Land use refers to the use and regulation of land by humans for any purpose, such as agriculture, industry and residences. Governments have regulated land use for centuries, though common land-use regulation schemes, such as zoning controls, are fairly recent. The United States only started to significantly regulate land use during the mid-20th century when unregulated land-use problems, such as urban sprawl, depletion of resources and destruction of wildlife became concerning.
Zoning, one of the most common forms of land-use regulation, divides areas into specific zones demarcated for certain land uses, such as commercial, residential and industrial. Zoning regulations can be very specific, regulating a wide range of details for each property, such as building heights, square-footage and the percentage of property that may be built on. Planners use zoning to try and manage for future growth and changes in an area, including setting aside space for public utilities and services.
Land-use planning dates back well into history. For instance, as early as 1189 England specified the dimensions of stone dividing walls and later added regulations on building construction materials and yard maintenance. Zoning laws evolved out of the need to deal with crowded, unhealthy cities, such as New York during the 19th century.
Outside of organized cities and towns, land-use regulations generally seek to control the extraction of natural resources, balancing environment concerns with economic concerns. For instance, in the United States the U.S. Department of Agriculture oversees many areas beyond simply agriculture, including forests.