It may seem esoteric (a zoning bylaw!) but it has had an impact on us all, even to this day: “On July 25th, 1916, New York City passed the first comprehensive zoning law, forever changing how cities everywhere would be shaped.”

NYC

“The time has come when effort should be made to regulate the height, size and arrangement of buildings,” George McAneny, the borough president of Manhattan, declared in a 1913 measure establishing what amounted to a zoning committee.

Regulations, he wrote, were needed “to arrest the seriously increasing evil of the shutting off of light and air from other buildings and from the public streets, to prevent unwholesome and dangerous congestion both in living conditions and in street and transit traffic, and to reduce the hazards of fire and peril to life.” …

Under its rules, buildings in strictly residential zones were permitted to rise only as high as the streets in front of them were wide; a ratio of one to one, put another way. (Side streets in Manhattan are typically 60 feet wide.) …

Height restrictions were “only one of many important features of the law,” The Times said. “The law is designed to check the invasion of retail districts by factories and residence districts by factories and businesses. It is aimed to prevent an increase of the congestion of streets and of subway and streetcar traffic in sections where the business population is already too great for the sidewalks and transit facilities.”

In other words, it was as much a planning document as a zoning document. …

“So much of this was to get the courts to feel comfortable that this was a natural and obvious use of the police power,” Mr. Weisbrod said, “when what it really was a dramatic change.”

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Michael Alexander picked up this from Architectural Institute of America:

… on the 100th anniversary of that resolution, the AIA New York Planning & Urban Design Committee has commissioned a series of brief essays by leading officials and practitioners that explore their personal or professional relationship to the Zoning Resolution. We asked these thinkers and practitioners to reflect on:

  • What has the last 100 years of zoning meant to New York City?
  • How does zoning affect the city and your practice today?
  • What will or should the next 100 years of zoning look like?

Jack L. Robbins, AIA, LEED AP, Principal, FXFOWLE
Jonathan Barnett, FAIA, FAICP, Emeritus Professor of City and Regional Planning, University of Pennsylvania
Vishaan Chakrabarti, AIA, Founder, Partnership for Architecture & Urbanism
Robert S. Cook, Jr., Partner, Meister Seelig & Fein
Phu T. Duong, AIA, LEED AP, Senior Associate, Urban Environments, NBBJ; and Adjunct Professor, Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation
Douglas Durst, Chariman, Durst Organization
Alexander Garvin, President and CEO, AGA Public Realm Strategists; and Adjunct Professor of Urban Planning and Management, Yale University
Mark Ginsberg, FAIA, LEED AP, Founding Partner, Curtis + Ginsberg Architects
Ernest Hutton, Assoc. AIA, FAICP, Principal, Hutton Associates
Dan Kaplan, FAIA, Senior Partner, FXFOWLE Architects
Marcie Kesner, AICP, Planning and Development Specialist, Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel
Michael Kwartler, FAIA, Principal, Michael Kwartler and Associates; President, Environmental Simulation Center
Jerilyn Perine, Executive Director, Citizens Housing & Planning Council
Gina Pollara, President, Municipal Art Society
Bill Rudin, Vice Chairman and CEO, Rudin Management Company; Chairman, Association for a Better New York
Jeffrey Shumaker, Jeffrey Shumaker, Chief Urban Designer, NYC Department of City Planning
Howard Slatkin, Deputy Director for Strategic Planning, NYC Department of City Planning
William Stein, FAIA, Principal, Dattner Architects
Robert A.M. Stern, FAIA, Founder and Senior Partner, Robert A.M. Stern Architects
Carl Weisbrod, Director, NYC Department of City Planning; Chair, New York City Planning Commission