Zoning can have long term consequences on resident health and well-being.
Making the Connection Between Zoning and Health Disparities Zoning can have long term consequences on resident health and well-being.

In a paper titled Making the Connection Between Zoning and Health Disparities by Lauren Rossen and Keshia Pollack, zoning is cited as the primary tool in the U.S. to control land use, and it plays a key role in creating and maintaining built environments.

The paper goes on to say that effective zoning policy has the potential to not only address the issues of dietary intake, physical activity, and related chronic diseases, but also to proactively prevent several other public health problems such as exposure to environmental hazards, injury, substance abuse, access to health care and health disparities. The article reviews the role of zoning as a determinant of various public health problems such as chronic diseases and health disparities, and as a policy tool to address these public health issues.

Zoning has been shown to be an effective tool to:

  • Support urban farms or farmers markets by allowing for these uses in certain areas.
  • Bring supermarkets to under-served areas by removing zoning barriers (e.g., lot size requirements) or providing other incentives.
  • Use conditional use permits to require corner stores or grocery stores to stock a healthier food products; restrict food outlets from offering high-calorie, low-nutrient foods within a specified distance of a school.
  • Encourage active transportation through complete streets, sidewalks, bike paths, and street connectivity.
  • Facilitate access to open spaces, parks, and playgrounds for active play.
  • Dampen the effects of climate change with more tree canopy, green space, and access to public transportation.
  • Reduce traffic to decrease pollution and other hazards such as injuries.
  • Increase access to health care facilities.
  • Create more equitable distribution of resources to address health disparities by race and ethnicity or income.
  • Create or preserve mixed-use and mixed-income neighborhoods.

Yet, these solutions only come through advanced planning and strategy with a collaborative team of housing developers and city planners. Fortunately, the goals of healthier living, meet the objectives of the builder and the municipalities, points out Ryan Brault, regional director at Metrostudy, Hanley Wood’s data partner.

“Many progressive developers already want these things as they add value to their land and builders like them as most buyers are willing to pay a premium for these features,” says Brault. “There has to be collaboration from the early conceptual stage to avoid over-regulation to the point where it no longer becomes feasible to develop these types of communities.”

This advanced planning can lead to higher walkability ratings that result in better health as well. Communities can be designed with bike lanes and walking paths, which are both a strong point for the builders marketing campaign. Brault suggests that planners provide incentives to the developers by granting some leeway in density, setback, or parking requirements in exchange for the developers following certain guidelines.

The best time for this thinking is during the comprehensive/master plan stage, since it sets the stage for development beyond a 10 year period. Developers can be a critical participant in these meeting, by sharing ideas that the planners can listen to and react to. This also will help bring the necessary touch of local connection to projects, so developers don’t try to fit one model into too many different places. Planners should be focused on helping their residents feel connected to where they live and work and play, and guide developers to the context of the environment, local materials, and connections to local businesses.

“While many developers are focused on their return on investment, and planners often focused on making sure the design of a community checks off certain boxes as required in whatever zoning regulations and development code they have, there are often intrinsic benefits to the community, society, AND economy by focusing on the quality and experience of the residents of a community,” Brault says. “Healthier people will spend more on goods and services in the community instead of on healthcare, that’s usually from a non-local entity. They are going to be more likely to approve of their government and thus support more funding for schools, public safety, infrastructure, and other initiatives if they trust that their community is going to spend that money wisely, and more will if they are happy with their home and their local neighborhood. Happier, healthier people are going to be able to work more often and will likely be better workers who will contribute more to their companies, which means more profit for business and more opportunities for business to give back.”

With so many benefits in mind for every stakeholder, Rose Winer, the director of standard development at the International WELL Building Institute, believes that the process needs to evolve. She shares her thoughts on the evolution of health and well-being as a focus for regulators and the need for change in this short video.

Many of the improvements that zoning can address were considerations in the “Where Tomorrow Lives” home, the 2019 BUILDER KB Home ProjeKt that addresses the combination of better health and well-being from our homes and communities. The ProjeKt, located in the Inspirada development outside of Las Vegas, boasts a strong community, supported by local planners through decades of strategic planning.

“KB Home shows that this is achievable and achievable affordably and at a rate that can be scaled as well,” Winer says. “The project encourages residents to connect with surrounding environment and is an example that holds the key to show other planners, developers that shifting the measurement to the outcomes around the residents’ health is really the most impactful measureable value that we can design around. KB Home Project is really an invaluable blueprint that other communities can utilize to their residents specific health needs or to their own environment.”

For more information about the design and planning of the BUILDER KB Home ProjeKt and to register to see it in person, visit www.builderonline.com/kbhomeprojekt.