On Monday, alluding to a link in HALA's report about racial covenants, the mayor said our current zoning came with a "residue" of past racism. To test the claim that there's any current connection between zoning and racial demographics, we asked the Department of Planning and Development to overlay Seattle’s racial demographic diversity with current DPD zoning in the city.
Here’s the map Jennifer Pettyjohn (DPD’s Senior Planning Development Specialist and Geographic Information Specialist) came up with.
Pettyjohn took 2010 Census Bureau spatial racial demographic data (on a city grid block by block basis) illustrated with grey and purple dots (grey dots represent five white persons on a given city block and purple dots are the non-white equivalent) and slapped it over a map of Seattle’s urban villages (within the thick black lines) and the city’s various types of zoned land. Purple area equals multi-family/commercial, white is single family, grey is industrial, and green is park land (duh).
The large blank areas in multi-family/commercially zoned land (purple) mean that there is commercial property there rather than residential (the University district is dominated by the UW campus, for example.)
So, does the map show that more density (urban villages as opposed to less populated single family zones) means more diversity due to theoretical increased variety and affordability? Pettyjohn says it’s really tough to say. The data only reflects racial diversity spatially on top of zoning and urban village outlines. We don’t know what kind of housing people are living in, she says, only where they’re living. Folks could be living in single family homes that happen to be located in multi-family and urban village zones. In addition, we don’t know what came first: the zoning or the people.
However, a few cursory conclusions can be drawn from the map. First, single family zones are overwhelmingly white, with the exception of Southpark and the Rainier Valley, an area which has historically been the home of immigrants, refugees, and racial minorities.
Multi-family zones and urban villages on the other hand tell a slightly different story, particularly when contrasted with single family zones. They are both largely denser, and more diverse than their single family counterparts (such as Lake City, for example). One can theorize, she says, that the potential for more density and housing variety has led to a broader range of access for lower income demographics (there are substantial income and wealth gaps between whites and minorities in Seattle, particularly blacks.) But of course, that's strictly theory. There are exceptions, such as Eastlake and Ballard where the white to minority ratio seems to be equivalent to SFZs (i.e mostly white).
"Obviously housing choices are complex for all sorts of reason. People choose to live in places for affordability, accessibility, the [character of the] neighborhoods," Pettyjohn says. "It's really hard to isolate one aspect of it." she said. "[But] I think you would have a wider range of affordability [with multi-family] ... potentially."
Pettyjohn noted that when she looked at Census Bureau demographic data from 1990, 2000, and 2010 (overlaid onto the same zoning and urban village map), that there has been a significant increase in non-whites in the properties redeveloped into Seattle Housing Authority affordable housing, which are located within multi-family zones. “That’s what they needed in place to have those communities,” said Pettyjohn.