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Ultimately, though, it would not be height limits per se that restricted skyscrapers, but comprehensive zoning laws which would set up separate requirements for different parts of a city, and would regulate not only height, but also a building's volume, the percentage of the lot used, and the amount of light the building blocked, and would also encourage setbacks to reduce a building's bulk by allowing additional height per foot of setback – the exact amount depending on what zone the building was in. New York City was the first to do this, with the 1916 Zoning Resolution, which was prompted in good part by the construction of the Equitable Building in 1915, a 40-story building with straight sides and no setbacks, which raised fears of the downtown area becoming a maze of dark streets that never saw the sun. What was worse, at least to real estate interests, the building dumped 1. 2 million square feet (111,000 m2) of office space on what was a sluggish real estate market. To many in the real estate industry, the zoning law was an example of a "reasonable restriction. " Once New York had passed its law, other cities followed, although proposed zoning measures did meet stiff resistance in some places, often because of the inclusion of overly restrictive height limits, and sometimes because the entire concept of zoning was seen as undemocratic and bordering on socialism. Eventually, a model law, the Standard State Zoning Enabling Act of 1922 was drawn up for the guidance of cities wishing to enact zoning regulations, which are now part of virtually every American city.

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