“The more successfully a city mingles everyday diversity of uses and users in its everyday streets, the more successfully, casually (and economically) its people thereby enliven and support well-located parks that can thus give back grace and delight to their neighborhoods instead of vacuity.” ― Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities
Prior to the twentieth century and the rise of the automobile, American cities formed practically; they formed according to convenience, access, and reason. Cities sprouted up along modes of transportation, mainly waterways, to provide access to the movement of goods. Town centers housed business, retail, and residential space to provide convenient access on foot to daily needs. This setup can be described as multi-use zoning in today’s terminology. The cities present in America at the end of the nineteenth century were the lively, people-filled places described by Jane Jacobs.
Concepts of zoning appeared in cities in the mid-nineteenth century, but single-zone laws did not appear until the establishment of the GI Bill of the 1940’s and the National Interstate and Defense Highway Act of 1956, both of which immensely impacted the shape in which cities took form in America – until recent years. These government-established programs encouraged families to move to the less expensive suburban residences now accessible by automobile.
With roads, highways – and a car in every family’s garage – access to work, retail, school and more, was not a concern. From the mid-twentieth century and onward the car was the focus of urban planning. Spaced out, meandering, and separate became the best adjectives for the new architectural landscape of the American city. Zoning laws separated residential, commercial, and industrial land uses, and although “zoning has served to protect property values and has enhanced the use of the automobile,” it has debased the vibrancy present in earlier cities.
It is now recognized that the single-use zoning regulations have created cities not for people but for cars, and in recent years citizens, officials, and urban planners have worked to restore multi-use zoning to create more vibrant, accessible, and environmentally sustainable city centers.
As we move forward, what are some of the ills and gains of multi-use zoning practices?
Credits: Photograph by Bonnie Rodd. Image and data linked to sources.