony and lacking diversity. (Euclidean Effects on the Built Environment)

What else have we created in the process of organizing our communities? In the process of organizing for efficiency and segregation, we construct a transportation framework that revolves around the use of the automobile – more often than not, the single-occupant automobile (SOV). The option of walking or cycling from the residence to where we work, shop, play and learn has been lost in and beyond the first ring suburbs for our residents.

Segregation and Disconnected communities increase our dependence on the automobile and decrease our propensity to walk.

Let’s examine this a bit further in how our transportation networks are organized. First let’s start with a question.  When was the last time that you were on a highway or major street and could see the physical location where you wanted to go, but did not have any idea in how to get there? This occurs very often and enhances the frustrating experience of driving in the suburbs. It is a direct result of the efficiency machine that is the road classification system. Interestingly enough, the basics of the road classification system work similar to a typical sewer system, where sewage pipes and infrastructure start small at the individual residence or building and continually grow larger as the sewage moves away and collects additional sewage from other areas. A single blockage or interruption of flow can cause a nuisance for an entire subdivision. Interruptions in traffic in an emergency can be tragic to the fleeing drivers.

Moving beyond the sewage digression, recognizing the parallels to the way we move sewage and how we funnel our vehicles in a system. Street classification systems require minimum distances between intersections as a means to maintaining the speed of traffic on a major street. In this scenario and in a controlled environment, vehicular traffic should function in an efficient manner. But we are not in a controlled environment and the drivers are a major variable.  Drivers get distracted easily and cause an increasingly amount of vehicular accidents in our country, many of which are fatal. When an accident occurs on suburban streets and highways, long delays are caused and navigating to another route is near impossible. If you watch the traffic delay problems in your city, most delays occur in suburban locations where the road classification system is implemented to its full capacity. You rarely have the same issues in an urban environment with the original connected network of streets is in place. Interstate highways and road improvements in urban environments are certainly the exception where the suburban transportation model is imposed on an existing urban network.

If you would like to read more about the classification system, see the website for the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration.

Euclidean Zoning is the common term that represents conventional zoning laws across the United States. Euclidean zoning is also referred to as single-use zoning.  The basic component of Euclidean zoning is the classification, or segregation, of land use types, i.e. single-family residential; multi-family residential; commercial; industrial, etc.

The term refers to a United States Supreme Court case from 1926, Village of Euclid, Ohio v. Ambler Realty Co. The Village of Euclid, as a means of preventing the invasion of Cleveland’s industrial sprawl from their community, developed a zoning ordinance with six land use classifications.  Ambler Realty Co. was a property owner in Euclid who sued the Village of Euclid for substantially reducing the value of their land by limiting its use.  The Village of Euclid won the landmark case, creating a basis for the Supreme Court on zoning laws.  Euclidean zoning spread across the United States shaping the first ring suburbs and exurban communities of our country.  Even today, 85 years later, townships and municipalities use a variation of the original zoning laws to shape our automobile-centric environment.

This bird’s eye image from Bing Maps ( illustrates Euclid, Ohio today where the segregation of land uses is evident in the photos.

I will be writing a few blog posts in the near future that relate to Euclidean zoning discussing its impact on the built environment, financial markets, and of course our country’s addiction to oil.