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

On November 8, 2023, more than 800 people registered for the online forum on municipal zoning which was led by zoning expert Amy Dain. Dain explored common rationales for the racial segregation that resulted from exclusionary zoning in the mid-20th century, and ultimately provided evidence that this was a product of both class elitism and racism.

Northeastern University Distinguished Professor of Public Policy and Urban Affairs Ted Landsmark stated “The research confirms what many Black and Brown residents have known for a long time,” recalling that many of his Black professional peers were excluded from residential markets and communities that had economic and educational opportunities. Boston Indicators Executive Director Luc Schuster highlighted the term “municipal fragmentation” which Dain’s report described as a governance structure that has led to segregation.

Dain gave examples of suburban municipalities across Massachusetts which have codified class and racial segregation via their zoning laws and have literally stated their reasoning as keeping the areas less diverse. Holliston is no exception, as was evidenced by Dain’s quoting of Holliston’s Growth Policy Statement, 1976. “The town should continue to maintain socio-economic status as at present.” 

As Holliston looks toward the future with the Envisioning Future Holliston Committee, it is incumbent on the current residents to remind ourselves of the policies upon which the town of Holliston was built. It is municipal fragmentation policies such as this which have kept the status quo of Holliston in place. Holliston has remained a mostly white town, with very little affordable housing, and in which the cost of living is prohibitively expensive for most. Folks interested in learning more might look at our current zoning policies which reflect this attitude that was expressed in Holliston’s 1976 policy. 

The link below is a recording of the full webinar (55 minutes) in which Dain provided context and background, as well as the findings of her research. How can Holliston move past these housing and zoning policies that have not undergone meaningful change since 1976? We might ask ourselves, what do we want Holliston residents in 2073 to say about the 2023 Strategic Plan?