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1961 Zoning Ordinance 1961

As the New York City skyline grew more crowded, residents began protesting the loss of light and air, a consequence of the new highrise buildings springing up all over Manhattan. Photojournalist Jacob Riis’ 18-page 1890 article in Scribner’s Magazine entitled “How the Other Half Lives” helped to lead the fight for housing reformation after he exposed the adverse living conditions of the Lower East Side tenements. As a result of the widespread unrest over housing, city officials passed the New York State Tenement House Act of 1901, which banned the construction of dark, poorly ventilated tenement buildings in the New York.

Though housing conditions were taken care of in 1901, there were no zoning laws controlling how offices and other buildings were designed and built. In 1916, the city passed The Zoning Resolution of 1916, which set height limits, designated residential districts, and gave rise to both the tall, slender design characteristic of the city’s business districts and the three-six-storey residential buildings found all over the city today.

By 1961, however, the 1916 zoning laws no longer seemed to benefit the city. After lengthy deliberations, the new Zoning Ordinance of 1961 was enacted. The new regulations limited the bulk and height of buildings allowed under the old ordinance by limiting the amount of space that a property owner could build within the footprint of the lot. The new resolution encouraged developers to incorporate plazas–like 55 Water Street’s Elevated Acre–in their designs in an effort to create open space. It also aimed to simplify zoning regulations and offer residents more public amenities. If a developer agreed to include a plaza in their design, they were given extra space in return, adding an extra 6-and-a-half floors to the structure. This barter system resulted in unused or useless plazas and ugly monolithic buildings.

Some criticize the resolution, claiming that these wider buildings overwhelm their surroundings and that the new open spaces created were not always attractive or necessary. Despite these criticisms, the 1961 Zoning Ordinance continues to rule the city’s development plans.


1890 Jacob Riis publishes "How the Other Half Lives"
1901 New York State enacts the Tenement House Act of 1901
1916 Zoning Resolution of 1916 is passed
1961 Zoning Ordinance of 1961 is passed

Reference Links

sight Seagram Building
sight Elevated Acre
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sight About Zoning
sight Simple Rules for a Complex Society