Understanding Zoning: Its use on the High Line in West Chelsea

By Donna Lewis, January 1, 2007

Grade Level

  • High School


  • Urban Planning

Subject Area

  • Language Arts
  • Mathematics
  • Social Studies
  • Technology

Lesson Time

Two fifty-minute class periods


This lesson is a 2-period lesson focused on introducing students to zoning. It can be used to introduce zoning anywhere, not just in Chelsea or New York City, though it was written as part of a unit based on West Chelsea in NYC. The rezoning of West Chelsea in NYC and the new status of the High Line steel structure will serve as an educational tool to spark the students’ learning about the various influences involved in city planning. Recognizing that there are a variety of factors that shape the man-made environment is important to being a community member. Architecture students are involved in a role playing model to learn how neighborhoods, not for profits, planners/designers, financial analysts, city zoning liaisons, historians, and marketing directors work together as a development team. Visiting professionals will inform students about their jobs and how they work on a large project like this. Teams will present their projects to a panel of visitors.

National Standards

Standard 1. Uses a variety of strategies in the problem-solving process
Standard 2. Understands and applies basic and advanced properties of the concepts of numbers Standard 3. Uses basic and advanced procedures while performing the processes of computation Standard 4. Understands and applies basic and advanced properties of the concepts of measurement Standard 8. Understands and applies basic and advanced properties of functions and algebra Standard 9. Understands the general nature and uses of mathematics  
Historical Understanding
Standard 2. Understands the historical perspective
Standard 1. Understands the characteristics and uses of maps, globes, and other geographic tools and technologies Standard 2. Knows the location of places, geographic features, and patterns of the environment Standard 4. Understands the physical and human characteristics of place Standard 5. Understands the concept of regions Standard 6. Understands that culture and experience influence people's perceptions of places and regions Standard 12. Understands the patterns of human settlement and their causes Standard 13. Understands the forces of cooperation and conflict that shape the divisions of Earth's surface Standard 15. Understands how physical systems affect human systems Standard 17. Understands how geography is used to interpret the past

Common Core Standards

Anchors for Reading:

Key Ideas and Details:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.1 Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.2 Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.7 Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.

Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.10  Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.

Anchor Standards for Writing:

Text Types and Purposes:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.1 Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.3 Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details and well-structured event sequences.

Production and Distribution of Writing:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.4 Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.5 Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach.

Research to Build and Present Knowledge:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.7 Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.8 Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.9 Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

Range of Writing:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.10 Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences.

Anchor standards for Speaking and Listening:

Comprehension and Collaboration:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.1 Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.2 Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.3 Evaluate a speaker's point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric.

Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.4 Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.6 Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and communicative tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.

Anchor standards for Language:

Conventions of Standard English:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.1 Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.2 Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.6Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and communicative tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.

Anchor standards for Language:

Conventions of Standard English:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.1 Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.2 Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.

 Vocabulary Acquisition and Use:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.6 Acquire and use accurately a range of general academic and domain-specific words and phrases sufficient for reading, writing, speaking, and listening at the college and career readiness level; demonstrate independence in gathering vocabulary knowledge when encountering an unknown term important to comprehension or expression.


Students will be able to:
  • make connections between prior knowledge and new information
  • recognize the old map and compare what changes have occurred
  • evaluate information and read a land-use map
  • synthesize information and predict future trends
  • read a zoning map
  • understand what zoning is and how it shapes a neighborhood
  • use new vocabulary
  • list new development projects that they could propose for a given area


*These resources are all focused on New York City. They may vary depending on what area or neighborhood the teacher chooses to focus on.


  • computer with Internet connection
  • an old zoning map and a new zoning map of West Chelsea or whatever area or neighborhood the teacher chooses to focus on
  • vocabulary sheet
  • student sketchbooks
  • project goals and requirements
  • professional planners can be invited to speak to the class


  • Floor Area Ratio
  • Height Restrictions
  • setbacks
  • air rights
  • block easements
  • land-use: manufacturing, commercial, residential, institutional, parks, and recreation
  • infrastructure
  • linear part land


This lesson occurs in the third week of our 2 month unit focusing on the High Line. During the first two weeks students visit the site, research the history, analyze the existing site conditions, understand the goals of the Friends of the High Line, and select a role:
  • Neighborhood Liaison
  • Planner/Designer
  • Financial Analyst
  • City Liaison
  • Historian and Site Analyst
  • Marketing Director
  *This lesson can be taught in conjunction with a project like the one described above, or can be taught as a single lesson in order to introduce the students to zoning. Presentational Motivational Questions The teacher should ask the students the following questions and encourage discussion about zoning and neighborhoods. If the students are very unfamiliar with zoning, you may want to have them research it on the Internet during the first half of class. • Why was zoning created? • How does it affect a neighborhood? • Who is involved in writing and working with zoning codes? • What does it do to protect health, welfare, and the safety of people? • What do the different designations M-1 and C-1 mean?
Steps for learning The purpose of this activity is to introduce the importance of city planning and zoning in shaping the build environment.Step 1. Either the teacher or a guest speaker will present a brief history of urban planning. Provide examples of urban planning that the students would be familiar with i.e. an area or neighborhood near the school.Step 2. The teacher will show the students the first zoning map and ask them to describe what they see. Step 3. The teacher will define the vocabulary words for the students and hold a discussion for students to ask questions about the words in order to have a full understanding of their meanings and uses. The vocabulary words can also be defined at the beginning of class during the motivational questions. Step 4. The teacher will show the new zoning map to the students. They should describe what they see and then compare it to the previous zoning map. Step 5. In front of the class, the teacher will show an example of calculating the floor-area ratio (or F.A.R.) on the board. You can use http://www.carfree.com/far.html as an example or refresher. Make sure the students understand the importance of F.A.R. to zoning. Step 6. In small groups, have the students calculate new F.A.R. Wrap up: Revisit the questions asked at the beginning of class, and have the students brainstorm ways in which the neighborhood shown in the zoning maps may change.


Students should be assessed on their participation and their understanding of zoning and the vocabulary words discussed. They should also show an understanding of how zoning affects their life and where they live.

Enrichment Extension Activities

Homework: Students are to write two paragraphs about what a city planner's job involves. They should describe zoning and use all the vocabulary words in their writing.
Next Lesson: What new projects will your team propose to this neighborhood? What impact will this have on traffic?

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