From HousingWiki

Zoning is the process of dividing land in a municipality into zones (e.g. residential, industrial) in which certain land uses are permitted or prohibited. The type of zone determines whether planning permission for a given development is granted. Zoning may specify a variety of outright and conditional uses of land. It may also indicate the size and dimensions of land area as well as the form and scale of buildings. These guidelines are set in order to guide urban growth and development.


Ancient forms of zoning

China, Mesopotamia, etc. 

See: Hirt, Sonia. Zoned in the USA: The Origins and Implications of American Land-Use Regulation (Cornell University Press, 2014).


United States

Around the turn of the 20th century, a rapid urbanization process and influx of immigrants transformed the country. Middle and upper-classes consequently encountered much greater diversity than they had before making the intrusion of unwanted people into their neighborhoods appear more conceivable. As a result, many cities began implementing the first exclusionary zoning policies. In 1908, Los Angeles adopted the first citywide zoning ordinance protecting residential areas from the entrance of these undesirable community elements. Many of these early regulations directly darred racial and ethnic minorities from community residence, until explicit racial zoning was declared unconstitutional in 1917.

while NYC 1916 zoning law is arguably 1st 'comprehensive' code, there's a long prior US history: segregation of land uses in colonial plans/laws eg 1632 Cambridge ordinance; CA laws to exclude Chinese laundries - SF 1884, Modesto (w/explicit zones) 1885.. https://twitter.com/marketurbanism/status/985735374185132034?s=21


1904 1st LA zoning (Residential District Ordinance) defined a main residential zone, excluded laundries & related businesses, ie Chinese. 



1908 LA laws defined Residential & Industrial Districts  for much of the city, and specified permitted uses.



see: The Rise of the Community Builders: The American Real Estate Industry and ...

By Marc A. Weiss


1904 Los Angeles ordinance

1908 Los Angeles "Residence Districts" ordinance

1908 Los Angeles "Industrial Districts" ordinance

1916 New York City comprehensive zoning ordinance

The United States federal government finally addressed the issue with the enactment of the Standard State Zoning Enabling Act of 1922. This legislation established a model framework for zoning ordinances, which states could adopt or adapt to delegate land-use power to local authorities for the protection of "public safety, health, morals and welfare."

The Supreme Court considered zoning's constitutionality in the 1926 landmark case of Village of Euclid, Ohio v. Ambler Realty Co.. The court ultimately condoned zoning as an acceptable means of community regulation. Following this verdict, the number of municipalities with zoning legislation multiplied from 368 in 1925 to over 1,000 in 1930.

Also in 1926, as part of a national program to promote adoption of zoning ordinances, the U.S. Advisory Committee on Zoning, appointed by Secretary Hebert Hoover, release a pamphlet: "A Zoning Primer."  see [United States 1926]. 
Committee members: 

  • CHARLES B. BALL Secretary Treasurer, City Planning Division, Sanitary Engineer. American Society of Civil Engineers. 
  • EDWARD M. BASSETT Counsel, Zoning Committee of New York. Lawyer. 
  • ALFRED BETTMAN Director, National Conference on City Planning.  Lawyer. 
  • IRVING B. HIETT Ex-President, National Association of Real Realtor. Estate Boards. 
  • JOHN IHLDER Manager, Civic Development Department of the Housing Consultant. Chamber of Commerce of the United States. 
  • MORRIS KNOWLES From the Chamber of Commerce of the United Consulting Engineer. States; Chairman, City Planning Division, American Society of Civil Engineers. 
  • J. HORACE McFARLAND Ex-President, The American Civic Association. Master Printer and Civic Investigator. 
  • FREDERICK LAW OLMSTED Ex-President, The American Society of Landscape Architects; Ex-President, American City Planning Institute. 
  • LAWRENCE VEILLER Secretary and Director, The National Housing Housing Expert. Association. 
  • JOHN M. GRIES Chief, Division of Building and Housing, Bureau of Standards 
  • Department of Commerce 




[see also: Reading listLand Use, Zoning, Planning section



Peer-reviewed research 



  • Hall, Peter. Cities of Tomorrow: An Intellectual History of Urban Planning and Design in the Twentieth Century (2002).
  • Hirt, Sonia. Zoned in the USA: The Origins and Implications of American Land-Use Regulation (Cornell University Press, 2014).
  • Levy, John M. Contemporary Urban Planning (9th Edition, 2010).
  • Marcuse, Peter, and David Madden. In Defense of Housing: The Politics of Crisis. 2016. https://www.amazon.com/Defense-Housing-Politics-Crisis/dp/1784783544. 
  • McHarg, Ian L. Design With Nature (1969). 
    "pioneered the concept of ecological planning...continues to be one of the most widely celebrated books on landscape architecture and land-use planning." -Wikipedia.
  • Ross, Benjamin. Dead End: Suburban Sprawl and the Rebirth of American Urbanism. (Oxford University Press, 2014). Amazon
  • Rothstein, Richard. The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America. 2017.
  • Ryan-Collins, Josh,‎ Toby Lloyd,‎ Laurie Macfarlane. Rethinking the Economics of Land and Housing. 2017.
  • Toll, Seymour. Zoned American (1969). Outstanding legal/cultural study of the origins and development of US zoning practices. PDF full text (60MB). 

Resource Guides

Weiss, Marc. The Rise of the Community Builders