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Zoning is a method of urban planning in which a municipality or other tier of government divides land into areas called zones, each of which has a set of regulations for new development that differs from other zones. Zones may be defined for a single use (e.g. residential, industrial), they may combine several compatible activities by use, or in the case of form-based zoning, the differing regulations may govern the density, size and shape of allowed buildings whatever their use. The planning rules for each zone determine whether planning permission for a given development may be granted. Zoning may specify a variety of outright and conditional uses of land. It may indicate the size and dimensions of lots that land may be subdivided into, or the form and scale of buildings. These guidelines are set in order to guide urban growth and development. [1] [2]


Zoning is the most common regulatory urban planning method used by local governments in developed countries. [3] [4] [5] Exceptions include the United Kingdom and the City of Houston, Texas. [6]

Zoning laws that limit the construction of new housing (like single-family zoning) are associated with reduced affordability and are a major factor in residential segregation in the United States by income and race. [7] [8] [9]

The Zoning Scheme of the General Spatial Plan for the City of Skopje, North Macedonia. Different urban zoning areas are represented by different colours. GUP Skopje 2002 mal.jpg
The Zoning Scheme of the General Spatial Plan for the City of Skopje, North Macedonia. Different urban zoning areas are represented by different colours.


The primary purpose of zoning is to segregate uses that are thought to be incompatible. In practice, zoning is also used to prevent new development from interfering with existing uses and/or to preserve the "character" of a community.

Zoning may include regulation of the kinds of activities which will be acceptable on particular lots (such as open space, residential, agricultural, commercial or industrial), the densities at which those activities can be performed (from low-density housing such as single family homes to high-density such as high-rise apartment buildings), the height of buildings, the amount of space structures may occupy, the location of a building on the lot (setbacks), the proportions of the types of space on a lot, such as how much landscaped space, impervious surface, traffic lanes, and whether or not parking is provided.

Zoning is commonly controlled by local governments such as counties or municipalities, though the nature of the zoning regime may be determined or limited by state or national planning authorities or through enabling legislation. [10] In some countries, e. g. France, Germany or Canada, zoning plans must comply with upper-tier (national, regional, state, provincial) planning and policy statements. In the case of Germany this code includes contents of zoning plans as well as the legal procedure. In Australia, land under the control of the Commonwealth (federal) government is not subject to state planning controls.[ citation needed ] The United States and other federal countries are similar.[ citation needed ] Zoning and urban planning in France and Germany are regulated by national or federal codes. In the case of Germany this code includes contents of zoning plans as well as the legal procedure.

The details of how individual planning systems incorporate zoning into their regulatory regimes varies though the intention is always similar. For example, in the state of Victoria, Australia, land use zones are combined with a system of planning scheme overlays to account for the multiplicity of factors that impact on desirable urban outcomes in any location.

Most zoning systems have a procedure for granting variances (exceptions to the zoning rules), usually because of some perceived hardship caused by the particular nature of the property in question.

Origins and history of zoning

The origins of zoning districts can be traced back to antiquity. [11] The ancient walled city was the predecessor for classifying and regulating land, based on use. Outside the city walls were the undesirable functions, which were usually based on noise and smell; that was also where the poorest people lived. The space between the walls is where unsanitary and dangerous activities occurred such as butchering, waste disposal, and brick-firing. Within the walls were civic and religious places, and where the majority of people lived. [12]

Beyond distinguishing between urban and non-urban land, most ancient cities further classified land types and uses inside their walls. This was practiced in many regions of the world – for example, in China during the Zhou Dynasty (1046 – 256 BC), in India during the Vedic Era (1500 – 500 BC), and in the military camps that spread throughout the Roman Empire (31 BC – 476 AD). Because residential districts made up the majority of cities, early forms of districting were usually along ethnic and occupational divides; generally, class or status diminished from the city centre outward. One legal form of enforcing this was the caste system. [12]

While space was carved out for important public institutions, places of worship, retail stores, markets and squares, there is one major distinction between cities of antiquity and today. Throughout antiquity, up until the onset of the Industrial Revolution (1760–1840), most work took place within the home. Therefore, residential areas also functioned as places of labor, production, and commerce. The definition of home was tied to the definition of economy, which caused a much greater mixing of uses within the residential quarters of cities. [13]

Throughout the Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution, cultural and socio-economic shifts led to the rapid increase in the enforcement and invention of urban regulations. [12] The shifts were informed by a new scientific rationality, the advent of mass production and complex manufacturing, and the subsequent onset of urbanization. Industry leaving the home reshaped modern cities.

Overcrowding, pollution, and the urban squalor associated with factories were major concerns that led city officials and planners to consider the need for functional separation of uses. France, Germany, and Britain are where pseudo-zoning was invented to prevent polluting industries to be built in residential areas. Early uses of modern zoning were seen in Germany in the late-19th century. [14]


There are a great variety of zoning types, some of which focus on regulating building form and the relation of buildings to the street with mixed uses, known as form-based, others with separating land uses, known as use-based, or a combination thereof. Use-based zoning systems can comprise single-use zones, mixed-use zones - where a compatible group of uses are allowed to co-exist - or a combination of both single and mixed-use zones in one system.

Single-use zoning

Example of single-use zoning (Greater Winnipeg District Map, 1947) Zoning-maps-winnipeg-9370554-o.jpg
Example of single-use zoning (Greater Winnipeg District Map, 1947)

Single-use zoning is where only one kind of use is allowed per zone. Known as Euclidean zoning in North America because of a court case in Euclid, Ohio, which established its constitutionality, Village of Euclid, Ohio v. Ambler Realty Co. 272 U.S. 365 (1926), it has been the dominant system of zoning in North America since its first implementation.

Commonly defined single-use zones include: residential, mixed residential-commercial, commercial, industrial and spatial (e. g. power plants, sports complexes, airports, shopping malls etc.). Each category can have a number of sub-categories, for example, within the commercial category there may be separate zones for small-retail, large retail, office use, lodging and others, while industrial may be subdivided into heavy manufacturing, light assembly and warehouse uses. In Germany, each category has a designated limit for noise emissions (not part of the building code, but federal emissions code).

In the United States or Canada, for example, residential zones can have the following sub-categories:

  1. Residential occupancies containing sleeping units where the occupants are primarily transient in nature, including: boarding houses, hotels, motels.
  2. Residential occupancies containing sleeping units or more than two dwelling units where the occupants are primarily permanent in nature, including: apartment houses, convents, dormitories.
  3. Residential occupancies where the occupants are primarily permanent in nature and not classified as Group R-1, R-2, R-4 or I[ clarification needed ], including: buildings that do not contain more than two dwelling units, adult care facilities for five or fewer persons for less than 24 hours.
  4. Residential occupancies where the buildings are arranged for occupancy as residential care/assisted living facilities including more than five but not more than 16 occupants.


Separation between uses is a feature of many planned cities designed before the advent of zoning. A notable example is Adelaide in South Australia, whose city centre, along with the suburb of North Adelaide, is surrounded on all sides by a park, the Adelaide Park Lands. The park was designed by Colonel William Light in 1836 in order to physically separate the city centre from its suburbs. Low density residential areas surround the park, providing a pleasant walk between work in the city within and the family homes outside.

Aerial view of Chatswood, Australia, looking toward Sydney. The boundaries between low density residential, commercial and industrial zones are clearly visible. Aerial View Chatswood to Sydney CBD.jpg
Aerial view of Chatswood, Australia, looking toward Sydney. The boundaries between low density residential, commercial and industrial zones are clearly visible.

Sir Ebenezer Howard, founder of the garden city movement, cited Adelaide as an example of how green open space could be used to prevent cities from expanding beyond their boundaries and coalescing. [15] :94 His design for an ideal city, published in his 1902 book Garden Cities of To-morrow, envisaged separate concentric rings of public buildings, parks, retail space, residential areas and industrial areas, all surrounded by open space and farmland. All retail activity was to be conducted within a single glass-roofed building, an early concept for the modern shopping centre inspired by the Crystal Palace. [15] :4

However, these planned or ideal cities were static designs embodied in a single masterplan. What was lacking was a regulatory mechanism to allow the city to develop over time, setting guidelines to developers and private citizens over what could be built where. This came in 1916, when New York City enacted the first city-wide zoning ordinance. [16]

The application of single-use zoning has led to the distinctive form of many cities in the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, in which a very dense urban core, often containing skyscrapers, is surrounded by low density residential suburbs, characterised by large gardens and leafy streets. Some metropolitan areas such as Minneapolis–St Paul, the San Francisco Bay Area, and Sydney have several such cores.

Mixed-use zoning

Planning and community activist Jane Jacobs wrote extensively on the connections between the separation of uses and the failure of urban renewal projects in New York City. She advocated dense mixed use developments and walkable streets. In contrast to villages and towns, in which many residents know one another, and low-density outer suburbs that attract few visitors, cities and inner city areas have the problem of maintaining order between strangers. [17] :26,39–44 This order is maintained when, throughout the day and evening, there are sufficient people present with eyes on the street [17] :45-65. This can be accomplished in successful urban districts that have a great diversity of uses, creating interest and attracting visitors. [17] :155-190 Jacob's writings, along with increasing concerns about urban sprawl, are often credited with inspiring the New Urbanism movement.

To accommodate the New Urbanist vision of walkable communities combining cafés, restaurants, offices and residential development in a single area, mixed-use zones have been created within some zoning systems. These still use the basic regulatory mechanisms of zoning, excluding incompatible uses such as heavy industry or sewage farms, while allowing compatible uses such as residential, commercial and retail activities so that people can live, work and socialise within a compact geographic area. [18]

Examples include:

Form-based zoning

Form-based zoning regulates not the type of land use, but the form that land use may take. For instance, form-based zoning in a dense area may insist on low setbacks, high density, and pedestrian accessibility. Form-based codes (FBCs) are designed to directly respond to the physical structure of a community in order to create more walkable and adaptable environments. [20]

Paris, looking toward the high density district of La Defense. Eiffel Tower from the Tour Montparnasse 3, Paris May 2014.jpg
Paris, looking toward the high density district of La Défense.

New York's 1916 Zoning Resolution also contained elements of form-based zoning. This was a reaction to The Equitable Building which towered over the neighbouring residences, diminishing the availability of sunshine. It mandated setbacks to tall buildings involving a mathematical formula based on the height and lot size, and led to the iconic shapes of many early skyscrapers. New York City went on to develop ever more complex regulations, including floor-area ratio regulations, air rights and others for specific neighborhoods.

The French planning system is mostly form-based; zoning codes in French cities generally allow many types of uses. [21] The key differences between zones are based on the density of each use on a site. For example, a low-density zone may have the same permissible uses as a high-density zone. However, the proportion of residential uses in the low-density zone would be greater than in the high-density zone for economic rather than regulatory reasons.

The city of Paris has used its zoning system to concentrate high density office buildings in the district of La Défense rather than allow heritage buildings across the city to be demolished to make way for them, as is often the case in London or New York. [22] The construction of the Montparnasse Tower in 1973 led to an outcry. As a result, two years after its completion the construction of buildings over seven storeys high in the city centre was banned. [23]

Conditional zoning

Conditional zoning allows for increased flexibility and permits municipalities to respond to the unique features of a particular land use application. Uses which might be disallowed under current zoning, such as a school or a community center can be permitted via conditional use zoning. Conditional use permits (also called special use permits) enable land uses that because of their special nature may be suitable only in certain locations, or arranged or operated in a particular manner. [24]

For example:

Pattern zoning

Pattern zoning is a zoning technique in which a municipality provides licensed pre-approved building designs, typically with an expedited permitting process. [25] [26] [27] Pattern zoning is used to reduce barriers to housing development, create more affordable housing, reduce burdens on permit-review staff, and create quality housing designs within a certain neighborhood or jurisdiction. [25] [28] Pattern zoning may also be used to promote certain building types such as missing middle housing and affordable small-scale commercial properties. [29] [30] [31] In some cases, a municipality purchases design patterns and constructs the properties themselves while in other cases the municipality offers the patterns for private development. [32] [33] [34] [35] [36]

By country


The legal framework for land use zoning in Australia is established by States and Territories, hence each State or Territory has different zoning rules. Land use zones are generally defined at local government level, and most often called Planning Schemes. In reality, however in all cases the state governments have an absolute ability to overrule the local decision-making. There are administrative appeal processes such as VCAT to challenge decisions.

State / TerritoryPlanning frameworkLand use regulation
ACT Territory Plan 2008 Land Use Policy
NSW Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979Local Environmental Plans (LEP)
NT Planning ActPlanning Scheme
QLD Sustainable Planning Act 2009 repealed. Planning Act 2016Planning Schemes
SA Development Act 1993Development Plan
TAS Land Use Planning and Approvals Act 1993Planning Schemes
VIC Planning and Environment Act 1987 Planning Schemes
WA Planning and Development Act 2005Planning Schemes

Statutory planning, otherwise known as town planning, development control or development management, refers to the part of the planning process that is concerned with the regulation and management of changes to land use and development. [37] Planning and zoning have a great political dimension, with governments often criticized for favouring developers; also nimbyism is very prevalent.


In Canada, land-use control is a provincial responsibility deriving from the constitutional authority over property and civil rights. This authority had been granted to the provinces under the British North America Acts of 1867 and was carried forward in the Constitution Act, 1982. The zoning power relates to real property, or land and the improvements constructed thereon that become part of the land itself (in Québec, immeubles). The provinces empowered the municipalities and regions to control the use of land within their boundaries, letting the municipalities establish their own zoning by-laws. There are provisions for control of land use in unorganized areas of the provinces. Provincial tribunals are the ultimate authority for appeals and reviews.


In France, the Code of Urbanism or Code de l’urbanisme (called the Town Planning Code )a national law, guides regional and local planning and outlines procedures for obtaining building permits. Unlike England where planners must use their discretion to allow use or building type changes, private development in France is permitted as long as the developer follows the legally-binding regulations.


Zoning districts are classified into twelve use zones. [38] Each zone determines a building's shape and permitted uses. A building's shape is controlled by zonal restrictions on allowable floor area ratio and height (in absolute terms and in relation with adjacent buildings and roads). [38] These controls are intended to allow adequate light and ventilation between buildings and on roads. [38] Instead of single-use zoning, zones are defined by the "most intense" use permitted. Uses of lesser intensity are permitted in zones where higher intensity uses are permitted but higher intensity uses are not allowed in lower intensity zones. [38]

Category 1 Exclusively Low-Rise Residential ZoneDesignated for low-rise residential buildings.

Permitted uses within these buildings include small shops, offices and elementary and high schools.

Category 2 Exclusively Low-Rise Residential ZoneDesignated for low-rise residential buildings with above permitted uses as well as shop buildings with floor area up to 150 m2.
Category 1 Medium and High-rise oriented Residential ZoneDesignated for medium to high-rise residential buildings with hospitals, university buildings and shop buildings with floor areas up to 500 m2 also permitted.
Category 2 Medium and High-rise oriented Residential zoneSame as Category 1 Medium and High-rise oriented Residential zone, except shops and office buildings up to 1,500 m2 are permitted
Category 1 residential zoneDesignated for residential with other permitted buildings including shops, offices and hotel buildings with floor areas up to 3,000 m2 and auto repair shops up to 50 m2
Category 2 residential zone:Same as Category 1 residential zone, except karaoke boxes are permitted and there are no longer building size restrictions in this zone.
Quasi-residential zoneDesignated primarily residential with introduction of vehicle-related road facilities.

Same permitted uses as Category 2 residential zone with addition of theatres, restaurants, stores and other entertainment facilities with more than 10,000 m2 of floor area and warehouses.

Neighbourhood commercial zoneDesignated for neighbourhood-based daily shopping activities.

Same permitted uses as Quasi-residential zone with addition of auto-repair shops with areas up to 300 m2.

Commercial zoneDesignated for banks, cinemas and department stores.

Same permitted uses as Neighbourhood commercial zone with addition of public bathhouses

Quasi-industrialDesignated for light industrial and service facilities.

Same permitted uses as Commercial zone with addition of factories with some possible danger of environmental degradation.

Industrial zoneDesignated for factories.

Residences and shopping can be constructed but schools, hospitals and hotels are impermissible

Exclusively industrialDesignated for factories. All non-factory uses are impermissible.

New Zealand

New Zealand's planning system is grounded in effects-based Performance Zoning under the Resource Management Act.


Zoning and land use planning in the Philippines is governed by the Department of Human Settlements and Urban Development (DHSUD) and previously by the Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board (HLURB), which lays out national zoning guidelines and regulations, and oversees the preparation and implementation of comprehensive land use plans (CLUPs) and zoning ordinances by city and municipal governments under their mandate in the Local Government Code of 1991 (Republic Act No. 7160).

The present zoning scheme used in the Philippines is detailed in the HLURB's Model Zoning Ordinance published in 2014, which outlines 26 basic zone types based on primary usage and building regulations (as defined in the National Building Code), and also includes public domain and water bodies within the municipality's jurisdiction. [39] Local governments may also add overlays identifying special use zones such as areas prone to natural disasters, ancestral lands of indigenous peoples (IPs), heritage zones, ecotourism areas, transit-oriented developments (TODs), and scenic corridors. Residential and commercial zones are further subdivided into subclasses defined by density, commercial zones also allow for residential uses, and industrial zones are subdivided by their intensity and the environmental impact of the uses allowed. [39] Regulations on residential, commercial, and industrial zones may differ between municipalities, so one municipality may permit 4-storey buildings on medium-density residential zones, while another may only permit 2-storey buildings. [40]

ForestForested areas, subdivided into protection forests and productions forests. Protection forests includes forest reserves, national parks and protected areas, military reserves and civil reserves, and forested urban buffer zones. Production forest includes forestry lands, special use zones, and grazing lands.
AgricultureLand intended for agricultural activities, including land cultivation, tree growing, livestock, poultry, fisheries and aquaculture. Subdivided into protection agriculture (agriculture protection zones as designated by the Department of Agriculture) and production agriculture
Agro-industrialIntended for integrated farms and processing of harvested crops.
Municipal watersAll water bodies under the jurisdiction of the municipality, as defined in the Fisheries Code (Republic Act 8550), excluding areas designated as protected areas by the national government. Subdivided into fishery refuge and sanctuary, foreshore land, mangrove, delta/estuary, lakes, aquaculture zones, commercial fishing zones, municipal fishing zones, and sea lanes.
Mineral landLands intended for mining. Subdivided into mineral reservations, small-scale mining zones and quarries.
General residentialIntended principally for housing.
Residential-1 (R-1)Intended for low-rise, low-density, single-family housing, such as single-detached homes, duplex houses, and subdivisions. Also permitted are home occupations and businesses, sari-sari stores, home-based cottage industries, local recreational facilities, nurseries and daycares, elementary schools, tutors, places of worship, barangay halls, and local health centers. Buildings can be up to three stories and a height of 10 meters (33 ft).
Residential-2 (R-2)Intended for low-rise, medium-density, multi-family dwellings. Buildings can be up to five stories and a height of 15 meters (49 ft). All uses in R-1 zones, apartments, boarding houses, dormitories, high schools, technical schools, museums, and libraries permitted. Subdivided into basic R-2 and maximum R-2, with the former having a limit of three stories and 10 meters (33 ft).
Residential-3 (R-3)Intended for low- to medium-rise, medium- to high-density, multi-family dwellings. Buildings can be up to twelve stories and a height of 36 meters (118 ft) All uses in R-1 and R-2 zones, residential condominiums, and commercial accommodation (hotels, pension houses, hotel apartments, except motels), and parking buildings permitted. Subdivided into basic R-3 and maximum R-3, with the former having a height limit of three stories and 10 meters (33 ft).
Residential-4 (R-4)Intended for townhouses. Buildings can be up to three stories and a height of 10 meters (33 ft) All uses in R-1 and R-2 zones permitted.
Residential-5 (R-5)Intended for medium- to high-rise, high-density, and multi-family dwellings such as high-rise residential condominiums. Buildings can be up to 18 stories and a height of 54 meters (177 ft). All uses in R-1 through R-4 zones permitted.
Socialized housingIntended for areas designated for socialized housing projects undertaken by the Philippine government or the private sector to house underprivileged citizens and the homeless. Allowed uses defined in Batas Pambansa No. 220.
General commercialIntended for businesses, trade and services.
Commercial-1 (C-1)Intended for low-density, neighborhood-scale businesses. All uses in R-1 zones also permitted. Buildings can be up to 3 stories and a height of 10 meters (33 ft).
Commercial-2 (C-2)Intended for medium- to high-density business activity complementing or supplementing the city or municipality's central business district (CBD).

All uses in R-1, R-2, and C-1 zones allowed, with the addition of wholesale stores, public markets, malls, supermarkets, call centers, broadcasting and film studios, car dealerships, automotive-related services, scrap dealers, hardware stores, construction-related businesses, garden stores, signmakers, welders, furniture makers, commercial condominiums, lechon stores, chicharon factories, and motels. Buildings can be up to 6 stories and a height of 18 meters (59 ft).

Commercial-3 (C-3)High-density commercial area forming a city or municipality's CBD.

All uses in R-3, R-4, R-5, C-1 and C-2 zones allowed, with the addition of regional shopping malls. Buildings can be up to 60 stories and a height of 180 meters (590 ft).

Industrial-1 (I-1)Intended for light manufacturing or production activities that are non-polluting.

Some allowed uses are dried fish production, biscuit factories, boat, pump boat/motor banca and small watercraft manufacturing, printing presses, most electronics factories, medical equipment manufacturing, wooden furniture manufacturing, garments factories, water pumping station, sewage or wastewater treatment plants, and warehouses for non-polluting and non-hazardous products. Areas can have parks or playgrounds. Buildings can be up to a height of 15 meters (49 ft).

Industrial-2 (I-2)Intended for medium-intensity manufacturing or production activities that are polluting.

Some permitted uses are canning plants, rice or corn mills, animal feed mills medicine and pharmaceutical manufacturers, metal and plastic furniture manufacturers, glass factories garments and textile factories, rice mills, flour mills, cigar and cigarette factories, vehicle manufacturers, shipyards, hangars, warehouses for polluting and hazardous products, paint stores, and large slaughterhouses. Areas can have parks or playgrounds. Buildings can be up to a height of 21 meters (69 ft).

Industrial-3 (I-3)Intended for high-intensity manufacturing or production activities that are usually highly polluting and extremely hazardous.

Some permitted uses include meat processing plants (except those for ham, bacon, sausages and chicharon) soft drink factories, sugar mills, paper mills, cement factories, chemical plants, steel plants, textile factories, canned fish factories, bagoong and patis factories, oil depots, terminals and refineries, warehouses for highly polluting and hazardous products, and power plants. Areas can have parks or playgrounds. Buildings can be up to a height of 27 meters (89 ft).

General institutionalIntended primarily for government or civic centers, police and fire stations, government buildings, higher education institutions (college, universities, vocational, technical or trade schools), learning facilities (libraries, training centers), scientific, cultural and academic centers, convention centers, hospitals and medical centers, places of worship, seminaries or convents, and embassies/consulates. Buildings can be up to a height of 15 meters (49 ft).
Special institutionalIntended primarily for social welfare institutions (orphanages, Boys/Girls Town, homes for the aged), rehabilitation centers, military installations, prisons and other correctional institutions, leprosaria, and mental health asylums. Buildings can be up to a height of 15 meters (49 ft).
Parks and recreationIntended for parks and recreational facilities like playgrounds, resort complexes, sports facilities, memorials/shrines and open spaces serving as buffer zones or easements. Buildings can be up to a height of 15 meters (49 ft).
Cemetery/memorial parkArea intended for cemeteries or memorial parks, including columbaria, crematoria, and ossuaries. Buildings can be up to a height of 15 meters (49 ft), and site subject to DHUSD regulations.
Buffer/greenbeltYard, parks or open spaces intended to serve as a buffer zone or greenbelt between conflicting land use zones. Allowed uses are parks and related structures, plant nurseries, agriculture, silviculture and horticulture. No permanent structures are permitted, and any buildings can be only up to a height of 6 meters (20 ft).
Utilities, transportation and servicesArea designated for use by functional buildings and structures used for utilities, transportation, and other public services. Permitted uses include bus terminals and train stations, ports, airports, power plants, landfills and waste management facilities, weather and climate management stations, telecommunications facilities, and large complexes for other public services. Buildings can be up to a height of 15 meters (49 ft).
TourismAreas dedicated for tourism activity. Allowed uses include agritourism, resort areas, theme parks, heritage/historical sites, tourist accommodation, souvenir shops, and outdoor sports grounds.


The framework for governing land uses in Singapore is administered by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) through the Master Plan. [41] The Master Plan is a statutory document divided into two sections: the plans and the Written Statement. The plans show the land use zoning allowed across Singapore, while the Written Statement provides a written explanation of the zones available and their allowed uses.

United Kingdom

The United Kingdom does not use zoning as a technique for controlling land use. British land use control began its modern phase after the Town and Country Planning Act of 1947. Rather than dividing municipal maps into land use zones, English planning law places all development under the control of local and regional governments, effectively abolishing the ability to develop land by-right. However, existing development allows land use by-right as long as the use does not constitute a change in the type of land use. A property owner must apply to change land use type of any existing building, and such changes must be consistent with the local and regional land use plans.

Development control or planning control is the element of the United Kingdom's system of town and country planning through which local government regulates land use and new building. There are 421 Local Planning Authorities (LPAs) in the United Kingdom. Generally they are the local borough or district council or a unitary authority. They each use a discretionary "plan-led system" whereby development plans are formed and the public consulted. Subsequent development requires planning permission, which will be granted or refused with reference to the development plan as a material consideration. [42]

The plan does not provide specific guidance on what type of buildings will be allowed in a given location, rather it provides general principles for development and goals for the management of urban change. Because planning committees (made up of directly elected local councillors) or in some cases planning officers themselves (via delegated decisions) have discretion on each application for development or change of use made, the system is considered a 'discretionary' one.

Planning applications can differ greatly in scale, from airports and new towns to minor modifications to individual houses. In order to prevent local authorities from being overwhelmed by high volumes of small-scale applications from individual householders, a separate system of permitted development has been introduced. Permitted development rules are largely form-based, but in the absence of zoning, are applied at the national level. Examples include allowing a two-storey extension up to three metres at the rear of a property, extensions up to 50% of the original width at each side, and certain types of outbuildings in the garden, provided that no more than 50% of the land area is built over. [43] These are appropriately sized for a typical three bedroom semi-detached property, but must be applied across a wide variety of housing types, from small terraces, to larger detached properties and manor houses.

In August 2020, the UK Government published a consultation document called Planning for the Future. [44] The proposals hint at a move toward zoning, with areas given a Growth, Renewal or Protected designation, with the possibility of "sub-areas within each category", although the document doesn't elaborate on what the details of these might be.

United States

Zoning scheme of the center of Tallahassee, Florida, United States. TallaLandUse.jpg
Zoning scheme of the center of Tallahassee, Florida, United States.

Under the police power rights, state governments may exercise over private real property. With this power, special laws and regulations have long been made restricting the places where particular types of business can be carried on. In 1904, Los Angeles established the nation's first land-use restrictions for a portion of the city. [45] [46] New York City adopted the first zoning regulations to apply city-wide in 1916.

The constitutionality of zoning ordinances was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1926 case Village of Euclid, Ohio v. Ambler Realty Co. Among large populated cities in the United States, Houston is unique in having no zoning ordinances. [47] Rather, land use is regulated by other means. [48]


Early zoning practices were subtle and often debated. Some claim the practices started in the 1920s [49] while others suggest the birth of zoning occurred in New York in 1916. [50] Both of these examples for the start of zoning, however, were urban cases. Zoning becomes an increasing legal force as it continues to expand in its geographical range through its introduction in other urban centres and use in larger political and geographical boundaries. Regional zoning was the next step in increased geographical size of areas under zoning laws. [51] A major difference between urban zoning and regional zoning was that "regional areas consequently seldom bear direct relationship to arbitrary political boundaries". [51] This form of zoning also included rural areas which was counter-intuitive to the theory that zoning was a result of population density. [51] Finally, zoning also expanded again but back to a political boundary again with state zoning. [51]

Types in use in the United States

Zoning codes have evolved over the years as urban planning theory has changed, legal constraints have fluctuated, and political priorities have shifted. The various approaches to zoning can be divided into four broad categories: Euclidean, Performance, Incentive, and form-based.

Named for the type of zoning code adopted in the town of Euclid, Ohio, and approved in a landmark decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, Village of Euclid v. Ambler Realty Co. [52] Euclidean zoning codes are the most prevalent in the United States. [53] Euclidean zoning is characterized by the segregation of land uses into specified geographic districts and dimensional standards stipulating limitations on development activity within each type of district. Advantages include relative effectiveness, ease of implementation, long-established legal precedent, and familiarity. However, Euclidean zoning has received criticism for its lack of flexibility and institutionalization of now-outdated planning theory.

Also known as "effects-based planning", performance zoning uses performance-based or goal-oriented criteria to establish review parameters for proposed development projects. Performance zoning is intended to provide flexibility, rationality, transparency and accountability, avoiding the arbitrariness of the Euclidean approach and better accommodating market principles and private property rights with environmental protection. Difficulties included a requirement for a high level of discretionary activity on the part of the supervising authority. Performance zoning has not been widely adopted in the USA.

First implemented in Chicago and New York City, incentive zoning is intended to provide a reward-based system to encourage development that meets established urban development goals. [54] Typically, the method establishes a base level of limitations and a reward scale to entice developers to incorporate the desired development criteria. Incentive zoning allows a high degree of flexibility, but can be complex to administer.

Form-based codes offer considerably more governmental latitude in building uses and form than do Euclidean codes. Form-based zoning regulates not the type of land use, but the form that land use may take. For instance, form-based zoning in a dense area may insist on low setbacks, high density, and pedestrian accessibility. FBCs are designed to directly respond to the physical structure of a community in order to create more walkable and adaptable environments. [20]

Social problems in the United States

The United States suffers from greater levels of deurbanization and urban decay than other developed countries, [55] and additional problems such as urban prairies that do not occur elsewhere. [56] Jonathan Rothwell has argued that zoning encourages racial segregation. [57] He claims a strong relationship exists between an area's allowance of building housing at higher density and racial integration between blacks and whites in the United States. [57] The relationship between segregation and density is explained by Rothwell and Massey as the restrictive density zoning producing higher housing prices in white areas and limiting opportunities for people with modest incomes to leave segregated areas. [57] Between 1980 and 2000, racial integration occurred faster in areas that did not have strict density regulations than those that did. [57] Rothwell and Massey suggest homeowners and business interests are the two key players in density regulations that emerge from a political economy. [57] They propose that in older states where rural jurisdictions are primarily composed of homeowners, it is the narrow interests of homeowners to block development because tax rates are lower in rural areas, and taxation is more likely to fall on the median homeowner. Business interests are unable to counteract the homeowners' interests in rural areas because business interests are weaker and business ownership is rarely controlled by people living outside the community. This translates into rural communities that have a tendency to resist development by using density regulations to make business opportunities less attractive. Density zoning regulations in the U.S increase residential segregation in metropolitan areas by reducing the availability of affordable housing in some jurisdictions; other zoning regulations like school infrastructure regulations and growth controls are also variables associated with higher segregation. With more permissive zoning regulations there are lower levels of segregation; desegregation is higher in places with more liberal regulations on zoning, allowing the residents to integrate racially. [58] Metropolitan areas that allowed higher density development moved rapidly toward racial integration than their counterparts with strict density limitations. The greater the allowable density, the lower the level of racial segregation. [59]


Environmental activists argue that putting everyday uses out of walking distance of each other leads to an increase in traffic, since people have to own cars in order to live a normal life where their basic human needs are met, and get in their cars and drive to meet their needs throughout the day. Single-use zoning and urban sprawl have also been criticized as making work–family balance more difficult to achieve, as greater distances need to be covered in order to integrate the different life domains. [60] These issues are especially acute in the United States, with its high level of car usage [61] combined with insufficient or poorly maintained urban rail and metro systems. [62]

Euclidean zoning has been described[ by whom? ] as a functionalist way of thinking that uses mechanistic principles to conceive of the city as a fixed machine. This conception is in opposition to the view of the city as a continually evolving organism or living system, as first espoused by the German urbanist Hans Reichow.

Another avenue of criticism of zoning laws comes from libertarians and minarchists who see the restrictions as a violation of individuals' property rights. With zoning, a property owner may not be able to use her land for her desired purpose. Some economists[ who? ] claim that single-use zoning laws work against economic efficiency and hinder development in a free economy, as poor zoning restrictions hinder the more efficient usage of a given area. Even without zoning restrictions, a landfill, for example, would likely gravitate to cheaper land and not a residential area. Single-use zoning laws can get in the way of creative developments like mixed-use buildings and can even stop harmless activities like yard sales. [63] [ unreliable source ]

Other critics of zoning argue that zoning laws are a disincentive to provide housing which results in an increase in housing costs and a decrease in productive economic output. [64] For example, A 2017 study showed that if all states deregulated their zoning laws only halfway to the level of Texas, a state known for low zoning regulations, their GDP would increase by 12 percent due to more productive workers and opportunity. [65] Furthermore, critics note that it impedes the ability of those that wish to provide charitable housing from doing so. For example, in 2022, Gloversville's Free Methodist Church in New York wished to provide 40 beds for the homeless population in -4 degree weather and were inhibited from doing so. [66]

Some have argued that zoning laws increase economic inequality. [67]

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Smart growth</span> Urban planning philosophy

Smart growth is an urban planning and transportation theory that concentrates growth in compact walkable urban centers to avoid sprawl. It also advocates compact, transit-oriented, walkable, bicycle-friendly land use, including neighborhood schools, complete streets, and mixed-use development with a range of housing choices. The term "smart growth" is particularly used in North America. In Europe and particularly the UK, the terms "compact city", "urban densification" or "urban intensification" have often been used to describe similar concepts, which have influenced government planning policies in the UK, the Netherlands and several other European countries.

Growth management, in the United States, is a set of techniques used by the government to ensure that as the population grows that there are services available to meet their demands. Growth management goes beyond traditional land use planning, zoning and subdivision controls in both the characteristics of development influenced and the scope of government powers used. These are not necessarily only government services. Other demands such as the protection of natural spaces, sufficient and affordable housing, delivery of utilities, preservation of buildings and places of historical value, and sufficient places for the conduct of business are also considered.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Residential area</span> Land use in which housing predominates, as opposed to industrial and commercial areas

A residential area is a land used in which housing predominates, as opposed to industrial and commercial areas.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Land-use planning</span> Process of regulating the use of land by a central authority

Land use planning is the process of regulating the use of land by a central authority. Usually, this is done to promote more desirable social and environmental outcomes as well as a more efficient use of resources. More specifically, the goals of modern land use planning often include environmental conservation, restraint of urban sprawl, minimization of transport costs, prevention of land use conflicts, and a reduction in exposure to pollutants. In the pursuit of these goals, planners assume that regulating the use of land will change the patterns of human behavior, and that these changes are beneficial. The first assumption, that regulating land use changes the patterns of human behavior is widely accepted. However, the second assumption - that these changes are beneficial - is contested, and depends on the location and regulations being discussed.

Inclusionary zoning (IZ), also known as inclusionary housing, refers to municipal and county planning ordinances that require a given share of new construction to be affordable by people with low to moderate incomes. The term inclusionary zoning indicates that these ordinances seek to counter exclusionary zoning practices, which aim to exclude low-cost housing from a municipality through the zoning code. There are variations among different inclusionary zoning programs. Firstly, they can be mandatory or voluntary. Though voluntary programs exist, the great majority has been built as a result of local mandatory programmes requiring developers to include the affordable units in their developments. There are also variations among the set-aside requirements, affordability levels coupled with the period of control. In order to encourage engagements in these zoning programs, developers are awarded with incentives for engaging in these programs, such as density bonus, expedited approval and fee waivers.

The urban-to-ruraltransect is an urban planning model created by the New Urbanist Andrés Duany. The transect defines a series of zones that transition from sparse rural farmhouses to the dense urban core. Each zone is fractal in that it contains a similar transition from the edge to the center of the neighborhood. The transect is an important part of the New Urbanism and smart growth movements. Duany's firm DPZ has embodied the transect philosophy into their SmartCode generic planning code for municipal ordinances.

A planned unit development (PUD) is a type of flexible, non-Euclidean zoning device that redefines the land uses allowed within a stated land area. PUDs consist of unitary site plans that promote the creation of open spaces, mixed-use housing and land uses, environmental preservation and sustainability, and development flexibility. Areas rezoned as PUDs include building developments, designed groupings of both varied and compatible land uses—such as housing, recreation, commercial centers, and industrial parks—within one contained development or subdivision. Developed areas vary in size and by zoned uses, such as industrial, commercial, and residential. Other types of similar zoning devices include floating zones, overlay zones, special district zoning, performance-based codes, and transferable development rights.

A Form-Based Code (FBC) is a means of regulating land development to achieve a specific urban form. Form-Based Codes foster predictable built results and a high-quality public realm by using physical form as the organizing principle, with less focus on land use, through municipal regulations. An FBC is a regulation, not a mere guideline, adopted into city, town, or county law and offers a powerful alternative to conventional zoning regulation.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mixed-use development</span> Type of urban development strategy

Mixed use is a type of urban development, urban design, urban planning and/or a zoning classification that blends multiple uses, such as residential, commercial, cultural, institutional, or entertainment, into one space, where those functions are to some degree physically and functionally integrated, and that provides pedestrian connections. Mixed-use development may be applied to a single building, a block or neighborhood, or in zoning policy across an entire city or other administrative unit. These projects may be completed by a private developer, (quasi-) governmental agency, or a combination thereof. A mixed-use development may be a new construction, reuse of an existing building or brownfield site, or a combination.

SmartCode is a unified land development ordinance template for planning and urban design. Originally developed by Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company, this open source program is a model form-based unified land development ordinance designed to create walkable neighborhoods across the full spectrum of human settlement, from the most rural to the most urban, incorporating a transect of character and intensity within each. It folds zoning, subdivision regulations, urban design, and basic architectural standards into one compact document. Because the SmartCode enables community vision by coding specific outcomes that are desired in particular places, it is meant to be locally calibrated by professional planners, architects, and attorneys.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Secondary suite</span> Dwelling on a property separated from the main home

Secondary suites are self-contained apartments, cottages, or small residential units, that are located on a property that has a separate main, single-family home, duplex, or other residential unit. In some cases, the ADU or in-law is attached to the principal dwelling or is an entirely separate unit, located above a garage or in the backyard on the same property. In British English the term annex or granny annex is used instead. Reasons for wanting to add a secondary suite to a property may be to receive additional income, provide social and personal support to a family member, or obtain greater security.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Car dependency</span> Concept that city layouts may favor automobiles over bicycles, public transit, and walking.

Car dependency is the concept that some city layouts cause cars to be favoured over alternate forms of transportation, such as bicycles, public transit, and walking.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Medium-density housing</span>

Medium-density housing is a term used within urban planning and academic literature to refer to a category of residential development that falls between detached suburban housing and large multi-story buildings. There is no singular definition of medium-density housing as its precise definition tends to vary between jurisdiction. Scholars however, have found that medium density housing ranges from about 25 to 80 dwellings per hectare, although most commonly sits around 30 and 40 dwellings/hectare. Typical examples of medium-density housing include duplexes, triplexes, townhouses, row homes, detached homes with garden suites, and walk-up apartment buildings.

SouthField is a form-based code planned community located on the former South Weymouth Naval Air Station in South Weymouth, Massachusetts. It is a 1,400-acre (6 km2) site 12 miles (19 km) south of Boston that overlaps three towns: Weymouth, Abington, and Rockland. Developed by LNR Property Corporation, SouthField will contain 2,855 housing units and up to 2,000,000 square feet (186,000 m2) that include single-family homes, apartments, and townhouses. The site will also have up to 1.7 million square feet of commercial development, a 45-acre recreational facility, an 18-hole golf course, walking trails and 1,000 acres of undeveloped land.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Zoning in the United States</span>

In the United States, zoning includes various land use laws falling under the police power rights of state governments and local governments to exercise authority over privately owned real property. Zoning laws in major cities originated with the Los Angeles zoning ordinances of 1904 and the New York City 1916 Zoning Resolution. Early zoning regulations were in some cases motivated by racism and classism, particularly with regard to those mandating single-family housing. Zoning ordinances did not allow African-Americans moving into or using residences that were occupied by majority whites due to the fact that their presence would decrease the value of home. The constitutionality of zoning ordinances was upheld by the Supreme Court of the United States in Village of Euclid, Ohio v. Ambler Realty Co. in 1926.

A residential cluster development, or open space development, is the grouping of residential properties on a development site to use the extra land as open space, recreation or agriculture. It is increasingly becoming popular in subdivision development because it allows the developer to spend much less on land and obtain much the same price per unit as for detached houses. The shared garden areas can be a source of conflict, however. Claimed advantages include more green/public space, closer community, and an optimal storm water management. Cluster development often encounters planning objections.

Exclusionary zoning is the use of zoning ordinances to exclude certain types of land uses from a given community, especially to regulate racial and economic diversity. In the United States, exclusionary zoning ordinances are standard in almost all communities. Exclusionary zoning was introduced in the early 1900s, typically to prevent racial and ethnic minorities from moving into middle- and upper-class neighborhoods. Municipalities use zoning to limit the supply of available housing units, such as by prohibiting multi-family residential dwellings or setting minimum lot size requirements. These ordinances raise costs, making it less likely that lower-income groups will move in. Development fees for variance, a building permit, a certificate of occupancy, a filing (legal) cost, special permits and planned-unit development applications for new housing also raise prices to levels inaccessible for lower income people.

Missing middle housing describes a range of multi-family or clustered housing types that are compatible in scale with single-family or transitional neighborhoods. Missing middle housing is intended to meet the demand for walkable neighborhoods, respond to changing demographics, and provide housing at different price points. The term "missing middle" is meant to describe housing types that were common in the pre-WWII United States such as duplexes, rowhomes, and courtyard apartments but are now less common and, therefore, "missing". Rather than focusing on the number of units in a structure, missing middle housing emphasizes scale and heights that are appropriate for single-family neighborhoods or transitional neighborhoods. After the introduction of the term in 2010, the concept has been applied in the United States, Canada, and Australia.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Single-family zoning</span> Residential planning classification

Single-family zoning is a type of planning restriction applied to certain residential zones in the United States and Canada in order to restrict development to only allow single-family detached homes. It disallows townhomes, duplexes, and multi-family housing (apartments) from being built on any plot of land with this zoning designation. It is a form of exclusionary zoning, and was created as a way to keep minorities out of white neighborhoods. It both increases the cost of housing units and decreases the supply. In many United States cities, 75% of land zoned for residential uses is zoned single-family.

Japanese land law is the law of real property in Japan. Nationwide's city land law began in 1919, then completely revised into more detail in 1968, focusing on the City Planning Area. In 1970s, zoning concept was introduced to whole area of Japan, similarly to German planning system, began with the Land-Use Law in 1974, then it also integrates in the City Planning Area. After 2011, decentralisation policy delegated the power to create land-use plan without a need of approval from the central government.


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Further reading