Zoning law regulates land use across the city, and shapes buildings, blocks, and whole neighborhoods. It can be a tool for preservation or for rapid physical and economic development.

But how does it work? And why is it so controversial? The Center for Urban Pedagogy (CUP) created What Is Zoning? to help communities answer these questions. The toolkit includes a set of activities that break down density, bulk, land use, and how proposed rezonings could affect neighborhoods.

Inside the toolbox are infrastructure tiles, a two-sided gameboard, and hundreds of colorful plastic blocks that stack up to break down the basics of zoning. Lay out a brand new city, or max out your lot while you build up to topics like inclusionary and contextual zoning (and the dreaded Floor Area Ratio). A guidebook uses simple diagrams to explain how zoning works, and provides step-by-step instructions on how to lead your own workshops.

CUP designed the toolkit in collaboration with designers Jeff Lai and Andrew Sloat and an advisory group of dozens of community organizations, advocacy groups, and policy experts to meet the specific needs they faced in educating their constituents on neighborhood development issues.

During the development of the toolkit, hundreds of community members across NYC participated in What Is Zoning? workshops in community meetings, classrooms, staff trainings for organizers, and many other locations.

Buy a toolkit for your community organization, or purchase a guidebook separately to read all about zoning!

You can also purchase a refill pad of the worksheet. To purchase a replacement gameboard, please email: info@welcometocup.org

A Spanish version of the guidebook was launched in 2015. You can get your Spanish copy here.

What People Are Saying…

“The city comes to communities using technical terms like FAR, and M1, M2. It intimidates people. These toolkits help people understand development. They democratize the process.”
– Rolando Guzman, Deputy Director of Community Preservation at St. Nick’s Alliance

“This tool is a super helpful resource for tenants to be able to visualize rezoning as an issue.”
– Anj Chaudhry, CAAAV

Funding Support

Support for this project was provided by The Nathan Cummings Foundation; the Surdna Foundation; public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council and the National Endowment for the Arts; and Sappi Ideas that Matter. Additional support was provided by Council Member Carlos Menchaca and Council Member Brad Lander.

Special Thanks

Clara Amenyo, Tess Bath, Pema Domingo-Barker, Sam Holleran, Jeff Kasper, Lize Mogel, Valeria Mogilevich, Oscar Nunez, Sarah Serpas, Matt Zebrowski, Vicki Been, Michelle De La Uz, Mark Foggin, Anne Frederick, Michael Freedman-Schnapp, Michael Heimbinder, Matt Klein, Brad Lander, Juan Camilo Osorio, Paul Parkhill, Frank Ruchala Jr., Lucas Shapiro, Lacey Tauber, Tom Angotti, Eve Baron, Bettina Damiani, Benjamin Dulchin, Richard Lee, Bethany Li, David Powell, Damaris Reyes, Lisa J. Servon, Susanna Schaller, Elana Shneyer, Ericka Stallings, Vicki Weiner


  • CUP
  • Developed by
  • Christine Gaspar
  • Mark Torrey
  • John Mangin
  • Rosten Woo
  • Produced by
  • Christine Gaspar
  • Mark Torrey
  • Designers
  • Jeff Lai
  • Andrew Sloat


Where Will NYC’s 80,000 New Apartments Go?
  • Epoch Times
  • September 13, 2014

As a starting point, many Council members, including Reynoso, Levin, and Carlos Menchaca, are using kits that explain zoning and affordable housing created by the Center for Urban Pedagogy (CUP).  

What Is Zoning?
  • Urban Omnibus
  • February 19, 2014

We think a lot about how to create a visual environment that’s non-threatening, especially when you are dealing with an issue that’s stressful, complicated, and may affect whether or not you can afford to stay in your home. We want things to feel familiar and accessible and to avoid people feeling that they might not understand the concept.