What it is:
Zoning is a method of determining how people can use land and buildings within a certain area.
How it works (Example):
Zoning typically delineates areas within a town acceptable for residential construction, commercial construction, industrial construction and agricultural space. It may also require things like sidewalks, street lights, crosswalks and bridges. Zoning is codified by municipalities, and those codifications -- zoning ordinances -- also may dictate building heights and the outer appearance of buildings in certain areas (for example, the city of Santa Fe, NM, 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 because of conflicts between citizens and the government about how they should be able to use their own property.