Zoning codes grew out of the limitations inherent in using the legal theory of nuisance as the sole tool for regulation of growth in American cities at the turn of the 19th century. In that era, if a neighbor, for instance, was affected by the operation of a smelly slaughterhouse, he or she had to file a nuisance complaint in court and let a judge decide whether the noxious activity was appropriate for the neighborhood. No planning was involved. Issues relating to building uses, heights and location were handled by courts on an ad hoc basis.
Toward the end of the 19th century, new construction techniques (the first passenger elevators were installed in New York in the 1870’s) allowed construction of …