How to Make a Zoning Atlas: A Methodology for Translating and Standardizing District-Specific Regulations

93 Pages Posted: 5 Jan 2022 Last revised: 28 Oct 2022

See all articles by Sara C. Bronin

Sara C. Bronin

Cornell University - College of Architecture, Art & Planning; Cornell University - Law School

Ilya Ilyankou

University of Leeds

Date Written: December 30, 2021


Zoning – the regulation of land uses, structures, and lots through distinctly-regulated districts – is the most important, yet most underappreciated, power of local governments. Adopted by perhaps 30,000 local governments across the country, zoning laws directly impact housing availability, transportation, education, the food supply, economic opportunity, and access to nature.

We must expand public understanding of zoning codes. To achieve that goal, we propose an online, user-friendly map that illustrates key features of zoning codes all over the country: a National Zoning Atlas.

A National Zoning Atlas will enable comparisons across jurisdictions, illuminate regional and statewide trends, and strengthen national planning for housing production, transportation infrastructure, and climate response. It will also broaden participation in land use decisions, identify opportunities for zoning reform, and narrow a wide information gap that currently favors land speculators, institutional investors, and homeowners over socioeconomically disadvantaged groups. We have explained more at

This methodology has two purposes: first, to help you translate and standardize zoning information for your own regional or statewide atlas; and second, to ensure your atlas is compatible with and can be merged into the National Zoning Atlas.

Part II explains how the project manager should set up your team, your files, your spreadsheet, and your division of labor.

Part III then turns to the building blocks of any zoning atlas: zoning districts. For reasons explained below, the seemingly simple task of listing zoning districts is harder than it appears. It is useful for the whole project team (including the geospatial analysts) to engage in this task.

Part IV provides instructions on how the zoning code analysts should classify zoning districts into certain categories. It also covers the substantive regulation of uses, lots, and structures.

Part V explains how the geospatial analysts can set up a map and includes instructions on cleaning and merging geospatial files. As noted above, we hope to raise sufficient funds to centralize this step, but in the interim, this information can get teams started.

Part VI concludes, with a few tips on how to verify and maintain your data, once collected.

Keywords: Zoning, land use, districts, regulation, codes, regulatory analysis, atlas, principal use, accessory dwelling, minimum lot, parking

Suggested Citation

Bronin, Sara C. and Ilyankou, Ilya, How to Make a Zoning Atlas: A Methodology for Translating and Standardizing District-Specific Regulations (December 30, 2021). Available at SSRN: or

Sara C. Bronin (Contact Author)

Cornell University - College of Architecture, Art & Planning ( email )

Ithaca, NY
United States

Cornell University - Law School

Myron Taylor Hall
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY 14853-4901
United States

Ilya Ilyankou

University of Leeds ( email )

Leeds, LS2 9JT
United Kingdom

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