News & Press: ACSP Annual Conference News

A Closer Look with Award Winner Sonia Hirt

Tuesday, January 3, 2017  
Share |

ACSP John Friedmann Book Award

Zoned in the USA: The Origins and Implications of American Land-Use Regulation
Cornell University Press
Authored by Sonia Hirt, University of Maryland College Park

The awards committee found Hirt’s book to be a delightful and rare combination of excellent planning history, insightful critique, and a witty, engaging read. We all thought we knew the history of American zoning, but Hirt reexamines the history from a fresh, perceptive and comparative stance that perhaps only someone not originally from the US can provide. She challenges conventional thinking by exposing the American penchant for individualism yet strong reliance on land use regulation. Hirt both recounts the origins of a peculiarly American form of land use control and also pushes against the prevailing assumption of zoning as a simple outcome of “American exceptionalism.” Richly documented and fluidly interweaving the practical and the theoretical, Hirt has written a compelling retort to the claim that American zoning is too tedious, bureaucratic, scientific or self-evident to be worth our attention. Her book provides a coherent and sustained narrative that not only makes planning scholarship accessible to a broad audience, but also reveals the insidious use of zoning as a tool of racism and classism. Hirt’s excellent research offers an important and often-overlooked lesson: to fundamentally address the social inequalities, environmental ills and odd design quirks of the American landscape, we should not overlook reforming the structure and core values embedded in zoning codes. It’s an overused truism, but this well-written and wry book does indeed deserve to be on planners’ bookshelves and on students’ reading lists.

ACSP recently connected with Sonia to find out more about this accomplishment.

How did you feel when you won the award?
Well...I did not believe it. 😊 My publisher (Cornell) submitted the nomination but I had to still ask 2 people to send me references. I thought it would be so unlikely that I would get the award that I called the committee chair (Scott Campbell) that I will not be even asking people to submit references. But he talked me into completing the process. It's a good thing I did! This demonstrates the incredible wisdom of Woody Allen who said that "Eighty percent of life is showing up." Looking back... I should have been more confident because... well, the same book had already received four (4!) other honors. The Friedmann one was # 5...

Who do you want to thank, if any?
My husband, my parents, my family. Also Profs. Scott Campbell (Michigan), Jonathan Levine (Michigan), Robert Fishman (Michigan), Chris Silver (Florida), Jerold Kayden (Harvard). And Cornell's acquisition editor Michael McGandy.

What inspired you about this project?
I moved to the USA some 20 years ago. US culture was an enigma for me... wrote the book to try to understand it better.

What's next?
Now I am focused on my new gig as Dean. But in the future, I plan to write 4 more books.

Sonia's Bio
Sonia Hirt is dean and professor at the School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation at the University of Maryland. Her focus as a researcher and educator is on the interactions between social and cultural values and the urban built environment. Through her scholarship, she aims to advance understanding of the relationships between social processes, cultural values and urban forms, and to create opportunities to make cities more equitable, beautiful and sustainable. Her scholarship has both a theoretical and an applied perspective. She strives to enhance the quality of urban environments by developing a richer theoretical understanding of the social processes and cultural values that influence their evolution. She also strives to provoke critical debates within the built-environment professions and thus contribute to innovation in practice. Read More

About ACSP Awards
Each year ACSP is proud to honor faculty and students who have distinguished themselves or made major contributions to the academy or to the profession via outreach efforts, public service or for service to ACSP, the Academy, or the profession. A complete listing and history for all awards can be found at

John Friedmann is a widely-recognized planning scholar with an exceptionally distinguished career. He has contributed in many ways to the field of urban and regional planning, through his writings on planning theory, regional development planning, and world cities. He is the author of 26 books and close to 200 articles, and has received many distinguished awards (see below). He has also offered unstinting service to the planning academy, both through his varied teaching career and through his co-sponsorship of activities designed to support doctoral students in planning.

The Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning (ACSP) established the John Friedmann Book Award in 2013. This award is presented to a book or comparable work that best exemplifies scholarship in the area of planning for sustainable development.


The Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning promotes education, research, service and outreach in the United States and throughout the world by seeking to:

  • recognize diverse needs and interests in planning;
  • improve and enhance the accreditation process, and;
  • strengthen the role of planning education in colleges and universities through publications, conferences, and community engagement;
  • extend planning beyond the classroom into the world of practice.