Lecture #24:
Zoned America

Suggestions for Further Reading:

Christopher Silver, "Zoning in 20th-Century American Cities," American History: Oxford Research Encyclopedias (May 2016). (excellent overview) http://americanhistory.oxfordre.com/view/10.1093/acrefore/9780199329175.001.0001/acrefore-9780199329175-e-209

The Skyscraper Museum, "A 3D CBD: How the 1916 Zoning Law Shaped Manhattan's Central Business Districts": http://www.skyscraper.org/zoning/

Robert Caro, The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York (1974). (one of the greatest works of biography and urban history ever written: don't miss this one!)

Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961). (the most influential book on urban planning of the second half of the twentieth century, a sweeping indictment of modernist urban design)

Seymour I. Toll, Zoned American (1969).

Michael Allan Wolf, The Zoning of America: Euclid v. Ambler (2008).

Richard F. Babcock, The Zoning Game: Municipal Practices and Policies (1966).

Dennis McClendon, The Plan of Chicago: A Regional Legacy (2008), available online at http://burnhamplan100.lib.uchicago.edu/files/content/documents/Plan_of_Chicago_booklet.pdf

Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, & Jeff Speck, Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream (2000).

Ebenezer Howard, Garden Cities of To-Morrow (1902), available online at https://archive.org/details/gardencitiestom00howagoog and http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/46134

The Wikipedia entry on zoning is well worth reading for review: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zoning_in_the_United_States

In addition to discussing the readings, next week's section will help you think about how to prepare for the final exam. I encourage all of you to be thinking about this question in advance of next week's section: "What will be most helpful to me in preparing for the final exam?"

I. The Early History of Landscape Gardening and Urban Planning

Today's lecture is about zoning, which is crucial to understanding the U.S. landscape in general, and especially to understanding urban landscapes in the 20th and 21st centuries. Planning and zoning are inherently linked together. Zoning is a tool of planning, an instrument of the law for enforcing on private property owners certain kinds of real estate practices and standards. In the class History/Geography/Environmental Studies 460, I talk about planning mainly as a practice shaped by romantic ideas of nature, as well as by the emergence of regional planning and strategic planning; I won't do that today except by way of gesture. But I do today want to remind you of certain features of planning that can help us understand why zoning has the attributes that it does.

One place to start is in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1831: the Mount Auburn Cemetery (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Auburn_Cemetery). In a odd way, you might think about this site as a landscape zoned for the dead. Whenever you cross into a shopping area, or a residential area, or a cemetery, you are entering into an area zoned for a particular use. Mount Auburn Cemetery was created by the Massachusetts Horticultural Society to embody romantic ideas of nature to help individuals contemplate their own mortality in the natural world, and also as one of the first arboreta in the U.S. showcasing a collection of tree species. Because of its design, it became a model for romantic parks across the U.S., including in Madison's Forest Hill Cemetery. You can learn more about Forest Hill Cemetery at this website created by a group of students for a class here at UW-Madison: http://foresthill.williamcronon.net

Mount Auburn was a completely planned landscape, designed to look like a particular idea of nature and governed by complicated regulations. Andrew Jackson Downing (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrew_Jackson_Downing) is a figure who was crucial to the history of American landscape gardening, rural romantic architecture, and orchard growing. Downing loved romantic landscapes, which he contrasted with French formalist landscapes. In his influenctial work from 1841, A Treatise of the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening (https://archive.org/details/treatiseontheory00down), he talked about how to create a picturesque landscape, a beautiful landscape, etc.

A landscape architect named Frederick Law Olmsted (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frederick_Law_Olmsted) is also crucial to this story. Downing had suggested that the New York City have a park at the center of Manhattan Island, its design to be chosen from competing submissions. Olmsted and his business partner, Calvert Vaux, submitted the winning design to the contest, and in that plan laid out what would become one of the most famous designed landscapes in all of the U.S.—Central Park (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Central_Park). Central Park in their plan combined rural, wild, and picturesque landscapes with much more urban and formal spaces. Olmsted's hope was that Central Park would become a place where the educated classes would rub shoulders with the working class, and in this beautiful setting all would become more civilized—a vision that was deeply a part of Olmsted's republicanism.

For our purposes, notice this: Olmsted and Vaux's planning created an curvilinear network of winding paths and lanes amid the relentlessly rectilinear street grid of Manhattan. It was also a planned landscape separated out into different uses: transportation, wild nature, picturesque, and—later on—ball fields, restaurants, a zoo, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Olmsted would go on to design the romantic suburban town of Riverside, Illinois (1869). We won't talk a lot about suburbs in this lecture. The contrast between the ideal of the suburb—a place designed to have most of the amenties of urban life without any of the city's attendant dangers—and is its reality is one topic I'll be speaking about today. To set that up, notice that historically, suburbs has as their inhabitants the wealthier classes. Racial and class boundaries were operating beneath the surface—and not always very far beneath the surface—in the ways zoning and planning boundaries got enacted on suburbs in particular.

George Pullman (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Pullman) is another example of an early thinker who designed a town built around the segregation of uses, an intended planned utopia. Inventor of the Pullman Sleeper Car (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sleeping_car), George Pullman decided to design and build a town for the workers building the train cars — the town of Pullman, Illinois. As owner of all the properties in town, Pullman set rents in the town at commercial rates. This was fine initially, but in moments of economic downturn, as in the early 1880s, the high cost of rent in relation to fixed wages bred worker resentment. So the town of Pullman, Illinois became a site of enormous conflict in the Pullman Strike of 1894 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pullman_Strike).

Another important planner in the late 19th and early 20th century is Daniel Burnham (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daniel_Burnham), whose role in designing the World Columbian Exposition of 1893 (also known as the White City and the 1893 Chicago World's Fair) thrust him into the international spotlight. Burnham went onto create master plans for various cities, including Chicago, Manila (Philippines), and downtown Washington, D.C. Burham was inspired by the French planner Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georges-Eugène_Haussmann), who redesigned Paris in the 19th century in an ambitious plan that was meant to renew what he saw as Paris's many blighted areas. Burnham's 1908 Plan of Chicago (available online at https://archive.org/details/planofchicago00burnuoft and summarized on Wikipedia at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burnham_Plan_of_Chicago) echoed many of Baron Haussman's decisions: as in Paris, Burnham introduced in Chicago wide Parisien boulevards, set building heights limited to no more than 5-6 stories (like many aspects of the Chicago Plan, this proposed reform never came to pass); and sought to rationalize the regional transportation system.

In addition to ideas forwarded by Downing, Olmsted, Pullman, and Burnham, there were other ideas at work: the suburb as an ideal, particularly as envisioned by the English planner Ebenezer Howard (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ebenezer_Howard), who tried to imagine an integration of the urban and the rural as Garden Cities of To-Morrow, the title of his influential 1902 book on this subject (available online at https://archive.org/details/gardencitiestom00howagoog). And full-scale planned towns would be built in the 1920s and 1930s as Greenbelt Towns in places like Radburn, New Jersey (1929); Greenbelt, Maryland (1937); and Greendale, Wisconsin (1936). Notice in plans from Howard and in Greenbelt areas the segregation of school areas from residential areas from commercial areas: the separation of uses is a key feature of zoning that we will watch emerge across the 20th century. I'm finally now going to get to the emergence of zoning as an activity of planners.

II. The Origins of Zoning

With the 1930s New Deal, we see the emergence of planning as a governance and land-use ideal. One of the most important tools of planning would be zoning. Zoning exploded in American law in the 1920s and 1930s.

In Madison, the process of city planning had gone back to the 1880s and 1890s, instigated by a group of wealthy private citizens who formed the Madison Parks and Pleasure Drive Association (https://lakeshorepreserve.wisc.edu/visit/mppda.htm) to create a city parks system. This is a reminder that although we often think of government regulation as a point of friction between private wealth and state power, it is often private interests that sought governmental regulation, typically as a way to ensure the stability of land values. In conflicts between private citizens over different land-use functions that might have negative effects on nearby property values—a pig farm next door to an expensive house, for example—we see the emergence of zoning as a tool to segregate different land uses.

In New York, the density and height of buildings became a point of conflict. Edward Bassett (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Bassett), the creator of the 1916 Zoning Ordinance in New York, a man often called "the Father of Zoning," established this reputation for himself when he was called in to resolve a dispute caused by the construction of the Equitable Building (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Equitable_Building_(Manhattan)). That building, constructed in the heart of Manhattan without any setbacks from the street, and tens of stories taller than any surrounding building, obstructed sunlight to nearby buildings and caused owners of those neighboring buildings to object. So zoning laws emerged intending to avoid lawsuits between property owners, and to collectivize the decision-making process about which land uses were appropriate in which places.

But there are also underlying social issues that need to be named here. There were fair number of Southern cities that tried to initiate zoning in the early part of the 20th century by declaring explicit racial boundaries to try to prevent African Americans from living in white neighborhoods. In New York City, we see similar racially and ethnically-motivated disputes. Garment factories, at the time primarily employing working-class Jewish men and women, were moving uptown and into neighborhoods and upscale shopping areas that were relatively wealthy and non-Jewish. Many residents of these neighborhoods objected to new rubbing of shoulders with Jews, raising questions about whether regulations could be used to avoid these class and ethnic frictions.

Bassett came up with a model report to resolve height disparities between buildings (as in the case of the Equitable Building). His commission recommended these measures: tying the number of feet a building was required be set back from the street to its height, and tying legal limits on the height of the building to the width of the street. Maps of setback and height restrictions were made for all of New York City that would govern urban development until the 1960s. You know from personal experience the results of these zoning maps: the "layercake" skyscraper that created a new aesthetic for skyscrapers. So when you see the New York skyline today, you are in part seeing the results of the 1916 Zoning Ordinance. This story is well told by New York's Skyscraper Museum's website: http://www.skyscraper.org/zoning/

From that start in 1916 New York, Herbert Hoover—then Secretary of Commerce—created a general model plan for what this type of ordinance might look like all over the U.S. In a suburb of Cleveland called Euclid, residents were disatisfied with the migration of industrial uses (and ethnic working-class residents) into suburban areas, so the town passed a zoning ordinance prohibiting industrial uses of many lots. The owner of a piece of property that had formerly been an industrial site sued for the town for what he regarded as a legal "taking"--reducing the value of his property--and the case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. In the 1926 decision of Euclid v. Ambler (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Village_of_Euclid_v._Ambler_Realty_Co. ), the Court held that such rezoning did not constitute a taking, but instead that it was a valid use of local police power and fulfilled a legitimate public interest. The court's ruling would set the legal precedent for the future of zoning that would remain in place until at least the 1960s and 1970s.

III. Zoning in Madison Today

The Comprehensive Plan for Madison is a massive document that was authored in 2006 and is available online: http://www.cityofmadison.com/dpced/planning/comprehensive-plan/1607/ On it, you can see water, parks, residential areas—all sorts of zoned areas of the city, and you'll also see many overlaps with our past discussions of underground systems.

In this section of the lecture I'm going to concentrate on land use, and how land use gets converted into zoning regulations. Notice: among the many other ways of looking at landscape that we've experienced in this course, landscape is also a legal construct. Law makes landscape. We saw that with the 1785 Ordinance. The kind of law we're talking about today may make some people's eyes glaze over, but notice: such laws structure to quite a profound extent the entire landscape we inhabit. Wherever you live in Madison today, your home and your neighborhood are intricately tied up with the city's comprehensive plan and zoning ordinance.

Here's a map of annexations by the city of Madison:
http://www.cityofmadison.com/dpced/planning/documents/v1c2_5.pdf
As a city grew, it moved onto adjacent lands that were not within its legal jurisdiction but that it was physically occupying or using. So lands that were in rural townships were accreted into the city's bounds through the process of annexation, which was largely a process of the 19th century. By the early 20th century, wealthy suburbs began to object to being annexed because residents of these wealthy suburbs often didn't want to become part of the tax base of a poorer nearby city. If you look at where annexation happened in Madison in the 20th century, it was in agricultural areas on the west and north, and not in suburban areas like Fitchburg (and not in the wealthier suburban areas of Shorewood Hills or Maple Bluffs)..

So we have residential, commercial, industrial, institutional, and park lands in Madison. We can also look at future land use plans. Zoning codes always consist of two things: a set of maps showing which region of a city is zoned for which use, and then a set of technical rules about what you can do in different zones of land use. Under Madison's current zoning regulations, these technical rules include regulations about how large the lot can be, how many cars can be parked there, what the maximum height of the building on the lot is, how much of the lot can be occupied by the footprint of the building … on and on: http://legistar.cityofmadison.com/attachments/a7261a03-67a8-413b-a97a-a07f72552155.pdf http://www.cityofmadison.com/dpced/planning/documents/Zoning_Districts_2015.pdf As these laws were written in the middle of the 20th century, they helped make car country—by specifying lot size or setback requirements, they made it impossible to build those houses with porches abutting Washington Avenue that we saw in the earlier lecture in which we took a driving tour out of Madison from the Capitol. Notice, too, that the lot area and the footprint of the building can be used to keep poorer people out: by specifying a quarter-acre lot with a large minimum size of the house that can be built on it, we can insure that the property will be so expensive that no poor person could ever afford to buy it. Without saying anything explicitly about race or class, one can use the zoning code to ensure that only people of certain economic means can afford to buy a house in that area.

Finally, I want to remind you a point I made ten minutes ago: it is not just government that writes zoning codes, but it is also industry groups and the trades that shape legal regulations shaping the built environment. In addition to zoning codes, electrical codes, fire codes, and building codes also shape what can and can't be built. These codes are set at least in part by non-governmental organizations representing the interests of say, electricians, builders, or plumbers. See how the authorship of zoning codes become an interesting balancing act between public and private interests shaping what we build and how we build it.

IV. Modernism, Highways, Urban Renewal, and Resistance

In my last twelve minutes, I'm going to move from Madison, Wisconsin to talking about the consequences of these zoned landscapes beyond the 1910s and 1920s.

The automobile suburb was crucial, particularly spaces like Levittown: mass-produced suburbs moving the suburb from places for the elite professoinal classes to those where individuals in the middle or working classes could afford to buy a home. L.A. was the poster child for automobile-based surburban development. Exhibits like the Futurama display at the 1939 New York World's Fair very much shaped public perceptions of what the future built environment should look like, particularly showcasing cross-country travel and forecasting the landscape of the interstate highway system. This would eventually help inspire the Interstate and Defense Highways Act in 1956 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interstate_Highway_System).

As we want suburbs and interstate highway systems example, we are watching a kind of modernist architecture: the discarding of old urban forms and the leaning toward mass new construction connected by automobiles. The Swiss-French planner Le Corbusier (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Le_Corbusier) was an important originator of this modernist aesthetic. In New York, the key figure who drove this process of modernist urban planning was Robert Moses (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Moses), the most important shaper of the New York landscape in the 20th century. It is almost impossible to detail all Moses did—perhaps we better understand the reach of his efforts when we note that, at the height of his power, Moses held twelve different appointed positions. He is responsible for building Jones Beach on Long Island; the Triborough Bridge (1936) (he would then became head of the commission that would collect all of the tolls from the bridge), and a large number of expressways crossing through what had formerly been neighborhoods in New York City. Robert Moses was a powerhouse shaping New York for 40 years.

The dilemma Moses was trying to fix was a traffic problem on the streets of New York. He nonetheless began to get into political trouble in the 1950s. The Mid-Manhattan Expressway, and the Lower Manhattan Expressway that would have cut through Washington Square Park, became examples of proposed projects that would elicit serious public resistance. Jane Jacobs (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jane_Jacobs), a writer and political organizer, began to counter Moses by bringing together those who saw him as overreaching in his plans for the city. In 1961 she authored a classic book that would transform urban design and urban architecture right down to the present day: The Death and Life of Great American Cities. It had as great an impact on urban planning and design as Rachel Carson's Silent Spring did on the birth of modern environmentalism. No one was more important than Jane Jacobs in pushing back against the modernist vision of Robert Moses and Le Corbusier.

To see one end to the modernist moment and its buildings, we can look to St. Louis. As in New York, St. Louis saw the replacement of so-called "blighted" neighborhoods with expressways and highrise buildings in the 1940s and 1950s. Pruitt-Igoe, a set of highrise public housing buildings in St. Louis, were constructed in the early 1950s but quickly began to deteriorate, so much so that they were demolished in iconic fashion in the 1970s, signalling the end of architectural modernism and ushering new ideas about how to plan the city. For a powerful set of images of this history, see: https://nextstl.com/2016/05/urban-renewal-st-louis-jane-jacobs-100th-birthday/