Land use scholars and practitioners in the United States trace the development of domestic land use law to 1916, when the City of New York adopted the nation's first comprehensive zoning law, and then on to 1926 when the U.S. Supreme Court declared zoning constitutional in Euclid v. Ambler Realty. Some have studied European influences stemming from late nineteenth century regulations and the urban design principles imported from the great cities of the era. Others know about the catastrophic London fire of 1666 and how it transformed society's understanding of why individual property rights, to some degree, must be subject to the greater public interest when common challenges are faced. For most of us, however, the trail beyond these few foreign precedents grows faint. Our investigations focus on what has happened within our own federal system. Land use studies, particularly in law schools, pick up the story in the early decades of the twentieth century and trace the evolution of Euclidian zoning through the postwar building boom and then to the invention of neo-Euclidian land use controls needed to address the critical issues of the day: parochialism, pollution, exclusion, sprawl, and the fragmentation of a complex system of federal, state, and local laws. These issues, like the London fire, have ignited fierce battles over the extent to which private rights and the private sector should be regulated, the competence of government to direct market forces, the proper role of municipal, state, and federal agencies in land use regulation, and the appropriate legal techniques that government should employ to protect the public interest.
John R. Nolon, Comparative Land Use Law: Patterns of Sustainability, 37 Urb. Law. 807 (2005), available at http://digitalcommons.pace.edu/lawfaculty/201/.