Urban Planning For Dummies
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The most common type of urban plan, called a comprehensive plan, examines many different aspects of a community and establishes a course of action for 30 or more years into the future. Here are the topics that a typical comprehensive plan addresses:

  • Land use: The land use component of an urban plan assesses how land is being used by different kinds of activities (for example, residential or industrial). It also lays out a plan for the future, showing how land will be used for different activities. The land use component of a plan not only looks into what areas of the community are most suitable for future development or need to be conserved, but also helps a community establish zoning codes and other land use regulations to guide future development.

  • Housing: Cities and towns are home to many different types of housing, including everything from small houses to high-rise apartment buildings. The housing component of an urban plan determines what types of housing are present in the community today and what types of housing may be needed in the future. It addresses the housing needs of people with disabilities, low-income families, and other people with specific needs.

  • Transportation: The transportation component of an urban plan assesses the overall transportation system serving the community, including everything from roads and highways for cars and trucks, to subways and buses for public transportation, to dedicated paths for walking and bicycling. Planning for transportation helps ensure that every part of the city is adequately served by the transportation system and that all the people in the community can get where they need to go.

  • Urban design: Urban design considers not only how nice a place a looks but also how well it functions. A well-designed urban area looks good and works well. The urban design component of a plan takes a look at many different parts of the physical form of the city, ranging from individual buildings to layouts of entire neighborhoods and towns.

  • Natural resources, recreation, and open space: These components of an urban plan address the quality of a community’s air, water, and land resources, as well as areas of the community that serve as habitats, open space, recreational areas, and other environmentally important areas. Planning ahead allows the community to conserve and protect its natural resources and provide adequate areas for recreation and open space.

  • Infrastructure and public facilities: Infrastructure and public facilities are important components of an urban plan and can include planning for items ranging from sewer pipes to power lines to public safety stations. These facilities and services are essential to the operation of the community, and their planning is closely coordinated with related components of the plan, such as land use, housing, and transportation.

In addition to a comprehensive plan, many communities also write specialized plans that may focus on specific topics and short-range goals or target specific areas of the community. For example, many communities have specific plans for downtown redevelopment areas or have developed disaster recovery plans with five-year rebuilding goals.

About This Article

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Jordan Yin, PhD, AICP, is a faculty member of the College of Urban Affairs at Cleveland State University and a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners. He has published research articles in leading academic journals, including Urban Affairs Review and Journal of Urban Affairs, and his work as an urban planner has been reported on by National Public Radio, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal.

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