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Zoning regulations for land use policy

Health Factors: Diet & Exercise Housing & Transit
Decision Makers: Community Development Professionals Local Government State Government
Evidence Rating: Scientifically Supported
Population Reach: 50-99% of WI's population
Impact on Disparities: No impact on disparities likely

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Land use can be regulated by zoning, building codes, government policies, or builder practices which change the physical environment of municipal areas. Zoning regulations often address environmental design elements such as aesthetic and safety aspects of the physical environment, street continuity and connectivity, mixed-use development, residential density, and the proximity of residential areas to stores, jobs, schools, and recreation areas.

Expected Beneficial Outcomes

Increased physical activity
Increased active transportation
Reduced vehicle miles traveled
Reduced crime
Reduced stress
Improved sense of community

Evidence of Effectiveness

There is strong evidence that land use policies and zoning regulations support physical activity and increase walking and bicycling (CG-Physical activity, Brownson 2006, CDC MMWR-Khan 2009, CDC-Zoning physical activity, IOM-Government obesity prevention 2009, Yang 2010, Pucher 2010).

Zoning regulations as part of community-scale interventions have been associated with higher percentages of the population walking to work, more frequent walking trips, more trips made on foot or by bicycle instead of by car, and longer distance and duration of walking trips (Brownson 2006). Zoning regulations as part of supportive land use policies and infrastructure improvements can increase bicycling trips and the percentage of the population riding bicycles (Yang 2010, Pucher 2010).

People walk and ride bicycles more often in higher density areas, when places to work, shop, or play are part of or close to residential areas, and when streets are well-connected (Brownson 2006, CDC MMWR-Khan 2009), which may reduce vehicle miles traveled (VMT) (Salon 2012). These policy interventions may also lead to green space improvements, reductions in crime and stress levels, an enhanced sense of community (CG-Physical activity), and enhanced protection of natural resources (EPA-Kramer 2013).


United States

Zoning regulations are often implemented as a part of Smart Growth initiatives. Such projects can be found around the US, for example in Pennsylvania’s Delaware Valley region (DVRPC-Smart growth) and Arlington, VA (Arlington-Smart growth). In Massachusetts, state legislation offers financial incentives to local communities that use zoning regulations to support Smart Growth projects (CSPD-MA smart growth zoning).

Active Community Environments established in Washington state also incorporate zoning regulations to encourage mixed-use development and connected streets (WA DOH-ACE toolkit 2012). 


The 1999 Wisconsin Comprehensive Planning Law often referred to as “Smart Growth” legislation includes provisions for mixed-use development and connected streets, which are often encouraged with zoning regulations (WI DOA-Comprehensive planning).

Implementation Resources

ALBD - Active Living by Design (ALBD). Increasing physical activity and healthy eating through community design. Accessed on December 1, 2015
ChangeLab-PFC directory - ChangeLab Solutions. Pedestrian friendly code (PFC) directory. Accessed on March 1, 2016
HealthPartners-CHA - HealthPartners Institute for Education and Research. Community health advisor (CHA): Resource for information on the benefits of evidence-based policies and programs: Helping communities understand, analyze, and model costs. Accessed on April 3, 2017
ICMA-Mishkovsky 2010 - Mishkovsky N, Dalbey M, Bertaina S, Read A, McGalliard T. Putting Smart Growth to work in rural communities. Washington, DC: International City/County Management Association (ICMA); 2010. Accessed on November 10, 2015
LHC-Toolkit 2009 - Leadership for Healthy Communities (LHC). Action strategies toolkit: A guide for local and state leaders working to create healthy communities and prevent childhood obesity. Princeton: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF); 2009. Accessed on May 24, 2016
US EPA-Smart growth - US Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA). Smart growth: Program, resources, topics, partnerships, and the 2015 National Award for Smart Growth Achievement. Accessed on February 28, 2017
US EPA-Smart growth tools - US Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA). Smart growth tools: Zoning and building codes. Accessed on February 28, 2017
WA DOH-ACE toolkit 2012 - Washington State Department of Health (WA DOH), Healthy Communities Washington. Active community environment (ACE) toolkit: Creating environments that encourage walking, biking, and public transit in Washington State. 2012. Accessed on April 6, 2016

Citations - Evidence

Brownson 2006* - Brownson RC, Haire-Joshu D, Luke DA. Shaping the context of health: A review of environmental and policy approaches in the prevention of chronic diseases. Annual Review of Public Health. 2006;27:341–70. Accessed on December 1, 2015
CDC MMWR-Khan 2009 - Khan LK, Sobush K, Keener D, et al. Recommended community strategies and measurements to prevent obesity in the United States. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). 2009;58(RR-07):1-26. Accessed on December 7, 2015
CDC-Zoning physical activity - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Zoning to encourage physical activity. Accessed on December 1, 2015
CG-Physical activity - The Guide to Community Preventive Services (The Community Guide). Physical activity. Accessed on December 19, 2016
EPA-Kramer 2013 - Kramer MG. Our built and natural environments: A technical review of the interactions among land use, transportation, and environmental quality. Washington, DC: US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); 2013. Accessed on February 2, 2016
IOM-Government obesity prevention 2009* - Institute of Medicine (IOM), National Research Council (NRC), Committee on Childhood Obesity Prevention Actions for Local Governments. Local government actions to prevent childhood obesity. (Parker L, Burns AC, Sanchez E, eds.). Washington, DC: National Academies Press; 2009. Accessed on February 17, 2016
Pucher 2010* - Pucher J, Dill J, Handy S. Infrastructure, programs, and policies to increase bicycling: an international review. Preventive Medicine. 2010;50(Suppl 1):S106-25. Accessed on November 9, 2015
Salon 2012* - Salon D, Boarnet MG, Handy S, Spears S, Tal G. How do local actions affect VMT? A critical review of the empirical evidence. Transportation Research Part D: Transport and Environment. 2012;17(7):495–508. Accessed on November 24, 2015
Yang 2010 - Yang L, Sahlqvist S, McMinn A, Griffin SJ, Ogilvie D. Interventions to promote cycling: Systematic review. BMJ. 2010;341:c5293. Accessed on November 24, 2015

Citations - Implementation

Arlington-Smart growth - Arlington Virginia, Arlington County Government. Smart growth: Arlington is recognized as a leader in smart growth development. Accessed on March 10, 2016
CSPD-MA smart growth zoning - Concord Square Planning & Development Inc (CSPD). Smart growth zoning: Massachusetts general laws chapter 40R. Accessed on March 10, 2016
DVRPC-Smart growth - Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC). Land use resources: Smart growth development in the region. Accessed on March 10, 2016
WA DOH-ACE toolkit 2012 - Washington State Department of Health (WA DOH), Healthy Communities Washington. Active community environment (ACE) toolkit: Creating environments that encourage walking, biking, and public transit in Washington State. 2012. Accessed on April 6, 2016
WI DOA-Comprehensive planning - Wisconsin Department of Administration (DOA). Wisconsin's comprehensive planning legislation. Madison: Wisconsin Department of Administration (DOA); 2010. Accessed on March 15, 2016

Page Last Updated

October 22, 2015

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