Comprehensive Planning

1 Comprehensive Planning

Comprehensive planning in the United States is a process that involves the development of a long-term vision for a community or region. This process typically involves a wide range of stakeholders, including government officials, community leaders, and residents. The goal of comprehensive planning is to create a roadmap for the future that takes into account the needs and aspirations of all members of the community.


  1. Learn about the comprehensive planning in the United States, including the steps taken during the planning process
  2. Understand why comprehensive planning is important


Key Takeaway:

  • The comprehensive plan is a key tool in zoning regulation, created through a collaborative process and defining land use regulations based on community needs and goals. The zoning ordinance translates the comprehensive plan into specific regulations, including district designations and permitted uses.

Creation of Zoning

The basic foundation for planning and zoning in the U.S. was laid by two standard state enabling acts published by the U.S. Department of Commerce in the 1920s. For many states, the Standard Acts, as they are known, still supply the institutional structure, although some procedural and substantive components may have changed. (Source: American Planning Association)

A Standard State Zoning Enabling Act (SZEA)

The first, A Standard State Zoning Enabling Act (SZEA), was developed by an advisory committee on zoning appointed by Secretary of Commerce (and later President) Herbert Hoover in 1921. After several revisions, the Government Printing Office published the first printed edition in May 1924, and a revised edition in 1926.

The SZEA had nine sections. It included a grant of power, a provision that the legislative body could divide the local government’s territory into districts, a statement of purpose for the zoning regulations, and procedures for establishing and amending the zoning regulations. A legislative body was required to establish a zoning commission to advise it on the initial development of zoning regulations.

A Standard State Zoning Enabling Act (SZEA), 1926

A Standard City Planning Enabling Act (SCPEA)

In March 1927, a preliminary edition of the second model, A Standard City Planning Enabling Act (SCPEA), was released, and a final version was published in 1928. The SCPEA covered six subjects:

  1. the organization and power of the planning commission, which was directed to prepare and adopt a “master plan”
  2. the content of the master plan for the physical development of the territory
  3. provision for adoption of a master street plan by the governing body
  4. provision for approval of all public improvements by the planning commission
  5. control of private subdivision of land
  6. provision for the establishment of a regional planning commission and a regional plan

A Standard City Planning Enabling Act (SCPEA), 1928

How Zoning Works: The Comprehensive Plan

Zoning regulations are created and defined by a Comprehensive Plan that outlines land use and development objectives to achieve community goals for future growth and development. The Comprehensive Plan assesses the current land use and provides a roadmap to guide future zoning decisions. The plan indicates how buildings, lands, and other features should be used, and how they can be developed and improved over time. Under a Comprehensive Plan, zoning is then implemented. 

It is critical for municipalities to create a Comprehensive Plan that is consistent with local and state laws and regulations. It should be kept up-to-date to ensure that it reflects changes in the community, including shifts in population, economic fluctuations, and changes in land use. Accurate data and analysis should be used to make informed decisions, and the public should be involved in the process.

In summary, the Comprehensive Plan is a critical tool for ensuring that zoning regulations meet the needs of the community. It establishes a long-term vision for development and provides guidance to municipal officials and the public on how to achieve it. By staying involved in the process, stakeholders can help ensure that the community’s interests are protected.

Creating a comprehensive plan: A collaborative process

A Comprehensive Plan: An Inclusive and Collaborative Process

Creating a comprehensive plan involves a participatory and inclusive approach that highlights community values, goals, lands, and policies. Through interactions with residents, stakeholders, and experts, the plan identifies land use patterns, infrastructure needs, new developments, hazards, among other aspects. Undertaken periodically (often every 5-10 years), the comprehensive plan influences zoning ordinances and other decisions.

The process follows several phases:

  1. visioning/diagnosis
  2. inventory/analysis
  3. scenario development/evaluation
  4. implementation/finalization


At the top, the image says "The comprehensive planning process". It is a series of arrows pointing to each other.  At the center says Citizen Involvement.

These phases allow for meaningful public participation that garners various perspectives on developmental priorities within the municipality or jurisdiction. Public input encourages transparency in governance and enables planners to create plans that meet citizens’ aspirations while also addressing demographic changes and sustainability challenges.

It is crucial to note that stakeholders need to take active roles in these planning discussions. Everyone must participate as equitable development requires the expertise of diverse groups through a collaborative transformative approach. Only then can planners produce a document that aligns with holistic economic growth visions while considering social equity values and environmental factors.


Importance of a comprehensive plan

A comprehensive plan plays a critical role in laying the foundation and guiding the growth of any community or city. It serves as a blueprint for decision-making and creating policies that can have significant impacts on zoning regulations and land use. By taking into account various aspects such as demographics, transportation, environment, housing, economy, and infrastructure, a comprehensive plan provides a framework for shaping the future development of a locality.

Therefore, to ensure smart land use decisions and better quality of life for residents, it is essential to follow an effective comprehensive planning process while developing or amending any municipal zoning regulations. By integrating community input with expert research and analysis, municipal planners can create zoning codes that are compatible with the larger vision of the community’s future.

Moreover, periodically reviewing and updating a comprehensive plan helps in keeping it relevant with changing times and needs. Therefore, continuous engagement of policymakers with expert consultants and stakeholders can ensure that zoning regulations reflect the local context accurately.

Graphic that says on top "Who uses the comprehensive plan?" It has citizens with an arrow to city staff with an arrow to planning & zoning commission with an arrow to city council with an arrow back to citizens.

In Florida’s Tampa Bay region, the Pinellas County Planning Department developed an award-winning comprehensive plan that addressed sustainability concerns such as water conservation, reducing greenhouse gas emissions from transportation through mixed-use developments alongside transit corridors. Additionally in 2008 after Hurricane Ike devastated Galveston Island Texas, The city undertook an extensive effort to update its Comprehensive Plan – specifically looking at stranded land ordinances to protect property owners during disasters.


Regulations defined in a comprehensive plan

A comprehensive plan is a document that outlines land use goals, policies, and strategies for an entire community or region. Regulations defined in this plan control everything from the type of buildings allowed to their size and placement. It encompasses zoning ordinances, subdivision rules, building codes, and other regulatory measures needed to achieve the plan’s objectives.

The regulations defined in a comprehensive plan also include environmental protection regulations like stormwater management and open space preservation. In addition, transportation facilities and utilities required for urban development are included as key components of the comprehensive plan. This is why it’s essential to have an up-to-date comprehensive plan that reflects the current and future needs of a community.

Comprehensive plans serve as the foundation for all zoning regulations by providing guidance on how land should be developed within a community. These plans ensure that land-use regulations producing consistent social, economic, and ecological outcomes. They also facilitate long-term growth management while maintaining ecological integrity to balance human development with natural resources.

It’s crucial for communities to actively participate in creating or updating their comprehensive plan regularly since changing demographics trends and economies shift may require changing planning policies. An outdated or non-existent comprehensive plan could lead to conflicts, inefficient resource management, racial disparities in housing designs, underutilized properties leading to lost taxes which may ultimately impact community resilience.

Communities that effectively leverage Comprehensive Plans help foster growth opportunities for both large companies wanting to do business there but also small businesses trying to establish roots in areas with particular needs for retail or service activities. Having up-to-date Comprehensive Plans can improve access to reliable public services such as water supply systems, sanitation systems and encouraging sustainable practices save money over time reducing maintenance costs while benefiting people living there by improving their quality of life.

Components of Comprehensive Planning

Comprehensive planning is a process that aims to guide the development and growth of a community or region in a coordinated and sustainable manner. It involves the identification of goals and objectives, the assessment of existing conditions, and the development of strategies and policies to achieve those goals. The key components of comprehensive planning include land use planning, transportation planning, housing planning, environmental planning, economic development planning, and community engagement. Each of these components plays a critical role in shaping the future of a community or region.

Land use planning involves the identification of areas for different types of land uses, such as residential, commercial, industrial, and open space. It also involves the development of zoning regulations and other land use policies to guide development in a way that is consistent with the community’s goals and objectives.

Transportation planning involves the development of strategies and policies to improve the movement of people and goods within a community or region. This includes the planning of roads, highways, public transit systems, and other transportation infrastructure.

Housing planning involves the identification of the housing needs of a community or region and the development of strategies and policies to meet those needs. This includes the planning of affordable housing, mixed-income housing, and other types of housing that meet the needs of different segments of the population.

Environmental planning involves the identification of natural resources and environmental assets within a community or region and the development of strategies and policies to protect and preserve those resources. This includes the planning of parks, open spaces, and other natural areas, as well as the development of policies to promote sustainable development and reduce the community’s carbon footprint.

Economic development planning involves the identification of economic opportunities within a community or region and the development of strategies and policies to promote economic growth and job creation. This includes the planning of business districts, industrial parks, and other areas that are conducive to economic development.

Community engagement is a critical component of comprehensive planning, as it involves the active participation of community members in the planning process. This includes public meetings, workshops, and other forms of outreach to ensure that the community’s goals and objectives are reflected in the planning process.


The comprehensive planning process is a systematic approach to creating a long-term vision for a city. It involves identifying the city’s strengths and weaknesses, assessing its future needs, and developing strategies to address those needs. The process typically includes the following steps:

  1. Initiation: The planning process is typically initiated by the city council or other governing body.
  2. Data collection: The planning team collects data on the city’s demographics, economy, infrastructure, and other factors.
  3. Analysis: The planning team analyzes the data to identify the city’s strengths and weaknesses, and to assess its future needs.
  4. Goal setting: The planning team develops a set of goals for the city.
  5. Strategy development: The planning team develops strategies to achieve the city’s goals.
  6. Implementation: The city implements the strategies developed in the plan.
  7. Monitoring and evaluation: The city monitors the implementation of the plan and evaluates its effectiveness.

The comprehensive planning process is a continuous process that is updated regularly to reflect changes in the city’s needs. It is an important tool for helping cities to achieve their goals and to create a better future for their residents.

Here are some of the benefits of comprehensive planning:

  • It helps cities to identify and address their challenges.
  • It provides a framework for decision-making.
  • It helps cities to attract investment and development.
  • It improves the quality of life for residents.

Comprehensive planning is an essential tool for any city that wants to achieve its goals and create a better future for its residents.


Some Facts About Municipal Zoning in the United States:

  • ✅ Comprehensive planning has been used in the United States since the early 20th century.
  • ✅ Many states require local governments to adopt comprehensive plans as a condition of receiving state funding or grants.
  • ✅ The comprehensive planning process involves gathering data, analyzing trends, and engaging with community stakeholders.
  • ✅ Comprehensive planning has been criticized for being too bureaucratic and not responsive enough to community needs.
  • ✅ Comprehensive plans typically include goals, policies, and strategies for land use, transportation, housing, economic development, and environmental protection.

FAQs about Municipal Zoning In The United States

What is comprehensive planning in the United States?

Comprehensive planning in the United States is a process that involves the development of a long-term vision for a community or region. This process typically involves a wide range of stakeholders, including government officials, community leaders, and residents. The goal of comprehensive planning is to create a roadmap for the future that takes into account the needs and aspirations of all members of the community.

Why is comprehensive planning important?

Comprehensive planning is important because it provides a framework for communities to make informed decisions about land use, transportation, housing, and other important issues. Without a comprehensive plan, communities may make decisions that are not in the best interest of their residents or the environment.

How is comprehensive planning different from traditional zoning?

Comprehensive planning is a more holistic approach to land use planning than traditional zoning. While traditional zoning focuses on regulating land use through the use of zoning districts and regulations, comprehensive planning takes into account a wider range of factors such as transportation, housing, economic development, and environmental sustainability. This allows for a more integrated and coordinated approach to planning that can better address the complex challenges facing communities today.

What is the role of public participation in comprehensive planning?

Public participation is a crucial aspect of comprehensive planning in the United States. It involves engaging members of the public in the planning process to ensure that their needs, concerns, and ideas are taken into account. This helps to create plans that are more responsive to the needs of the community and that have a greater chance of being implemented successfully.


Quick Check

What is a good time horizon for a comprehensive plan?

5 years

Answer B reply text

20 years

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1 year

Answer reply text

50 years

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Check Answer




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