February 08 2013

Zoning: Both the Villain and the Hero of Cities

“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

The Domain, a mixed-use development, is a prime example of multi-use zoning in Austin, TX

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.

Zoning Map of Central Austin: Single-use zones become dominant the further they are from the city center

Zoning Map KeyIt 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.

Bonnie Rodd

Originally from the North-Central area of California, Bonnie Rodd found herself at home amongst the creative, participatory, and sometimes off beat Austinites. She holds a B.A. in Urban Studies with a minor in Architecture from the University of Texas at Austin. Her primary interest is sustainable urban development, focusing on alternative transportation and pedestrianism. Believing that the human element in design is invaluable, she dabbled in some social studies as well. This past spring she explored the three legs of sustainability in her thesis titled “Making a Case for Affordable Housing in Transit-Oriented Developments: Austin,TX” and developed a model for single-family affordable housing delivery in such neighborhoods. Bonnie currently resides in Austin, Texas, and will be exposing readers to environmental design issues present in both Austin and Central Texas.

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This entry was posted on Friday, February 8th, 2013 at 9:01 am and is filed under Community/Economic Development, Government/Politics, History/Preservation, Housing, Infrastructure, Land Use, Landscape Architecture, Urban Development/Real Estate, Urban Planning and Design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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2 Responses to “Zoning: Both the Villain and the Hero of Cities”

  1. H. Pike Oliver Says:

    While single-use or “Euclidean” zoning became much more widespread during the decades following World II, it was first implemented decades earlier. The City of New York adopted its first city-wide zoning ordinance in 1916 and the famous Euclid v. Ambler case that gave this type of zoning its name was decided by the US Supreme Court in 1926.

  2. The future of Urban Transport: Reinventing the wheel - Atos Blog Says:

    […] zones for traffic is standard practice. With careful planning, the result can be positive – but zoning can easily lead to poor planning and in fact greater inefficiency, as well as negative feelings towards the city’s government. But you can’t easily get rid of […]

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