What it is:
A zoning ordinance is a rule regarding how people can use land and buildings within a certain area.
How it works (Example):
Zoning ordinances typically delineate acceptable areas within a town for residential construction, commercial construction, industrial construction and agricultural space. They may also require things like sidewalks, street lights, crosswalks and bridges. They might dictate building heights and the outer appearance of buildings in certain areas (for example, the city of Santa Fe, N.M., encourages most commercial buildings to be covered in stucco.)
Why it Matters:
Zoning is what prevents hospitals from opening up next to city dumps, or beet farms from running through the middle of downtown Scranton, Pa. The idea is that when a community is orderly, it is more attractive, safer and has fewer conflicts among land users. Ironically, however, zoning ordinances often change due to conflicts between citizens and the government about how they should be able to use their own property.