How to Make a Zoning Atlas 2.0: The Official Methodology of the National Zoning Atlas

144 Pages Posted: 22 Jun 2023 Last revised: 10 Aug 2023

See all articles by Sara C. Bronin

Sara C. Bronin

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

Scott Markley

Cornell University - Department of City & Regional Planning

Aline Fader


Evan Derickson


Date Written: June 13, 2023


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 around 30,000 local governments across the country, zoning laws powerfully influence housing supply and costs, transportation, education, food supply, economic opportunity, access to nature, and more.

To improve public understanding of zoning, we have launched the National Zoning Atlas, a, user-friendly online map that visualizes key features of zoning codes all over the country. It enables comparisons across jurisdictions and illuminates regional and statewide trends. Over time, we hope it strengthens planning for housing production, transportation infrastructure, and climate response; broadens participation in land use decisions; highlights opportunities for reform; and narrows a wide information gap that currently favors land speculators, institutional investors, and homeowners over socioeconomically disadvantaged groups.

Through its home base at the Legal Constructs Lab at Cornell University, the National Zoning Atlas is collaborating with teams running affiliated atlas projects. This methodology gives team members instructions on how to collect, translate, and standardize zoning regulatory and geospatial information. It focuses on individual zoning districts, each of which distinctively regulates allowed uses, structures, and lots.

These methods were first used to populate the Connecticut Zoning Atlas, which assembled data for over 2,600 zoning districts across 183 jurisdictions. The Connecticut atlas has been analyzed in “Zoning by a Thousand Cuts” (Bronin) and “Bringing Zoning into Focus” (with Urban Institute) That atlas has also been used to evaluate transportation investments, climate response, and economic growth, and to justify legal reforms at the statewide and local levels.

With that background in mind, we can proceed to the detailed instructions.

Part II explains how to structure your team, use the workspace (the Editor), identify jurisdictions, find and upload jurisdictional files, and establish your division of labor. We strongly suggest that the full team work together to complete this Part before proceeding with later Parts.

Part III 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. The whole project team (including the geospatial analysts) will also need to engage in the work of this Part.
Part IV tells zoning code analysts how to classify districts and analyze the regulation of uses, lots, and structures. It also explains how team leaders can create custom fields and finalize data entry.

Part V tells geospatial analysts how to prepare and upload geospatial data for both jurisdictions and zoning districts.

Part VI concludes with instructions on how to publish and maintain your atlas.

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

Suggested Citation

Bronin, Sara C. and Markley, Scott and Fader, Aline and Derickson, Evan, How to Make a Zoning Atlas 2.0: The Official Methodology of the National Zoning Atlas (June 13, 2023). 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

Scott Markley

Cornell University - Department of City & Regional Planning ( email )

Ithaca, NY 14853
United States

Aline Fader


Evan Derickson


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