Exclusionary by Design

An Investigation of Zoning’s Use as a Tool of Race, Class, and Family Exclusion in Boston’s Suburbs, 1920 to Today

November 8, 2023

As part of Boston Indicators’ new Racial Wealth Equity Research Center initiative, Indicators commissioned Amy Dain, one of the region’s leading zoning experts, to research and write this new special report. Based on an extensive review of local planning documents, state reports, and press coverage over the past 100 years, the report finds widespread use of zoning as a tool of social exclusion against residents of color, especially Black residents; lower-income and working-class residents; families with school-aged children; religious minorities; immigrants; and, in some cases, any newcomers/outsiders at all.

This report is timely as the scale and persistence of our regional housing shortage is leading policymakers to consider state-level zoning reform in a new way. Other states have recently passed laws that reclaim some land use authority for state or regional governments, and Massachusetts is in the process of implementing our own MBTA Communities Upzoning law. What can we learn about the past 100 years of municipal zoning in Massachusetts to inform these state efforts? Can municipalities be trusted to act in good faith and at the scale necessary? The report sheds new light on these questions and many others.