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What is zoning and why is it good for urban environments?

Zoning is the process by which local governments restrict land use within their jurisdiction under the "police powers" granted to them by the United States.  It was developed in the 1920s as the principal tool for regulation of private property.

In fact zoning was first created in NYC by public reaction the construction of 120 Broadway (that houses NYC City Planning today) the Equitable Building. Protest arose because the building was almost 1M square feet on one acre of land. The Equitable Building arose to over thirty stories blocking a good deal of light and air from the street and neighboring buildings.

In high density urban areas like New York City, a collage of manufacturing, residential, and commercial occupancies are intertwined with layers of subways, avenues, streets, parks, utilities, and many other facets. These convolutions affect the usage, building envelope, economic conditions of almost all public and private development.