Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Pittsburgh Firm That Helped Create The South's Jim-Crow Era Racial Zoning Maps

Most urbanists are painfully aware how today's zoning laws tend to segregate people by race, class and age. Families with kids in large houses live here; Students here; Poor renters here etc....

But, this story I discovered unlocks the not so secret intent of laws which have remained surprisingly unchanged over many decades. They were designed to do exactly that! The first zoning codes were developed in Southern Cities to explicitly segregate blacks from whites, followed by California laws to restrict Asian's

After The Supreme Court struck down those codes, Northern engineering and consulting firms helped create maps that would create these results, legally. Often nothing more was done, other than replace racial designations with letters and numbers. Similar laws soon were adopted across the country, including Pittsburgh's in 1923.

The Pittsburgh based firm of Morris Knowles was instrumental in creating Jim-Crow Era maps for cities like Birmingham and Charleston, South Carolina. It also was a key player in the design of Pittsburgh's first major zoning law.

"The meaning of those diagonal lines isn't stated on the map's key, but what was plainly understood then, in Jim Crow-era Birmingham, is that they represented areas where blacks, by a local law, were allowed to live."

Still learning more about the origin of the laws that still shape our city. Will try to follow up with more several more posts.

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