How Changing/Updating Existing Zoning Laws Could Help Save the Planet

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Prior to and during the Industrial Revolution of the 17 and 1800s, cities in the developed world such as London and New York City had become extremely dirty and polluted places to live.  With that many people packed that densely into such a small area, many serious issues arose, especially with sewage and waste disposal.  Many businesses of the day such as tanneries and butchers would throw the carcasses of dead animals into the alley ways behind the businesses, while people resided in apartments above those businesses.  Animals such as pigs roamed the streets and were kept in pens behind buildings to eat the garbage.  This was all while black coal smoke and ash billowed from factory's smoke stacks and settled as black dust all over the city.  These issues were obviously of serious concern to the health and well-being of the people residing in those cities of that day and time.  Disease was rampant, and it was obvious why.  Something obviously needed to be done about this.

Enter the creation of "zoning laws."  Zoning laws were created as strict guidelines that people residing especially in cities have to abide by under penalty of local court jurisdictions if obstructed in order to keep cities as cleaner and healthier places to live and work.  If a resident of the city wanted to own a business and/or work as a tanner or butcher, then the business would have to be relocated away from residences, and the carcasses disposed of in a cleaner, healthier manner.  Sewage and garbage could no longer just be dumped into gutters in the street.  The pigs would have to go elsewhere.  The factories spewing the coal smoke and ash could no longer be "downtown," or in the urban core.  Of course this all made perfect sense at the time, and many of our zoning laws today are still based around these original zoning laws that were created during the Industrial Revolution.

Then, in the early 1900s came the invention and introduction of the automobile into cities.  This new invention called the automobile was of course extremely fascinating to everyone of the time, and remains today a focal point of culture for cultures all over the world.  Of course most people wanted to, and still want to own an automobile.  The invention of the automobile allowed people, especially city-dwellers,  for the first time to really have the ability to venture outside of the city and explore other places.  This invention called the automobile also meant that cities no longer had to be so compact, and so businesses and residences could spread further out away from the central urban core of the city because residents could now drive the distance to get to them.  In fact, many residents of the cities could not wait to get out of the city and work and reside in "suburban" communities outside of all of the filth, crowds, noise, and traffic of the urban core.

So, at that time of the early 1900s up to recent times, it more or less "made sense" for zoning laws to be created that "favored" the automobile and "suburban" communities.  Many guidelines and laws were of course made concerning the construction of roads, highways, and parking lots.  It was the belief of the times that creating zoning laws that placed different land uses such as residences and businesses further apart and more "suburban" made cities cleaner, better places to live, and increased the general "quality of life" for residents; and this probably was true at the time.

Enter automobile emissions pollution, traffic congestion, and suburban sprawl.  These three previously stated issues have become increasingly more serious problems to the people and the planet since the invention of the automobile in the early 1900s up unto the present day.  Now, today, humanity is standing on the precipice of environmental and human catastrophe directly due to these three previously stated issues.  Automobiles sit on highways and roads in cities in idle parking lot-like rush-hour traffic every day, spewing exhaust/pollution/carbon emissions into the atmosphere, which is scientifically proven to be the leading cause of global warming/climate change.  This is all while wars are being faught all over the world in order to keep the insatiable appetite of fossil fuel burning cars and people to have the ability to sit in parking-lot like rush-hour traffic every day spewing exhaust/pollution/carbon emissions into the atmosphere.  The further that land uses are separated, the further people have to drive to get to their jobs and/or residences, the more fossil fuels they burn, and the more exhaust/pollution/carbon emissions they spew into the atmosphere.

So what is the answer to these most serious of issues?  Well, the answer largely lies in the changing of zoning laws.  With modern technologies and knowledge of sewage treatment and waste disposal, cities can now go back to being more "compact," rather than "spread out" and "suburban."  People have gotten much more knowledgeable, efficient, and cleaner in these ares of sewage treatment and waste disposal, and this is no longer an issue as it was when people in cities were throwing their garbage and sewage directly into gutters in the streets for the roaming pigs to eat.  What the issue is is that zoning laws are still largely based around the automobile and the construction of "suburban sprawl," with different land uses such as businesses and residences being required by law to be very "spread out" and "suburban."  In order for cities and communities to evolve into walkable, compact, 2-4 story New Urbanist development, many of the current zoning laws would have to be changed and/or updated in order to allow for different land uses to be closer together.  Today, with the advances that people and cities have made, especially in the fields of sewage and waste disposal, it can now be clean, safe, and healthy for a residence to be above the butcher business.  That way, the butcher does not have to drive many miles to get from his/her "suburban" residence to his/her business and/or employer while spewing exhaust, carbon emissions, and pollution into the atmosphere the whole way.  Instead, with the changing of zoning laws, the butcher could now reside above his/her business and walk the stairway up and down to go from home to work and vice versa, while disposing the business' waste in a more civilized manner than was done in London in the 1700s.  As the old Bob Dylan song goes- "Times they are a'changin."

Also see my Blog titled What New Urbanism Is Not by clicking on Dylan's Blog below.


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