Many of the communities we have come to love were not planned. They grew organically based on the needs, and in many cases the transportation choices, of the people who lived there. Today, many of our communities could not be built in the same way, especially many of our historic neighborhoods, due to our land-use regulations.
The most common land-use regulation in the United States is known as zoning, or mapping our communities based on idealized uses. There are some communities in the US that use other sorts of land-use regulations, such as Houston, but zoning has been the predominant means of regulating the way we build our communities since the Supreme Court confirmed its validity in 1926.
The first true land use regulations can be traced to Los Angeles in 1906, and the first full zoning code was enacted in New York City with the Building Zone Resolution adopted in 1916. While industrialization and its related pollution played a large role in the fight to separate land uses, which the map from Chicago below illustrates well, the zoning code in New York was spurred by the unregulated development of a large building in Lower Manhattan. 120 Broadway, or the Equitable Building, is considered the main reason for the zoning code due to what was seen at the time as its imposing bulk. Neighbors and others in the civic community were concerned about what would happen if this sort of construction were left unchecked, an attitude we still see in many communities today. In urban areas, a main function of modern-day zoning codes is not only to regulate the use of land and buildings, but also their look and relation to the street and neighboring buildings.