Zoning regulations and land use policy reforms

Program overview

  • Focusing regulation on form, not use: Form-based zoning codes regulate development based on its physical form (e.g., number of floors). This contrasts with conventional zoning codes, which focus on separating land uses, such as residential areas from commercial areas. Since form-based codes encourage co-locating different uses, they can increase physical activity and use of active forms of transportation.

  • Addressing the impact of development on the public realm: Form-based codes consist of five elements. These include a regulating plan, which designates building form standards for each parcel; public standards that specify requirements for elements in the public realm (e.g., sidewalks); building standards, which regulate building features that impact the public realm (e.g., building facade); a process for application and project review; and a glossary of terms.

  • Shifting to a form-based code: Local governments are responsible for establishing a zoning code to regulate development. In areas with conventional zoning codes, mayors, city councils, and planning departments may lead the process of adopting a form-based code. This typically involves determining which parts of a community will use a form-based code, assessing the existing conditions in these areas, and drafting regulations after a period of public engagement.

Target Population
Cost per Participant
Not applicable

Evidence and impacts


Ranked as having the highest level of evidence by County Health Rankings and Roadmaps

Multiple studies with rigorous designs demonstrate that zoning reform is a well-supported strategy for improving outcomes related to physical activity and active transportation.

Best practices in implementation

Note: This content is under review

  • Engage key stakeholders in creating a new zoning code: Local governments should meaningfully engage key stakeholders in the creation of a form-based code, especially in the visioning and planning stages. Groups to target may include advocacy groups, small business owners, developers, community organizations, and residents with varied demographic backgrounds and housing situations.

  • Create a code that is simple and easy to use: Due to their reliance on technical language and limited use of pictures and diagrams, conventional zoning codes are typically difficult for the public to understand. When creating a new, form-based code, local governments should prioritize accessibility by balancing the use of graphics and text and limiting the use of technical language.

  • Implement policies to mitigate displacement and empower residents: Adopting a form-based code in a historically disinvested neighborhood can result in market-rate development that can displace existing residents and businesses. By implementing policies and programs that support existing residents and business owners, like tax credits for first-time homebuyers or a small business loan program, local governments can mitigate these impacts.

  • Optimize the code to create walkable neighborhoods: Several of the benefits of form-based codes (e.g., increased physical activity) are tied to the ability of residents and visitors to access most of their regular needs without a vehicle. Local governments can optimize the ability of a form-based code to promote walkability by encouraging engaging building design, supporting multiple transportation options (e.g., inclusion of bike infrastructure), and more.