New York City was the first US city to adopt zoning — in 1916. Now the city is taking the lead in making zoning a proactive tool for livability, says this report.
Zoning, a more complex and expanded regulatory system compared to urban codes that had been in place up to the early 1900s, has mostly been about telling property owners what they can’t do. "What's different now is that the planning commission is moving from zoning that's negative on social issues to being positive, like mandating green markets and bike rooms,” says Julia Vitullo-Martin, a senior fellow at the Regional Plan Association. “It's reasonable for city government to encourage people to move in a beneficial direction."
Under New York City planning director Amanda Burden, zoning laws have been used to fight obesity by promoting grocery stores in low-income neighborhoods and to give a boost to mom-and-pop stores, writes Julie V. Iovine.
On Jan. 3, Commissioner Burden introduced a zoning amendment that will preserve small shops on avenues with a residential character and force new banks on the Upper West Side to shift most of their services from extended street fronts to second-floor locations. "We want New York to be a walkable city," Ms. Burden said, "with active, tree-lined streets and active retail frontages. This modest proposal will preserve that small-store character by allowing stores and banks a maximum of 25 feet on the street."
This approach has brought international recognition to the Big Apple.
For the first time in an almost 10-year run of urban design conferences held around the world, the French Minister of Sustainable Development selected New York and its zoning innovations for study. The event last July was subtitled "New York Reinvented," and some 150 French and European mayors, urban planners, developers and architects toured such recent local triumphs as the High Line, Brooklyn Bridge Park and community regeneration projects in the Bronx.