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“Democratization of Zoning and Land Use Decisions as an Antidote to Aldermanic Prerogative: A Case Study of Two Ward Developments”

Author: Wilma Jasmine Beatrice Mendoza

Department: UIC Institute for Policy & Civic Engagement

Advisor: Dr. Joseph K. Hoereth, IPCE

Abstract: Decisions over zoning and land use can contribute to an equitable quality of life for communities or burden them with environmental hazards and chronic health problems. Zoning classifications remain foundational to the physical build of neighborhoods and their environments, and constitute a primary legal tool to dictate land usage in the United States for decades. But zoning has also been repositioned to serve private interests, political power, and personal gain. To illustrate the disparate effects of zoning land usage decisions, this study conducts a comparative case study in two different Chicago wards. Per Chicago’s history of aldermanic prerogative, the 35th and 22nd ward Aldermen’s influence on the land usage of two different lots in their respective wards had wholly divergent outcomes on community well-being. Although the 35th and 22nd wards differ geographically and face an array of problems specific to their population demographics, both aldermen had the opportunity to alleviate the respective issues in their communities through their influence on land usage decisions. The displacement/gentrification that plagues the 35th ward and the noxious industrial presence that causes chronic health problems in the 22nd ward, remain long-standing issues in these communities. Both communities have rallied and demanded that their aldermen include them in the decision-making process. The 35th ward alderman has centered community input in its Community-Driven Zoning and Development (CDZD) process amounting to a zoning change that allowed for the 100 percent affordable housing development. The 22nd ward alderman failed to include prominent organizations that advocate for environmental justice and the environmental impact of hazardous emissions, resulting in a Target warehouse housing polluting diesel trucks. The implications of these findings suggest that community involvement embedded in Aldermanic land usage decisions has the potential to positively affect residential quality of life. This study therefore recommends Community-Driven Zoning and Development as a tool to ensure that community input is at the forefront in zoning land usage decisions that affect their quality of life.

Keywords: Zoning, Land Usage, Aldermanic Prerogative, community, quality of life, democratization, land use decisions