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Zoning in on Walkability: How Land Use Regulations Foster More Pedestrian-Friendly Communities


Within the last few decades, communities have begun to prioritize pedestrian safety and the human experience by integrating New Urbanist principles into their zoning and land use codes.


This post was written by Ashley Reimann, a qualitative researcher at the Institute for Health and Research Policy, and a Masters in Urban Planning and Policy candidate with a focus in equitable and affordable urban development.


Photo captured by Jurriaan Snikkers, utilized by the Illinois PRC via Unsplash

Combatting car-centric and disjointed development patterns of the past, New Urbanist zoning serves as a pedestrian-oriented alternative by promoting walkable streets and engaging public spaces. These development patterns mimic the vibrant Main Streets of America before the explosion of the post-WWII suburb. Residents can once again access daily groceries, entertainment, schools, and parks all within walking distance.

New Urbanist design developments typically have more than one use (e.g. housing and retail), feature bike lanes and parking racks, and access to green space to foster walkable communities. Similarly, many communities are implementing transit-oriented districts or developments (TODs), which are compact, higher-density developments near transit stops and include a mixture of uses such as residential,commercial, and employment opportunities. These developments promote transit use and walkability while reducing reliance on cars.

Dr. Jamie Chriqui, co-leader of the Illinois PRC Physical Activity Policy Research Network Plus (PAPRN ) Collaborating Center, and her team are exploring the implementation of New Urbanist principals in local zoning and land use regulations. Through interviews with local planners in fifteen jurisdictions with New Urbanist zoning provisions, Dr. Chriqui and her research team will determine best practices and lessons learned for adopting and implementing New Urbanist and pedestrian-oriented zoning provisions for community walkability.

Key emerging themes:

  1. New Urbanist zoning fosters community walkability by uniquely activating public spaces to create a “community living room,” where residents and visitors can walk, shop, and dine.
  2. For some communities, the catalyst to implement pedestrian-oriented development provisions into the zoning code and land use regulation is to establish a lasting framework to foster a more walkable community.
  3. Beyond increased walkability, the implementation of pedestrian-oriented zoning stimulates economic development.
  4. Transit-oriented development projects which aim to increase access to public transit often also result in increased pedestrian activity.
  5. To achieve successful pedestrian-oriented development or redevelopment, the adoption and implementation process requires incremental change and the support of community members.

To learn more about the connection between the land use regulations and community walkability, please visit the following resources:

Components of Local Land Development and Related Zoning Policies Associated with Increased Walking: A Primer for Public Health Practitioners

Connecting Routes Destinations web page on the CDC website

Healthy Places web page on the CDC website