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Zoning to Encourage Physical Activity

Zoning is primarily a function of local government and typically used as a device for planning. Zoning may be used to restrict land use or incentivize development of land in a particular way. Zoning may define use (e.g., commercial vs. residential) or development (e.g., lot size, building height, etc.).

From a public health perspective, zoning can be used to promote physical activity, increase safety and promote good nutrition. Examples of local jurisdictions using zoning to promote physical activity include promoting parks and recreation, requiring sidewalks, promoting the use of public transportation, and incentivizing schools and similar facilities to encourage joint use by the community after traditional hours of operation.

Landmark Case Related to Zoning

  • VILLAGE of EUCLID, OHIO v. AMBLER REALTY CO., 272 U.S. 365 (1926)
    This Supreme Court decision, established precedent that a local government is acting constitutionally when it establishes a zoning ordinance so long as the rationale for zoning has a rational public purpose related to public safety, health, or welfare. The creation of a zoning ordinance is not an arbitrary act and local governments have the authority to zone and enforce zoning ordinances as an extension of their police power.

Model Law and Policy Information

  • ChangeLab Solutions
    • ChangeLab Solutions [formerly Public Health Law and Policy (PHLP)] is a nonprofit organization that demonstrates how legal and policy strategies can improve public health. ChangeLab Solutions’ website links to laws and policy related information [PDF-98KB] for both nutrition and physical activity. Physical activity information includes joint use agreements, liability risk assessments for using schools after hours, and safe routes to schools.
    • An option for promoting physical activity in the community is opening school grounds to the community after hours. ChangeLab Solutions provides a toolkit for increasing physical activity through joint use agreements.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
  • Active Living by Design (ALBD)
    The vision of ALBD is healthy communities where routine physical activity and healthy eating are accessible, easy, and affordable to everyone. ALBD provides current information about land use strategies [PDF - 90KB] (planning, legal, and policy) to promote physical activity, including fact sheets, case studies, news stories, toolkits, and other resources.
  • Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF)
    The Healthy Kids Healthy Communities project [PDF-711KB] is supported by the RWJF. At the request of RWJF, ALDB compiled an annotated resource guide for the built environment and physical activity. The compilation includes policy resources for several topics including safe routes to school, use of schools, land use, transportation, and parks and recreation.
  • Local Government Commission (LGC)
    The LGC is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, membership organization that provides technical assistance and networking services to local elected officials and other community leaders who are working to create healthy, walkable, and resource-efficient communities. Access the LGC’s Community Design page and “free resources”.
  • Healthy Eating Active Living Cities Campaign (HEAL)
    HEAL provides training and technical assistance about policy and law to city government officials with an interest in improving their communities’ environment to increase physical activity. Based in California, HEAL is an RWJF-funded program that partners with the California Center for Public Health Advocacy and the League of California Cities. HEAL provides resources on zoning to improve physical activity in the community setting.
  • Partners in Action
    Partners in Action is a consortium of more than 700 partners representing more than 250 organizations, agencies, and programs that have pledged to put the Washington State Nutrition & Physical Activity Plan into action. Their work contributed to the Washington State Legislature passing Engrossed Substitute Senate Bill 5186 [PDF-52KB] in July 2005, which requires “wherever possible, the land use element [of comprehensive zoning plans] should consider utilizing urban planning approaches that promote physical activity.” The law was signed by the governor in May 2005 and took effect July, 24, 2005.
  • Washington State
    Following the passage of Washington State Senate Bill 5186 [PDF - 53KB], the State of Washington, Department of Community, Trade, and Economic Development published a document in September 2007 titled, “Example Comprehensive Plan Policies to Support Physically Active Communities.” [PDF - 581KB]
  • American Planning Association (APA)
    APA’s “Planning and Designing the Physically Active Community” includes a list of books, articles, and government documents on the topics of the promotion and planning of physical activity.
  • International City/County Management Association (ICMA)
    The ICMA mission is to create excellence in local governance by advocating and developing the professional management of local government worldwide. ICMA provides publications, data, information, technical assistance, and training to local government leaders and staff. The ICMA provides two documents related to zoning and physical activity, "Creating a regulatory Blueprint for Healthy Community Design: A Local Government Guide to reforming Zoning and Land Development Codes.", and also "Active Living and Social Equality: Creating Healthy Communities for All Residents." [PDF-403KB].

Disclaimer: Information available on this website that was not developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not necessarily represent any CDC policy, position, or endorsement of that information or of its sources. The information contained on this website is not legal advice; if you have questions about a specific law or its application you should consult your legal counsel.

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