Today, many cities worldwide regulate urban density by limiting the floor area ratio (FAR)—the amount of allowable building space relative to the lot size. Cities use FAR caps to reduce building bulk, preserve leafy residential neighborhoods, and maintain the historical feel of central cities. The FAR is one of the most important tools in urban planning. This is blog post #2 in a series about the birth and growth of the FAR. (Post #1 can be read here.)
The View from Roaring Twenties
Americans enjoyed themselves during the Roaring Twenties, dancing to jazz, while sipping speakeasy gin, and watching Babe Ruth hit home run after home run. But beneath the heady foam of fun was a stew of urban problems.
These problems—hyper congestion, pollution, extreme poverty, and slum-like living conditions—gave rise to fierce debates about the correct suite of solutions. In 1916, New York City ushered in the nation’s first comprehensive zoning regulations to rationalize land use and reduce urban density, by setting rules on building height, use, and lot coverage for every single property in the city. New York’s zoning program was replicated throughout the country.
However, the regulations were relatively conservative because the zoning Founding Fathers did not know what would legally “stick.” Laissez-faire America felt strongly about the sanctity of private property, and without any precedent to go on, government intervention could not smack of interfering with that right unless it was absolutely necessary and fell within the government’s rights of “police power.”
After about a decade of seeing the rules in practice, urban reformers found the original zoning codes wanting. The city was still too dense, residential neighborhoods remained unprotected from pollution and overcrowding, and supertall Art Deco skyscrapers rose like giant mushrooms. Reformers demanded tighter regulations to de-densify neighborhoods and better separate land uses.
By the end of the Twenties, there was a firm conviction that one of the best ways forward was by limiting building bulk—that is, by limiting the floor area ratio, though the specific formula had not yet been invented. Two well-known and respected planners, Thomas Adams and Robert Whitten, introduced the concept to the world at the end of the 1920s, most notably in the Regional Plan of New York and its Environs. The multivolume survey and plan sponsored by the Russel Sage Foundation offered a roadmap to rationalize the region’s transportation, infrastructure, and land uses.
At the time of the Plan, the FAR was merely a concept—that as buildings became taller, they should be required to be skinnier to preserve open spaces and light around buildings, while limiting the overall building density. But as the Great Depression swept across America, it would open a window of opportunity for reformers to have more say over urban policy.
As a result, architect Robert D. Kohn (1870-1953), along with his colleague, Frederick L. Ackerman (1878–1950)—who were deeply involved in New Deal housing policy—would be the first to launch the FAR into the policy sphere. This would take place in 1935, long before its appearance in the 1961 New York City Zoning Resolutions, which imposed them citywide. In fact, because of Kohn, the FAR would become embedded in a 1940 revision of the 1916 codes.
Strands of Thought
In the early decades of the 20th century, two groups jockeyed for position in the planning community: call them the visionaries and the practicalists. Both groups shared a common goal of transforming the city and its hinterland into a well-functioning and well-ordered machine, but the visionaries had their visions, and they did not want reality to get in the way. The realists agreed with the visions but felt that one could not create utopia by simply waving a hand or imposing it from above.
During the Twenties, two organizations were instrumental in pushing forward the debate about where big cities, like New York, should go. One was the Regional Planning Association of America (RPAA), and the other was the Regional Plan of New York and Its Environs, which later became the Regional Plan Association (RPA).
As discussed in an earlier post, the RPAA, formed in 1923 by Charles Whitaker, Robert Kohn, Benton MacKaye, Lewis Mumford, Clarence Stein, Frederick Ackerman, Edith Elmer Wood, and Henry Wright, was a loosely organized but influential association of architects, planners, writers, and real estate developers who argued for the Garden City model of urban and regional planning. They were inspired by the work of Ebenezer Howard, especially his book, The Garden City of To-morrow, first published in 1898.
Garden Cities Everywhere
The Garden City-ites felt that density was a plague that needed to be cured with surgical treatment: Cities needed to be deconcentrated and decentralized—to transform the monolith into an octopus. RPAA members spread the Garden City gospel in America after World War I.
One of the first disciples of Ebenezer Howard was Thomas Adams, the first manager of Letchworth, the first Garden City project, 35 miles (56 km) outside London, begun in 1903. Over his long career, he promoted the Garden City way of living, but he was also a practical man when it came to planning large cities like London and New York.
In 1923, he was hired to direct the Regional Plan of New York and its Environs, which laid out a relatively practical vision for New York City in forty years hence. It still saw lower Manhattan as the center of the city but offered rationalized routes for transportation routes and demonstrated a path for the coordination of the city with its suburbs to make sure development and growth happened in an organized and healthful manner. Manhattan was to be cleared of slums so it could be a Hugh Ferris-Corbusian island of towers-in-the-park.
Though the RPAA folks vociferously disagreed with this practical vision, there was one thing that the RPAA and RPA could agree on: Current city rules allowed for too much residential density. The route to the good life was through discouraging, encouraging as much free-standing single-family housing as possible, and isolating residences from business and industry that may harm the peace and harmony of the good life. The city was to be like a child’s playset, and all the pieces had to be pre-arranged to tame the chaos.
The Veblen Effect
Several of the RPAA members and their like-minded colleagues were strongly influenced by socialist ideas discussed and debated in the decades following Karl Marx’s (1818-1883) writings. One influential thinker was Thorsten Veblen (1857-1929), an American economist whose work focused on the harm propagated by capitalists and the broader “leisure class.” Veblen, an enfant terrible of the discipline, spent his academic career debating with mainstream economists and Marxists alike.2
Whereas Adam Smith (1723-1790) argued for the primacy of the free market, and Karl Marx promulgated the inevitable proletarian economic takeover, Veblen rejected both conceptions. During his lifetime, it became increasingly clear that there was not going to be an American Communist Revolution, in part, he argued, because the laboring classes were inspired by, and sought to imitate, the leisured classes, who spent lavishly on florid displays of conspicuous consumption to advertise their wealth.
As industries became larger, more technologically sophisticated, and deeply intertwined, businessmen could no longer understand and run the very system they created. Their desires, helped by the connivance of the labor unions, promoted industrial “sabotage”—the manipulation and slowing down of the “machine process” to increase their personal fortunes. As a result, the industrial system was not run to generate maximum output but rather was operated to benefit the few at the expense of the many.
Veblen proffered the notion that only engineers and industrial scientists had the knowledge, rational thought process, and benevolence to oversee the means of production on behalf of the American people. If the engineers of the world banded together and went on strike, they could have the industrial system handed over to them (easily enough since it was already centralized into various interlocking trusts). They would plan and run the economy through a “Soviet of Technicians.”
The publication of Veblen’s The Engineers and the Price System (1921) gave rise to a short-lived organization called The Technical Alliance. Veblen was its “Chief Engineer” and was joined by the RPAA group of Frederick Ackerman, Robert Kohn, Stuart Chase, Benton MacKaye, and Charles Whitaker. Ackerman also joined Veblen as one of the founding members of the Continental Committee on Technocracy. As planning historian Michael Long, writes,
Veblen intended this committee to be “a soviet of engineers”, part of the vanguard of the revolution that would organize a “general strike” to overthrow capitalism. By 1932 this group of scientists and economists was based at the Department of Industrial Engineering at Columbia University and had conducted research into the organizational structure of several hundred American industries with a research staff provided by the New York City Relief Committee. Veblen felt that this research was the ‘indispensable’ precursor to the revolution and that these groups would form the organizational basis of the new society. Ackerman maintained his affiliation with this group after Veblen’s death, writing a series of empirically based articles on technocracy.
The Depression and the Rebuilding of New York
To implement such a program, however, would require much greater government involvement. During the Roaring Twenties, America was growing rapidly, and the free-market spirit was triumphant. Then the Depression hit, and the reform dynamic changed dramatically, as the weight of capitalism seemed to collapse upon itself.
It now opened a window to enact more radical proposals. Nonetheless, implementing these policies would create considerable debate among the visionaries and the practicalists. While the Depression allowed the visionaries to get their moments, their ideas would be constructed on compromised terms.
Attempts to fully reorder the city would ultimately lose to more conservative pushback. However, on the pages of New York’s current zoning codes, one can still hear a faint echo of the RPAA and the Technocracy, through the creation of the Floor Area Ratio, if one presses one’s ears closely to the pages.
The New Deal and New York City
In 1932, Franklin D. Roosevelt became president of the United States. To help implement his New Deal, he leaned on several RPAA members. Roosevelt, as New York governor, had developed a relationship with the group as he was sympathetic to many of its members positions.
When it came to New York City, however, he saw its government as a cesspool of vice and corruption. It was run by Tammany Hall hacks, who showed more interest in siphoning revenues from the public treasury than in providing good government. During the Roaring Twenties, when times were good, the citizens bothered little with the Tammany side-hustle.
They enjoyed being led by their mayor, Jimmy Walker (1881-1946), bon-vivant, playboy, one-time songwriter, and all-around cheerleader for Roaring Twenties New York. But as the Depression set in, things started to fall apart. Walker was ousted by a corruption scandal in 1932. In his place, Gotham elected reformist Fiorello H. La Guardia (1882-1947), a congressman from East Harlem.
La Guardia campaigned to clean up the city’s government and rebuild New York. Because of his integrity and earnestness, he won Roosevelt’s trust and was able to secure money and manpower to implement New Deal programs. As a result, the city became a laboratory for erecting the visions of the “good city” that had previously only been discussed.
La Guardia and Public Housing
The New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) was established in 1934, with the mandate to build, manage, and own public housing for low-income residents. In that year, the federal Public Works Administration (PWA) released $25 million in funds to get things started. It was a triumph, though limited, for the visionaries.
La Guardia turned to Langdon W. Post (1899-1981) as the first chairman of the NYCHA. Post, a Harvard graduate and veteran of World War I, served as a state assemblyman from New York City from 1928 to 1932. He was a close advisor to Governor Roosevelt and a strong housing advocate. Before assuming his position at NYCHA, President Roosevelt named Post the Assistant Federal Relief administrator, where he helped create the Works Progress Administration (WPA).
Robert D. Kohn
The PWA’s influence in New York was aided by Robert D. Kohn. He was born in Manhattan and trained as an architect at Columbia University and the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. Beginning in 1895, he established a successful practice in New York. Over his career, he was an active advocate for improving housing and urban conditions among the urban poor. He was a founding member of the RPAA, a firm believer in Garden City planning, and a part of the Technocracy movement.
During World War I, he was chief of housing production for the Shipping Board. The Board oversaw a tremendous increase in shipbuilding for the war effort, and its housing division created homes for more than 28,000 shipyard workers. This experience helped forge his belief that government could successfully erect low-cost, high-quality housing.
At the start of the New Deal, Interior Secretary Harold Ickes hired Kohn as the first head of the Housing Division of the PWA in 1933. However, Kohn soon ran into the realities of politics. As historian Edward Spann writes, it soon became “evident that FDR’s New Deal was not the RPAA’s new deal. In less than a year after his appointment, Kohn was pressured into resigning as housing administrator, and those sympathetic to the regional planning position were soon forced out.”
Frederick L. Ackerman
With money forthcoming from the PWA, Langdon Post filled out the staff at NYCHA. In 1934, he hired a colleague and friend of Kohn, Frederick L. Ackerman, as the authority’s first Technical Director; he was also the chief architect for the NYCHA’s first major project, the First Houses in the Lower East Side. Together, during the Depression, Kohn and Ackerman would work jointly to “invent” the Floor Area Ratio as a zoning policy tool.
Ackerman was born in Edmeston, New York, and graduated from Cornell University in 1901. After studying architecture in Paris, he returned to New York to practice architecture. He designed a wide variety of buildings, including the first centrally air-conditioned apartment building in New York City and large private residences, hotels, museums, and libraries. He was socially engaged and wrote widely on issues of architecture and city planning. A core member of the RPAA, he was particularly concerned about the poor state of low-income housing and the problem of the slums.
He was greatly influenced by the planning programs established in Britain, where he visited the early Garden Cities promoted by Ebenezer Howard and saw firsthand England’s success in building housing for its soldiers during World War I. At the Shipping Board, Robert Kohn brought in Ackerman to be the Chief of Housing of Design. In this position, he oversaw the construction of Garden Villages for the shipbuilders. Fellow RPPA member, Lewis Mumford, said that they “gave a fresh incentive to the housing movement, and pushed it along paths that the older housing reformers never envisaged.” During the 1920s, he played a key role in designing two of America’s earliest privately funded Garden Cities: Sunnyside Gardens, New York (1924) and Radburn, New Jersey (1928).
Among RPAA members, Ackerman was one of the most radical. He was a devotee of Thorsten Veblen and came to see capitalism as a system of greed and corruption that generated cities with too many problems. He believed in socializing private property and of planning both the city and the economy through the enlightened actions of engineers, architects, planners, and scientists.
In his position as Technical Director (a title which fit well with his membership in the Technocracy), Ackerman would write reports and create technical manuals to aid in the development of public housing projects, which would lead to the formulation of the FAR.
The Population Bomb
One of his first reports “Population of New York City as Permitted by the Zoning and Multiple Dwelling Laws,” was issued in December 1934 and co-written with William Ballard. The report was an act of fantastic hypothetical speculation. It asked the question: What would resident and employment density look like if every lot was built out to its maximum bulk according to the current building regulations? Its conclusion was that, in theory, the zoning and building laws could accommodate a resident population of nearly 77 million and hold some 343 million daily workers in offices and factories.
In 1930, the city’s population was about seven million. To think it would somehow grow by a factor of 100 in the near future was absurd. The report became something of a manifesto for Ackerman, as it allowed him (in his mind) to advertise the absurdities of free-market housing and the failures of the 1916 zoning codes. As discussed below, in this regard, it helped open the door to the creation of the FAR. The figure of 77 million would resurface in the press and among the planning community and became the rallying cry for why Gotham needed to be “de-bulked.”
In 1937, Ackerman and Ballard issued another report entitled, A Note on Site & Unit Planning (with aid from the WPA), which was meant—directly—as a reference manual for public housing architects but was also a form of Technocracy propaganda (and is rather shocking at that, especially for a report published by a New York City government agency, aided by the federal government).
Much of the Note is technical. It shows the future of low-income housing as envisioned by Ackerman. It provides drawings for various options for public housing project designs, along with facts about daylight penetration, population density, and lot coverage. The purpose was to present the benefits of surgical urban planning and how to construct tower-in-park housing on superblocks. The report does not mention the Floor Area Ratio but rather continues a tradition of presenting housing designs that minimize lot coverage on superblocks.
The drawings, however, are sandwiched between a screed on the evils of the free market. Ackerman’s rage oozes onto the pages. In the Preface, he writes:
The note is little more than a syllabus covering the outcome of an inquiry into the nature of the Problem which confronts those actually engaged in planning areas for residential use while working within the framework of an Economy which, by law and by judicial decision, denies the constitutionality of collective action upon a broad front which the technician deems as essential in Planning is to be other than wishful thinking.
Ackerman as FARther?
But to what degree can we assign the birth of the FAR to Ackerman from his writings and drawings? Carol Willis, founder and director of the Skyscraper Museum, suggests that Ackerman was the pivotal man in history. The notes from a fascinating exhibit on the history of public housing at the Skyscraper Museum say as much:
Where did the concept of FAR originate? It is astonishing that the answer to this question, so determinative for the city’s built environment for more than half a century, has been so obscure. Although the idea existed in several precedents in the early 1930s, the specific lineage seems to lie in the work of Frederick L. Ackerman (1878-1950), the head of the Technical Division of NYCHA and his young deputy William Ballard (1905-1993). In 1934, the two authored a little known NYCHA study titled “The Population of New York City as Permitted by the Zoning and Multiple Dwelling Laws.” Their report was the first to explore – indeed to obsessively calculate – the total buildable area of both full blocks and of the city as a whole allowed under the 1916 zoning. Translating that volume (“bulk”) into floor area, and estimating the average floor space needed per person for work and for housing, they concluded that the city could accommodate more than 76 million people. That excessive number proved to them the need for reform.
But my research into the history of the FAR gives me pause with assigning the main role to Ackerman. While it is true that the above-referenced Ackerman-Ballard report imagines a fully bulked-up New York, nowhere does it mention the concept of the Floor Area Ratio, and in fact, its first appearance, as will be discussed below, appears in a 1935 memo signed by Robert D. Kohn. Ackerman and Ballard’s 1934 report, however, was useful propaganda.
Importantly, their Note on Site & Unit Planning was published in 1937, two years after the first mention of the FAR in print, and yet the Note does not describe or measure the FARs of the housing project designs it presents. The Note would have been the perfect opportunity to estimate the FAR of each project (and a 1950 report co-written by Ballard contains FAR estimates in the renderings). Rather, Ackerman and Ballard only present population density, floor height, and lot coverage. If Ackerman had invented the FAR, why would he not also have added FAR calculations to this report?
Ackerman and Ballard’s Note helped to expand the notion that planning can more efficiently create Garden City type arrangements. In this way, their work is a more technical-oriented presentation of what Garden City architects and planners had been arguing for since the 1920s. If one compares Ackerman’s plans to those of Andrew Thomas, the first architect to build Garden Apartments—the precursor to the tower-in-the-park—their drawings appear to be a logical expansion of those concepts, especially in light of new government programs to build public housing (see the figure below).
The Skyscraper Museum exhibition notes go on to say:
Sixteen years later, in 1950, working as a consultant to the New York City Planning Commission, Ballard produced the Plan for Rezoning the City of New York. This major study outlined most of the revisions eventually incorporated in the 1961 law, including the citywide application of FAR formulas and an increase in open-space requirements for residential buildings. The drumbeat of the report, prepared by his firm Harrison, Ballard & Allen, argued that the 1916 zoning law allowed far too much built density. As in the earlier NYCHA study, Ballard keyed the buildable floor area to projections of future population and made specific recommendations for FAR limits.
As this quote indicates, William Ballard, the protégé and co-author of Ackerman, was an important player in the FAR story. He was co-author of a 1950 report that argued for the use of FAR limits as the mainstay of a new zoning policy. However, contrary to common wisdom, his report was not the first to introduce zoning maps with maximum FAR coverage.
Rather, the 1950 report reignited the FAR discussion that had been placed aside because of World War II. In this way, Ballard et al. revive what was worked out during the period of 1935 to 1940. Ballard, who went on to be New York City Planning Commission Chairman from 1963 to 1968, gets credit for popularizing the FAR. And because Ballard was a protégé of Ackerman, the natural conclusion is that Ackerman created the FAR and passed it on to Ballard.
But, as I will argue below, the chain of events appears to be thus: Robert Kohn in 1935, with the aid of Ackerman, created the FAR concept, along with proposed FAR zoning maps for New York. This led to a period of experimentation and “prototyping.” In 1940, because of Kohn, the FAR appeared as law for the first time in a revision of the 1916 codes by adding FAR limits in suburban zones.
Then America became embroiled in World War II, and all talk of rezoning New York was put aside. The discussion was brought back in 1948 when the city funded a study by the architecture firm of Harrison, Ballard & Allen, who borrowed and expanded upon the maps that were first created based on Kohn’s initiative. Kohn’s role in zoning history was forgotten after 1940. We now turn to these events in more detail, which begins with the City Club of New York.
The City Club of New York and Birth of the FAR
The City Club—still in existence—was founded in 1892 to “promote social intercourse among persons specially interested in the good government of the City of New York, in securing honesty and efficiency in the administration of city affairs, and in severing municipal from national politics.”
The club’s activities have included sponsoring lectures on urban affairs, as well as creating committees and reports to weigh in on vital issues of the day. In the 1930s, many prominent New Yorkers were part of the club, including several RPAA members, such as Clarence Stein, Henry Wright, Alexander Bing, Frederick Ackerman, and Robert Kohn. Bing and Wright sat on the Board of Trustees in 1935.
The Housing Committee, 1935
The conception of the Floor Area Ratio began in early 1935 when the Board of Trustees formally created a new Committee on Housing to study zoning reform. They requested that Robert D. Kohn accept the chairmanship.3 Kohn informed the Trustees that he would do so on condition that he was given authority to appoint qualified non-members to assist, which was okayed by the trustees. In turn, Kohn recruited ten additional people, at least two of whom were RPAA members: Henry Wright and Frederick Ackerman, who was listed as “Advisory-Associate,” and was, evidently, not a full-fledged member of the committee.
In September of 1935, the Committee on Housing transmitted to the Board of Trustees a memorandum on zoning. The tone and urgency made it feel like it was written by Ackerman, though Kohn was also capable of using strong language to express his anticapitalist sentiment. The memo references Ackerman and Ballard’s 1934 NYCHA study, though it was signed by Kohn. It demonstrates the authors’ contempt for urban density:
The absurd exaggeration implied in our present zoning regulations presents an immediate and pressing danger, for already apartment house building has been resumed on the same old principle of overcrowding the land to a much greater degree than is safe, necessary or economic. The speculators and lending companies appear to have learned little or nothing from the slums and the holocaust of real estate wrecks that have resulted from the absence of greater restrictions.
The memo requests that the City Club Board of Trustees “appeal to the Mayor and the Board of Estimate and Apportionment for the prompt appointment of a new Zoning Commission.”
In response, the president of the City Club, Richard S. Childs, sent a letter to Mayor La Guardia urging immediate zoning reform. The memo and letter made good copy and was picked up by the New York Times on September 16, 1935. The headline, “City Urged to End Density Building,” quoted Ackerman’s employment population figures of 340 million. The reporter turned to Kohn for a statement, who opined, “We must not allow the present opportunity to escape us to put a stop to such further crowding of land as will make the damage irreparable.”
Though I don’t have a copy of the Childs letter, it evidently, “urged that a blanket amendment be adopted substantially reducing the ratio of permissible bulk of residential buildings to lot area,” as declared in a “proposed report” written in March 1936 (discussed below). We can thus see that the idea of the FAR was created by Kohn’s Committee, transmitted to Childs, and then to Mayor La Guardia by September 1935.
In November, the City Club’s Housing Committee met with the Mayor’s Committee on City Planning. This then led to the creation of a Board of Alderman sub-committee whose membership drew from the City Club (and which included Kohn but not Ackerman), the Mayor’s Committee on City Planning, and other city officials.
A Rezoning Proposal, 1936
On March 1, 1936, this committee submitted its “Proposed Report” to the City Club Trustees and the Mayor’s Committee on City Planning. It recommended that the Floor Area Ratio be incorporated into zoning code amendments. We can say that the FAR was born on March 1, 1936.
The proposed report states, for example,
In substance, the proposed formula if adopted would affect the bulk of any residential building hereafter erected in the city by restricting the sum of its gross floor areas to a certain multiple of the total area of the lot on which it is built. Thus in an apartment housing built in a “two times” A or B area districts the maximum permissible total of its gross floor area would be five times the area of its lot.4
In short, it proposed adding FAR limits to the existing lot coverage zones.
A Plan for Rezoning the City, 1938
But this was just one committee’s proposal. Reports and recommendations get written all the time. While I’ve never seen a statistical study that evaluates the likelihood of any randomly written report getting turned into law, one can reasonably say that official committee reports are typically where good ideas go to die. But in this case, the report had legs.
The ideas reappeared in 1938 in “Zoning for the City of New York,” funded by the WPA and prepared for the Mayor’s Committee on City Planning. Kohn was not a member of this group, but its findings were a result of the ones from 1936.
The importance of this report is that it lays out in detail a new method of rezoning the city. Rather than having three separate maps as in the 1916 zoning codes—one for height setbacks, one for lot coverage, and one for building use or type—it urges that use and bulk be regulated simultaneously within prescribed zones—a concept that was eventually adopted citywide in 1961.
Just as importantly, this report included the FAR concept from the 1936 report. It says,
The bulk provisions are very much along the lines explored by the Joint Zoning Committee of the Mayor’s Committee on City Planning and the City Club of New York. Actually, they are an outgrowth of the Committee’s memorandum, resulting from a very comprehensive series of practical tests, which applied the original standards to a wide range of building types on lots of various sizes, abutting streets of different widths….In all cases, the permitted bulk is measured as the ratio of the number of square feet of gross floor area to the gross area of the lot in square feet. (Emphasis added.)
This was the pivotal report that took the FAR idea introduced by Kohn et al. in 1935 and turned it into a proposed new method for rezoning the city.
The Zoning Code Amendments, 1939-1940
A full-scale rezoning, however, would have to wait. Though the concepts were out in the open, the support for comprehensive changes was not yet there. But, in 1939, the City Planning Commission offered a “Proposed Revision of the Building Zoning Code Resolution,” which contained language for updates to the 1916 codes.5 In 1940, the city passed it into law. It maintained the use, setback, coverage zones but added floor area ratio limits into two new low-density residential districts—E and F—which were reserved for free-standing homes or garden apartments. F districts had a maximum FAR of 0.75, for example.
After the War: The FAR Grows Up
On December 7, 1941, Japanese air forces bombed Pearl Harbor. Any discussion of rezoning the city would now have to wait. However, after peace was restored, cities across the U.S. revived the discussion of urban planning. In the late 1940s, New York began thinking about implementing the FAR citywide. This would finally happen in 1961, when New York City passed a new zoning resolution. In the next post, we see how cities across America after World War II pushed the FAR much FARthur.
Continue reading Part I of this blog series on the birth of modern zoning during the 1920s here.
2 When at the University of Chicago, Veblen was the managing editor of the Journal of Political Economy, which today is one of the top five journals in economics. Today, the journal would never publish an article in the style or containing subject matter along Veblen’s lines. He remains on the fringes of economic thought for several reasons: He rejected capitalism and the neoclassical economists who supported it. His style was obtuse, his meaning and intentions were often unclear, and he promulgated vague general theories with few testable hypotheses.
3 This recount of the City Club events is based on archival documents housed in the New York Historical Society (NYHS), City Club Minutes Volume 22 (MS116). Though not all the documents are directly relevant to the formation of the Floor Area Ratio, and many of the Housing Committee’s documents are not there, enough exists to prove that Kohn was the lead author of a 1935 memorandum suggesting the city embrace the FAR for zoning policy.
4 This report is at the NY Historical Society, though they don’t have the proposed maps.
5 The history and early battles of the New York City Planning Commission, formed in 1938, will be taken up in a future post.