Saige's writeup gives an excellent overview of American single-use zoning and its drawbacks, but things are a bit different in those parts of the world with (shock horror!) functional public transportation.

Consider Tokyo, the largest city on the planet. If its 30 million inhabitants all commuted to work by car, the result would be the world's biggest traffic jam, and nobody would ever actually reach their workplace before it was time to turn back. Yet Tokyo still uses single-use zoning, and the key to making this work is integrating zoning with public transport.

In Japan, most train companies are part of gigantic zaibatsu (conglomerates) like Seibu or Tokyu, and it is not only possible but common for one of these companies to construct an entire suburb by itself. The company buys a big chunk of land, runs a railway through it, and then builds up a huge number of residential apartments. At the other end of the line is one of the gigantic commercial centers that make up the core of Tokyo, offering jobs and shopping opportunities -- often at companies and department stores owned by the same conglomerate -- to the future residents of the suburb. People commute along the railway, which pollutes a lot less than the equivalent amount of cars on the road. There is also no inner city decay problem, since proximity to the center is very desirable, keeping demand high and ensuring that land is efficiently used.

If the above sounds a bit too utopian, rest assured Tokyo has its quirks too: much of the historical center of Tokyo has mixed-use zoning, resulting in factories mixed among houses and a particularly infamous garbage incinerator smack dab in the middle of the major center of Ikebukuro. (These are gradually disappearing though, and in theoretically-mixed places like Shibuya and Shinjuku many former apartment buildings have been converted to house only businesses and leisure/entertainment facilities.) Some of the danchi (government-built cheap rental apartments) in Chiba could give most Stalinist satellites a run for their rouble in terms of sheer bleakness. The desirability of a central location also plays a large part in making Tokyo rents some of, if not the, most expensive in the world. And finally, the car congestion is transformed into people congestion -- but this is limited to a few specific times and spots, and even at the height of rush hour trains run on schedule and the time to commute remains the same.

The close ties between transportation and construction companies place Tokyo a few steps ahead of most other countries, but in much of Europe similar trends can be seen. For example, while the Helsinki metro area is pretty uniformly zoned, the availability of public transport has made a big difference in the cityscape. Eastern Helsinki, well served with a subway line, has developed along the Japanese model with residential suburbs growing around the subway stations and Scandinavia's largest shopping center Itäkeskus at the (former) terminus of the line. Western Helsinki and the neighboring county of Espoo, on the other hand, are much more reliant on the private car, the inevitable result being daily rush hour traffic jams on the highways connecting to central Helsinki and the development of American-style strip malls for car-owning shoppers. (After decades of battle, Espoo County has grudgingly concluded that this is probably not a Good Thing, and the subway is being extended west.) As in Tokyo, there is no inner-city urban decay and it seems unlikely to appear, but some of the outer suburbs are fairly grotty (by Finnish standards, a resident of Mogadishu might disagree). Unlike Tokyo, the mixed-zone center has mostly stayed that way in reality as well; here in Töölö, where I live, the first floor of almost all buildings is commercial but the upper floors are all residential. Then again, this would probably change rapidly if Helsinki suddenly acquired an extra 29,000,000 inhabitants...