|The characteristic stepped-back profile of|
New York City skyscrapers was the result
of zoning regulations meant to ensure
adequate light at street level.
|Zoning Run Amuck: Corbusier's Plan Voisin of 1925,|
in which the architect proposed to raze an entire district
of Paris and replace it with strictly zoned residential towers.
|A former Portland, Oregon candy factory converted to living|
units. Many zoning regulations still discourage the reuse of
industrial building for living space, leading to the construction
of new "fake" industrial lofts at great cost to the environment.
|Zoning regulations typically require vast quantities of parking|
for retail centers, leading to the usual "sea of asphalt"
in front of suburban strip malls.
Technology has transformed our culture during the past two decades, and will change it even faster in the coming ones. Electronic commuting has already made the concept of “going to work” a quaint memory for many people, and has further blurred the distinction between residence and workplace. In our cities, the decline of smokestack industry has left a wealth of superb commercial and industrial buildings begging for residential use; meanwhile, we squander more and more unspoiled land on the environmental idiocy of conventionally-zoned suburbs.
|Last but not least, the outdated setback|
requirements typical of most cities lead to
wasted and useless strips of setback land
surrounding houses—maybe including yours.
Despite the clear need for more innovative thinking, most zoning regulations remain mired in the past. In large part, they are the reason our suburbs are bereft of basic neighborhood amenities such as shops and eateries, compelling us to drive to a “shopping center” for a quart of milk instead of walking to the corner. They are also the reason many of our cities are filled with derelict commercial and industrial buildings that could long ago have been converted to housing. And they are the reason single-family homes must still be separated by narrow, useless strips of side yard—the zoner's beloved "side yard setback"—when courtyard housing or zero-lot-line planning could make far better use of our precious land.
The original public safety aims of our zoning regulations remain admirable, but in this era of climate change and the need for conservation, their means are obsolete. The way we work, live, and communicate is changing profoundly; and the way we’re allowed to build ought to change along with it.