Planning and Development History in New York City

Table of Contents

Introduction

The building of towns and cities has protracted compound accounts across the world. Urban development as a controlled vocation has only been in existence for less than a century, most cities have a variation of foresight and awareness in designing their layout and implementation. Urban life and diversity have developed from the complex functions that are found or performed in these towns. The cities serve as the storage points, centers for manufacture and trade. They developed from the surrounding agricultural areas, as the distribution centers, market centers where goods from far-off regions were exchanged for the local products. The farm products from the surrounding regions were processed and exchanged at the market centers found in these towns. The urban centers developed at the intersections of transportation routes, or the transit points like watercourses or seaports (Ellis, 1992).

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My study of the planning and development in New York City will be based on the emergence of the zoning system as expounded by the New York City Department of Planning. This heralded a new era in urban planning and development policy in the United States, with New York as one of the pioneering cities to adopt the system in its policies. The study will show how the zoning policy has successfully shaped the city to become the world’s financial, entertainment, and artistic capital. It will also attempt to reveal whether the zoning policies have been the only major policy framework that shaped the city and a comparison with other urban centers in the United States.

Main Body

The emergence of zoning in New York City in its Zoning Resolution of 1916 heralded a new area in urban planning and development. Zoning is used to establish the extent and utilization of building structures, their location, and the population of the various environs’ quarters. Zoning is crucial to the policy framework taken by the city as the planning on budgets, taxation, and structures to be erected is determined differently concerning the various zones. New York City was a leading pioneer of the enactment of zoning policy.

New York City has several zones. The New York City Department of Planning website defines zoning concept as the determinant in the use of land, the size of buildings, and their location. It also determines or influences the residents’ densities of the city’s assorted neighborhoods. Planning for the city’s budget requires proper zoning. New York was a leading proponent of city zoning policies as early as 1916 when it enacted the country’s first comprehensive Zoning Resolution. The city planners included engineers, economists, lawyers, etc. confronted a series of metropolitan problems. They, therefore, sought to create new approaches in decision-making, with new public institutions capable of achieving their joint vision of the metropolis. Although influenced by political events of the time, the committee of city planners made technical and professional discourses that were driven by their desire for a formation of an urban interdependence system (Devell).

Surrounded by water, the city is densely populated, it also has the biggest number of towers or skyscrapers and it’s among the high real estate in commercial districts and also one of the most established in the world. This is the building form most strongly linked to New York City. Following the introduction of new architectural techniques such as the erection of steel beams and enhanced elevators, the technical restraints on building heights changed. This led to the evolution of the Manhattan skyline structure. The metropolis was now the financial center of the nation and the ever-growing businesses required office space.

According to the New York City Department of Planning website, the explosion and escalation of the giant skyscrapers’ uncontrolled growth were amplified by the 1915 forty-two-story Equitable Building that was opened in Lower Manhattan. The need for reins on the elevation and shape of all buildings becomes apparent. The building at its epitome height cast a seven-acre silhouette over other neighboring buildings, hence affecting their value. This would set the stage for the first zoning resolution. From the late nineteenth century, New York inhabitants had started complaining of the lack of light and air as tall housing buildings began to spring all over Manhattan. This resulted in the state legislature enacting a succession of elevation limitations which culminated in the Tenement House Act of 1901. Another Act was included in the 1916 Zoning Resolution which introduced setbacks in new buildings, while restricting skyscraper towers to a percentage of the bundle size, to permit sunbeams to get to the streets below. With its steel spire and conical top, the Chrysler building which was designed in the 1930s revealed these zoning requirements (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press).

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Although New York City is credited to be the pioneer in passing the New York City ordinance initiating the zoning plans, Chicago City was the pioneer in formulating the ‘Plan of Chicago of 1909′. When a group of Chicago business leaders congregated to create a plan for the city development and a measure to curtail the onslaught of rapid urban growth, they commissioned an architect and city planner, Daniel Burnham who came up with a comprehensive plan. The Burnham plan advocated for the creation of new infrastructure, parks, and establishing a framework for future development. This plan was adopted by the city government who in turn, created one of the original City Planning Commissions to oversee its implementation. Chicago’s city planning sparkled off a planning movement in the United States across many towns and urban centers. It was marked by much publicity and involvement of the citizens, unlike the modern elitist plans. Chicago’s early planning prudence although later dented by the unpopular large-scale public housing projects, is a lasting legacy that continues to be felt today (Smith, 2005).

The early planning for the future by New York and that of Chicago city planners was in contrast to another United States city, Los Angeles. The latter initial lack of foresight and leadership has resulted in the current state of congestion in Los Angeles, lack of affordable housing in Los Angeles, with the city having problems of high crime levels, narrow boulevards, and other problems consistent with poor planning. As late as the 1970s, there was widespread discontent over failed Community Plans which failed to incorporate the existing zonal plans. This led to a legal and city planning architect Bill Christopher to remark, “we had dis-joined situation where the actual legal zoning was set up for s city of 10m while the advisory plans would limit the city eventually to 4.2m people. Since at the time in the 70s, the city had fewer than 3m residents, 4.2m inhabitants still seemed like a recipe for Bladerunner, which in 1982 provided the imagery for the LA of the future” (CityWatch 2008).

Surrounded by water, New York City is densely populated, it also has the biggest number of towers or skyscrapers and it’s among the high real estate in commercial districts and also one of the most established in the world. This is the building form most strongly linked to New York City. Following the introduction of new architectural techniques such as the erection of steel beams and enhanced elevators, the technical restraints on building heights changed. This led to the evolution of the Manhattan skyline structure. The metropolis was now the financial center of the nation and the ever-growing businesses required office space.

The New York City website credits the explosion and escalation of the giant skyscrapers’ uncontrolled growth as amplified in 1915 when the 42 stories Equitable Building was opened in Lower Manhattan. The need for reins on the elevation and shape of all buildings becomes apparent. The building at its epitome height cast a seven-acre silhouette over other neighboring buildings, hence affecting their value. This would set the stage for the first zoning resolution. From the late nineteenth century, New York inhabitants had started complaining of the lack of light and air as tall housing buildings began to spring all over Manhattan. This resulted in the state legislature enacting a succession of elevation limitations which culminated in the Tenement House Act of 1901. Baltimore, however, argues that another Act had to be included in the 1916 Zoning Resolution which introduced setbacks in new buildings, while restricting skyscraper towers to a percentage of the bundle size, to permit sunbeams to get to the streets below. With its steel spire and conical top, the Chrysler building which was designed in the 1930s revealed these zoning requirements (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press).

The New York City Department of Planning also highlights the pressure accumulated from the housing shortages, which were being caused by an incursion of new immigrants to the uninhibited growth (www.nyc.gov 1). It led to the uncontrolled erection of tenements built to maximum bulk minimum standards. Unsightly warehouses and factories began to impinge upon the fashionable stores near Fifth Avenue. This led to calls by reformers for the formation of more effective height and setback controls for the developers, zoning restrictions separating suburban, commercial, and industrialized areas. The Zoning Resolution of 1916 was a result of amendments to the legislation governing the city’s physical growth. They established height and setback controls, designating residential districts with restrictions of three to six-story buildings.

While New York City is renowned due to its tall towers and skyscrapers, Chicago is credited to have influenced and mirrored the history of American architecture. The city has some of the most uniquely designed buildings although most of the original structures were destroyed during the Great Chicago Fire in 1871. The success of New York City towers is a reflection of the pioneering work of the Chicago School’s use of steel-frame construction in the 1890s and which also used plate glass. These were some of the original skyscrapers to be constructed. The designing of buildings that emphasized vertical elevation rather than horizontal expansion was revolutionary to modern cities’ space and congestion problems. This style by Louis Sullivan of Chicago School was known as ‘commercial style’. Chicago after hosting the Columbian Exposition was noted for its architectural designs sometimes called the ‘White City.

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Although the New York city planning model was heralded as a masterpiece and espoused by several further cities, Revel reveals that the plan was frequently modified to be receptive to the most important shifts in populace and property use caused by a multiplicity of aspects: continuing waves of immigration that helped to swell the city’s population from five million in 1916 to almost eight million in 1960; ongoing waves of immigration that led to a swell up in the city’s inhabitants from five million in 1916 to approximately eight million in 1960; innovative mass transit routes and the development passageway they fashioned; the appearance of equipment and subsequent financial and standard of living changes; the preface of government housing and expansion programs; and, conceivably more than anything else, the increased use of the vehicles, which transformed terrain exploitation modes and produced traffic and parking tribulations never anticipated in 1916 (Revel 2005).

In the preceding decade, along with other inventiveness, the City Planning departments have used more flexible shifts in the direction to the stringent separation of uses, promoting a blend of uses that helps generate inhabitable environs and animated town streetscapes (www.nyc.gov). However, Revel argues that it has extended and advanced appropriate zoning gear to enhance and conserve the quality of the city’s conventional surrounding area. Original minor concentration development administration techniques have been urbanized for far-flung areas that are experiencing swift expansion and are secluded from crowded transit zones.

The New York City website admits that to tackle the demands and challenges of the early twentieth century, New York City incorporated the corporate leaders of the time in the construction of the infrastructure. This included the Hudson and Manhattan Company, which completed the construction of the subway passageway system below the Hudson River which was sandwiched between New Jersey and Manhattan. The Pennsylvania Railroad Company’s building of the far-reaching tunnel, station, and bridge improvements (www.nyc.gov. 2). There was opposition in the involvement of the private sector due to the conflict of interest as they tended to already own some private railroads and passageways. The city’s planners clashed with the private developers on the control of the development of the underground projects i.e. sewers, the subways, and water delivery infrastructures (Devell). The early settlers of the 1660s drew water from privately owned shallow wells. They later constructed a water reservoir in the 1770s east of Broadway between Pearl and White Streets. In 1800, the Manhattan Company distributed water to the local communities using wooden mains (New York City Library).

According to the New York City website, in the futuristic Commissioners’ Plan of 1811, the New York blueprint was a standard street grid. This inexpensive logic essential for the plan was to divide upper Manhattan with a customary street grid. These were made up of twelve numbered avenues in succession north and south, a further one hundred and five orthogonal traverse streets. The street grid regularity would present a well-organized way to build up a new property. The city design planners aptly led by the governor, DeWitt Clinton, insisted on the use of surveying philosophy and Cartesian linear outlook, with a singular aim of directing the city inhabitants to think logically. Revel, however, argues that these ideals were criticized by some, including Fredrick Law Olmsted, who later was entrusted in designing Central Park. The critics argued that the street grid system was more efficiently economical than aesthetically inventive (Revel, 2005).

Even as New York City zoning was been commended, Ellis argues that the city zoning policy still leaves it congested (Ellis 1993). Modern cities contain a remarkable collection of conduits to cart flows of inhabitants, merchandise, water, power, and communication lines. Usually, transport lines are the foremost and for the most part discernible of these. Earliest urban centers relied on streets, for most of them moderately constricted by present standards, to carry pedestrians and pushcarts. The contemporary metropolis contains intricate transport channels, ranging from ten-lane highways to pedestrian sidewalks. The former is more common among the American transport routes. American cities are therefore congested, unlike the European towns which are capable of sustaining rail transport. Modern cities with high population densities require a complex set of utilities, including costly public communication, road, rail networks, and other utilities. The population explosion witnessed in the late nineteenth century led to a lot of congestion and subsequent pollution and public health problems. New York City has established sufficient sewerage and water set systems. Similarly, electrical conduits, gas, and communication lines were established (Ellis, 1993).

Planning for urban centers, cities, and other towns is the incorporation of various disciplines from landscape planning to transport networks. This must encompass the range of aspects, chief among them the building and communal environments of the urban metropolis and communities. Most urban centers and cities are a reflection of deliberate planning and premeditated design in their layouts and functioning. New York City is mostly associated with towering buildings or skyscrapers. Planning is very significant in the growth of cities, employing tools such as zoning to control the use of land has contributed largely to the growth of the city. New York City development is therefore a result of numerous contemporary plans that incorporated the various professional experts; civic and state authorities; and the private sector (NYC Library).

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The New York City website indicates long-term development and sustainability as important issues in modern urban planning as globally inhabitants become more aware of the danger of exhausting the world’s natural resources. Conservation methods are paramount, as ecosystem destruction, urban pollution, heat islands, social and income disparities, and global warming have become appreciated by skeptics. Urban planning and development are therefore incorporating these ideas as pressure mounts on the city planners.

Although the zoning policy introduced better housing quarters for the poorer immigrants, Ellis reveals the discontent of the minorities especially African-Americans in the poor sanitation experienced in the New York City housing projects (Ellis 1993). The huge suburban districts in New York are diverse with their stylish ‘townhouses’, ‘brownstone’ ‘rowhouses’, and the dilapidated tenements housing were erected in a rapid growth era (1870 to 1930). After the destruction in the ‘1835 Great Fire’ which burned the wood-frame houses, Stone and brick houses became the ideal construction materials. The buildings are notable due to the wooden roof-mounted water tower, a requirement in the 1800s, to prevent water pressures on the municipal pipes. The residential houses are quite distinct from the commercial buildings. During the 1950s, public housing projects were constructed and they negatively changed the city’s appearance as they lacked funding and maintenance. In contrast, gorgeous residential buildings on Central Park West that adjoins Central Park from both sides and those on Fifth Avenue are more attractive. The Riverside Park also has numerous valued old residential structures. Building stones for the towers found in Manhattan are imported from as far as Uruguay, Norway, Belgium, or Iran.

Fairfield points out that although city planners have to contend with a multifaceted, ever-changing assortment of rudimental elements into a functioning total: this is the perpetual test of city development; the New York City planners did not involve the local communities as done in the early Chicago city planning. The material rudiments of urban centers can be separated into three categories: networks, buildings, and open spaces. Several different measures of these components have been tested all through the past, but no perfect city model has ever been decided upon. Animated debates on the finest method to assemble urban anatomies continue, and demonstrate no signs of tapering off (Fairfield 1993).

Contemporary cities rely on a composite scheme of utilities. The New York City Department of Planning argues that urban centers with huge populations and high densities necessitate costly unrestricted utilities (www.nyc.gov). The rapid urban growth and industrialization in the nineteenth century caused congestion, affluence, and illness in urban areas. After the correlation linking contaminated water and disease was recognized, American and European cities began to establish sufficient open drain and water systems. New York City’s architectural features which were borrowed from Chicago, give it its distinctive nature. Revel contends that New York’s residential constructions take up nearly half of all municipal topography, as the building types range from strewn single-family homes to opaque high-rise apartments (Revel 2005). Commercial buildings are bunched at the business district and diverse sub-centers, with skyscrapers packed into the central business district and low-rise structures widespread away, even though high buildings are becoming more widespread in the environs. Industrial buildings include diminutive workshops and large factories in the industrial districts.

Conclusion

Well-planned development city structures assist current administration and city residents to endure better-living conditions and insure against future expansion by zoning out city areas while setting city boundaries. Cities that have initiated long-term futuristic approaches stand a better chance of containing the ever-expanding urban population and attendant problems. This has been exemplified by New York City and Chicago zoning concepts in having the foresight to establish proper plans that have seen their urban metropolis withstand numerous challenges for decades. Los Angeles city is an example of poor planning methods that have impacted current inhabitants and will continue to future generations unless unchecked. New York’s planners, however, have over the years tried to establish elaborate plans for the development of the city. They have largely succeeded in erecting a well-planned metropolis that has managed to accommodate its huge population in a well-balanced way through the zoning concept. Although criticized for rigidity, the many adjustments in the zoning plans have accommodated the constantly changing designs and technologies of the time. Although there have been drawbacks especially in the residential plans for the housing projects, the city has passed the test of a modern metropolis as its innovative futuristic plans have been adopted by other cities.

References

Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005. Building Gotham: Civic Culture and Public Policy in New York City. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Chicago Planning , Design, and Smart Growth, 2008. Web.

Smith, Carl: The Plan of Chicago – The Electronic Encyclopedia of Chicago, Chicago Historicao Society, 2000.

Ellis, Cliff Civic Culture and Public Policy in New York City,. 1993.

Fairfield. John D. 1993. The Political Economy of Suburbanization and the Politics of Space. Pp. 15-83 in The Mysteries of the Great City. The Politics of Urban Design 1877-1937. Columbus, OH: Ohio State University Press.

Fischer, Raphael (1998). “The Metropolitan Dimension of Early Zoning: Revisiting the 1916 New York City Ordinance”. Journal of the American Planning Association 64(2).

History Of Cities And City Planning. 2001.”How Zoning is Adminstered.” New York City Library. 2008. Web.

History of New York City’s Water Supply System. Early Manhattan settlers obtained water for domestic purposes from shallow privately-owned wells. 2008. Web.

Parks History: New York City Department of Parks & Recreation, About Parks History. There’s a wealth of history in New York City’s green spaces, History of the Arsenal. Image of History of Ice Skating. 2008. Web.

Timeline of American Planning History. 2008. Web.

Wheeler, Stephen (1998). Planning Sustainable and Livable Cities, Rutledge; 3rd edition.

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