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Creating a Regulatory Blueprint for Healthy Community Design Skip to content

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Creating a Regulatory Blueprint for Healthy Community Design


Improving and enhancing the built environment of communities has the potential to significantly reduce automobile dependency, create public spaces that are attractive to pedestrians and cyclists, and improve physical activity and overall health of residents. Because zoning and other conventional land development codes control the physical form of communities, these codes must be assessed and reformed to ensure they encourage and facilitate compact, healthy, and vibrant communities.

The International City/County Management Association (ICMA) produced this practice guide to act as a basic road map for local leaders and government officials working to reform and improve zoning codes in their communities. This guide provides a strategic framework for reforming zoning and related development codes to encourage the design of more physically active communities.

Key Points

Advocates of smart growth and new urbanism suggest that changes to traditional land use and zoning codes can serve as a catalyst for neighborhood revitalization, local economic vitality, and environmental protection. Additionally, a growing number of public health experts view the reform of planning and zoning policies and practices as opportunities to improve the built environment of communities and increase physical activity among a largely sedentary population by promoting healthier, more active communities.

This guide provides a comprehensive overview of the challenges communities may face when reforming codes, the benefits communities will feel from code reform, as well as code reform models. Some of the challenges discussed include reluctance or opposition from elected leaders and local businesses who are not completely comfortable with the underlying principles of smart growth and new urbanism and a general lack of acceptance and understanding of the economic benefits of code reform. In addition, strategies for designing and managing the code reform process are provided in this guide.

Strategies covered in the guide include:

  • Survey the local zoning and land development territory to better understand how the existing codes work and how they can be reformed and improved to encourage compact, physically active communities.
  • Conduct an internal stakeholder assessment with local government officials and businesses to determine who would support code reform, as well as those who would oppose it.
  • Educate and engage community residents, neighborhood groups, developers, and local officials on the benefits of code reform and its impact of the overall health of the community.

How to Use

Local leaders, community planners, and government officials can use this comprehensive guide to gain an understanding of the importance of code reform, as well as the challenges and obstacles that will come with such reforms. The checklists, questions, resources and strategies provided in the guide can be used by local leaders and their staff to prepare them for the challenging yet worthwhile journey that will lead to livable, healthy, and vibrant communities.

View full report: Creating a Regulatory Blueprint for Healthy Community Design (PDF – 881 KB)

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