City planning and zoning have commanded a much enlarged interest in recent years because of the desire to stabilize values of real estate, the wish to promote orderly growth and to eliminate waste, the greatly augmented building program, the larger proportion of apartment houses, and the growing problem of street traffic congestion.
In 1921, zoning ordinances had been enacted in a few cities, regulating the height of buildings, the area of the lot which they might cover, and the use to which they might be put, with varying regulations for different districts of the city. These had met the desire of cities to preserve residential districts free from wanton intrusion by large public garages or sporadic stores and apartment houses, and to keep apartment house and business districts free from intrusion by noisy industries.
The Advisory Committee on City Planning and Zoning, appointed by Secretary Hoover to work with the Division of Building and Housing, accordingly set forth the possibilities of city zoning in popular style in "A Zoning Primer," which has been characterized as the most influential single publication in the field.
There was at the time grave danger that so novel and far-reaching a means of public control over private property might develop along unsound lines; and the committee drafted a Standard State Zoning Enabling Act which, when adopted by a state legislature, permits municipalities to enact zoning ordinances under proper safeguards.
In 1921 when the Advisory Committee on City Planning and Zoning commenced its work, there were about 60 zoned municipalities. At present there are more than 900, ranging in size from villages of a few hundred inhabitants to Chicago and New York, and comprising a total of more than 46,000,000 inhabitants, equal to more than two-thirds the urban population of the country.
The Division has made a number of careful surveys of zoning progress and city planning activity in the United States, and handles a large number of inquiries from civic bodies, municipal officials, and individuals interested in these subjects. Recent publications include "A City Planning Primer," and "A Standard City Planning Enabling Act," which latter has served already as the basis for city planning laws adopted in a number of states.
Such acts permit municipalities to create city planning commissions, control the layout of new subdivisions, prevent building in the bed of mapped streets, and authorize the creation of regional planning commissions for cities, or groups of cities, and the territory surrounding them.