After successfully completing this topic, you will be able to explain the purpose of land-use controls and the role of zoning ordinances.
In the early years of the United States, the most important economic engine was agriculture. Larger cities in the U.S. were generally well-planned until the 1800’s. Washington, D.C. and Savannah, GA are prime examples of well-planned cities.
The United States remained agrarian in nature with its principal semi-industrial activity being limited to gristmills and sawmills. Later, railroads became important to economic growth due to the separation of the population in such a large territory. Entrepreneurs competed and learned from each other to develop better technology. Cities with rivers and canals and railroads became industrial centers that attracted young people from agricultural areas.
Industrial leaders felt that government should stand aside and let business decide how cities should grow. Laissez-Faire (French for “let alone”) is a libertarian view; the government philosophy of non‑interference in private business affairs.
In the 1800s, cities grew without much regulation, and the cities became difficult to live in. At the beginning of the 20th century, the development of elevators resulted in the construction of high-rise buildings that impacted air and light from surrounding buildings.
The last straw occurred when the Equitable Building was completed in 1915 in the Manhattan Financial District. The building was controversial because of its lack of setbacks, which in turn does not allow sunlight to reach the surrounding ground. The real estate industry finally accepted new legislation, and the 1916 Zoning Resolution was passed. The legislation limited the height and required setbacks for new buildings to allow the penetration of sunlight to street level.
New York continued to apply zoning laws which were tested and upheld by the Supreme Court. The court ruled that proper regulations could protect residential properties. The zoning concept quickly spread to other cities around the country. Urban planning began to be recognized as a profession.
City planners work to