Throughout history, man has adapted and changed his environment for his usage. As urban areas grew, and technology advanced, man had to make diagnoses and decisions regarding these changes to the geography at hand. New York City is a prime example, and one of the first in the United States to incorporate urban zoning, or urban planning, in its building codes. Initially, plans were laid for a grid system on the island of Manhattan for the layout of the city once building moved past its location in the early 1800s. Eventually, with the advent of steel for building, the concern became not only the layout of the city, but the types of buildings and where they would be located. New York City would stand as the vanguard for urban development and planning for the rest of the United States.
There are examples of cities incorporating grid systems for city planning since the time of the Romans. Some Early American cities, such as Philadelphia, were established along a grid. The Commissioner’s Plan of 1811 was adopted out of the desire to create an organized layout for future growth of the city. The specified goal was to “lay out Streets… in such a manner as to unite regularity and order with the public convenience and benefit and in particular to promote the health of the City.”  The original plan was not readily received but is considered ahead of its time by current urban planners. Changes have been made to the original grid plan in the years since 1811.
Of primary importance to the current city of New York would be the inclusion of open space areas, most notably Central Park. During the mid-1800s cities such as New York were growing in an exponential rate. The following are the population statistics of Manhattan based on census statistics: (1830) 202,589; (1840) 312,710; (1850) 515,547.  This great increase in population led to masses of people living in extremely close quarters with little sanitation or opportunity for recreation. The citizens of New York sought diversion from cramped living quarters in the streets of the city, and even recreation in the cemeteries of the city.  Central Park was opened in 1857 with an eye to creating open space.
Environments for the people of the city to engage in out of door activities in a more healthy way. Open space planning has become a highly sought after and controversial part of NYC’s urban planning. It has become very evident in modern times, that the open space provision for lower income and minority groups is limited, smaller, and very basic in comparison to the open spaces near more affluent areas.
Most urban planners deal with five types of entities within a zoning plan: Industrial & Manufacturing facilities, Residential properties, commercial properties, Institutional entities, and Parks & Open spaces. Industrial & Manufacturing facilities have a unique part in the urban plan as these are often the places where large numbers of people are able to find work, but the facilities themselves are generally considered eyesores. Pollution that is excreted by these facilities is also a consideration when placing these facilities in zones. Due to the lack of transportation by the urban poor, these facilities need to be located near urban transit. Residential properties deal with all living quarters for individuals and families. Commercial zones in NYC are especially crucial due to the lack of space. In most neighborhoods, one will find stores and businesses located on the main floor of a multi-story building, with Residential properties located above. Institutional entities are generally considered city services that need to be near the general populace but need to be centralized for the purpose of support for the city at large. Hospitals and fire stations are excellent examples of this. Parks and Open spaces have been discussed but are an important aspect of the urban dwellers life. In today’s NYC it provides the place for outdoor recreation ; however, in the late 1800s and early 1900s it provided a much needed getaway from the overcrowded, fetid, and unhealthy conditions of the inner city tenements and projects.
Large cities face unique issues due to the race to create vertical real estate. The creation of steel allowed the development of buildings that towered over the landscape. In New York City, the case of the Equitable Building brought matters of engineering and advancement into sharp contrast with concerns over the effect it would have on the general welfare of the city.
The building stood at 40 stories and had 1.2 million square feet of office space.  The creation of vertical real estate was established, but the sheer size of the building, with no setbacks became the concern for city dwellers.
Zoning laws were thus enacted to mitigate future concerns of light, air, and environmental affect. These same zoning laws have been adopted by virtually every major city in the U.S. Setbacks, construction practices, and open air issues have resulted from NYC’s zoning laws regarding construction of high rises. The picture below shows NYC’s adaptation to these zoning regulations.
Cities and communities have throughout history adopted some type of plan for the development of its area. Man has been active in his adaptation of geography to suit his needs. The urban setting of New York City becomes an interesting study for this issue. With the huge influx of immigrants in the 1800s and 1900s, the city has developed and modified plans for its city design. Current issues have been magnified against previous plans and have forced a modernization of idea and thought as it pertained to urban development. New York City is an example to the world of the usage of a finite amount of space with an extremely large population.
 http://www.library.cornell.edu/Reps/DOCS/nyc1811.htm, accessed July 10, 2010.
 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_New_York_City#Historic_population_figures, accessed July 12, 2010.
 John Emerson Todd, Frederick Law Olmsted (Boston: Twayne Publishers: Twayne’s World Leader Series) 1982: 73.