What Are Comprehensive Plans?

Comprehensive plans include the greater area.

A goal without a (comprehensive) plan is just a wish.

In the mid-1990s, the city of Portland, Oregon was experiencing rapid population growth and development. To address this growth in a way that reflected the community’s values and goals, Portland developed one of the most successful comprehensive plans, known as “Portland 2000.”

One of the key goals of Portland 2000 was to create a more livable and sustainable city by promoting the use of alternative modes of transportation, such as walking, biking, and public transit. To achieve this goal, the plan included provisions for creating a network of bike lanes and pedestrian-friendly streets, as well as policies to encourage the development of mixed-use and transit-oriented neighborhoods.

As a result of these efforts, Portland has become known as one of the most bike-friendly cities in the United States, with a well-developed network of bike lanes and trails that connect the city’s neighborhoods and downtown core.

Comprehensive plans are long-term planning documents developed by a local government that outlines the vision and goals for the community’s future growth and development. Portland used this type of plan to not only get out of a tough situation but set itself up for the ability to pivot in the future as well. It serves as a blueprint for the physical, social, and economic development of the community, and guides the decision-making processes of local government officials, developers, and community members.

What’s in good comprehensive plans?

One key element of a good comprehensive plan is a clear mission statement that defines the community’s desired future state. This statement should be developed through a collaborative process involving input from a wide range of stakeholders such as community members, local government officials, and business leaders.

In addition to a mission statement, a good comprehensive plan should include specific goals and objectives for your community’s future development. These goals should be measurable, achievable, and relevant to the needs of the area. The plan should also include specific strategies and actions for achieving these goals, along with timelines and benchmarks for measuring progress.

A comprehensive plan should also address a wide range of issues, including land use, transportation, housing, economic development, natural resources, and community amenities. It should consider the needs of all demographics of the community, including (and not limited to) children, seniors, low-income households, and people with disabilities.

Ask yourself, “what will make a good comprehensive plan?” Focus on the word “comprehensive”, meaning it covers a wide range of issues and considers the needs of all members of the community. It’s also realistic, meaning it’s based on sound data and analysis and takes into account the resources and constraints of the community. A good comprehensive plan is responsive to the needs and priorities of the community and is developed through a collaborative process that involves input from a wide range of stakeholders, as mentioned above.

Additional information about comprehensive plans

Time span

The time span a comprehensive plan should cover depends on the needs and priorities of the community. Some plans may cover a shorter time frame, such as seven to ten years, while other municipalities may look ahead to 20 or 30 years. Something to consider: the planning horizon should be long enough to allow for significant changes to occur, but short enough to remain relevant and responsive to the changing needs of the community.

What not to do

Ask yourself, “what shouldn’t I do when creating a plan?” A bad comprehensive plan is detrimental to the development of your area. This can be a plan that’s unrealistic, based on incomplete or inaccurate data, or that ignores the needs and priorities of the community. It may also be inflexible, failing to adapt to changing circumstances or unforeseen challenges. Make these top of mind when creating or updating your plan.

Organizations that can help

There are several national organizations that can help communities develop comprehensive plans. The American Planning Association (APA) is a professional organization for planners and related professionals and offers a wide range of resources and technical assistance to help communities develop comprehensive plans. The National Association of Development Organizations (NADO) is another organization that provides technical assistance and resources to help communities develop comprehensive plans and implement economic and community development projects.

A fun fact about comprehensive plans

Fun fact about comprehensive plans: The first comprehensive plan in the United States was developed for the city of Philadelphia in 1854 by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, the designers of Central Park in New York City. This plan, known as the “Philadelphia Plan,” laid out a vision for the city’s future growth and development and set the stage for the modern comprehensive planning process. Check out their plan today!

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