Metropolitan Institute to evaluate land reforms that foster active living communities

NATIONAL CAPITAL REGION, Sept. 19, 2005 – Virginia Tech has received a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation through its Active Living Research program to evaluate how Wisconsin’s pioneering Smart Growth Act of 1999 is spurring the development of more physically active communities.

Together with local partner, 1000 Friends of Wisconsin, and an extensive network of state and local policymakers, researchers at Virginia Tech’s Metropolitan Institute (which is part of the university’s College of Architecture and Urban Studies) hope to educate community decision-makers and reduce barriers to the promotion of more active lifestyles in towns and cities across the nation.

“With more than five years of experience in implementing the Smart Growth Act, Wisconsin presents an ideal setting for studying the process of reforming comprehensive plans and zoning codes designed to promote active living communities,” said Joe Schilling, assistant research professor at the Metropolitan Institute and principal investigator for this project. “Lessons learned from the Wisconsin experience could assist the land use reforms and active living initiatives of other state and local governments.”

The one-year research grant will support two interrelated case studies that will explore the evolving dynamics of land use reforms, the role of intergovernmental collaboration and effective leadership and implementation strategies. The first study will focus on the state of Wisconsin’s role in the adoption and implementation of the Smart Growth Act. Schilling and 1000 Friends of Wisconsin will interview legislators, agency staff, nonprofit groups and representatives from the development community to get their assessment of the law and its complementary programs. Special attention will be paid to the intergovernmental relationship between state and local governments.

Based on the results from the statewide case study, the research team will further evaluate the process of policy diffusion by surveying several local governments from diverse regions of the state (rural, suburban, urban) to find out how local planning changed as a result of the Smart Growth Act. The research team will carefully evaluate the comprehensive plans and Traditional Neighborhood Development ordinances from these localities to determine whether or not these land use reforms have resulted—or could result—in the design and construction of more compact developments that encourage more physical activity among residents in communities elsewhere throughout the country.

Results from both case studies will be shared with state and local leaders in Wisconsin at a policy briefing during the summer of 2006 and disseminated to a nationwide network of active living policy makers and researchers.

Active Living Research is a $12.5-million national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, created to stimulate and support research that will identify environmental factors and policies that influence physical activity. Findings are expected to inform environmental and policy changes that will promote active living among Americans.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation ( focuses on the pressing health and health care issues facing our country. As the nation's largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to improving the health and health care of all Americans, the Foundation works with a diverse group of organizations and individuals to identify solutions and achieve comprehensive, meaningful and timely change. For more than 30 years the Foundation has brought experience, commitment, and a rigorous, balanced approach to the problems that affect the health and health care of those it serves. When it comes to helping Americans lead healthier lives and get the care they need, the Foundation expects to make a difference in your lifetime.

Virginia Tech has fostered a growing partnership with the greater metropolitan Washington D.C. community since 1969. Today, the university’s presence in the National Capital Region includes graduate programs and research centers in Alexandria, Arlington, Falls Church, Leesburg, Manassas and Middleburg. In addition to supporting the university’s teaching and research mission, Virginia Tech’s National Capital Region has established collaborations with local and federal agencies, businesses and other institutions of higher education.