The Significance of the Setback

Zoning Practice — June 2021

By Christine Quattro


ZP subscriber
List price
Sign In & Download

Not a member but want to buy a copy? You'll need to create a free My APA account to purchase. Create account

Since the adoption of the first comprehensive zoning ordinance in New York City, zoning codes have included minimum setback requirements for land uses and structures.

As cities fight to control sprawl and encourage infill, some commentators have blamed the setback for an underutilization of valuable space. Calls for increased density, more affordable housing, and sustainable cities are all leading to the question of whether setback requirements should be eliminated.

This issue of Zoning Practice explores the setback and its purpose in spatial planning and zoning ordinances. It presents a brief history of the setback, summarizes the key factors to consider when altering setbacks, and presents a case analysis of setbacks in West Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.


Page Count
Date Published
June 1, 2021
Adobe PDF
American Planning Association

About the Author

Christine Quattro
Christine is currently a Fontaine Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania in the Department of City and Regional Planning. Chris's research focuses on equitable approaches to environmental justice and regulatory law. Chris also currently works as the Lead Land Development Researcher for a law firm in San Antonio, TX and most recently worked as the Director of Development and City Planning for the office of City Council District 1, also in San Antonio, TX.