How Good Is Your Comp Plan?

In a working session at NPC17 on Sunday afternoon, groups of planners clustered around tables and pored over comprehensive plans from two cities, Victoria, British Columbia and League City, Texas. Their goal: to evaluate those plans against a new, integrated national standard for comprehensive plans.

The scoring system is part of APA’s Sustaining Places Initiative, designed to build the capacity of local jurisdictions to integrate sustainability into their comprehensive plans.

A big part of that is its deep planning toolbox, namely the PAS report, Sustaining Places: Best Practices for Comprehensive Plans, by David Godschalk, FAICP, and David Rouse, FAICP. It's a soup-to-nuts approach that planners and communities can use to evaluate an existing plan or develop a new one.

The report, which is free to all APA members, offers a framework with standards for creating livable, healthy communities in harmony with nature — communities that have resilient economies, social equity, and strong regional ties. Four steps show how to turn those principles into a plan and score the results. Insights from 10 pilot communities add the real-world perspectives of big cities, small towns, and everything in between.

Megan Statt Blake, assistant Community Development director in Wyoming, Ohio, attended the session because her city of 8,500 people is undergoing a 10-year plan update and she thinks this might be a great tool to guide that effort. Even if she doesn't apply for the recently launched recognition program, the standards nonetheless set a high bar for her community's plan — and that's a good thing.

In addition to the authors of the Sustaining Places report and APA researchers, participants heard from Doug McDonald AICP, CNU-A, the comprehensive planning manager of Plano, Texas. Plano participated in the Comprehensive Plan Standards Recognition Pilot Program, earning a silver rating in 2016 for its Plano Tomorrow plan.

Plano used the PAS report and another tool, the STAR Community Rating system, to measure the city’s current sustainability efforts, structure the plan itself, and set benchmarks and tools for measuring success. The plan is totally web-based, designed to be approachable, interactive, and very much a living document.

Polls and other engagement tools in each of the plan’s elements enable Plano residents to influence implementation priorities of the now-adopted plan.

The Texas city tracks and reports on implementation efforts annually in readable and easily digestible annual report, which is a different approach from how other pilot Sustaining Places communities have integrated implementation into their plans which is a critical part of the framework and scoring tool. Using the annual report format, McDonald said, is a “great example of the creativity allowed in this framework.”

One innovative aspect of that report: a simple pie chart that communicates the city’s capacity to implement plan actions. 

The Plano Tomorrow plan tracks and reports on implementation efforts annually. Here it uses a simple pie chart to communicate the city’s capacity to implement plan actions. Image courtesy Plano Tomorrow.

“I love the simplicity of using a pie chart,” said planner Ryan Wozniak, AICP, a planner from Maricopa, Arizona, who plans to use the Sustaining Places standard to evaluate his community’s just-adopted general plan. “I plan to [also] be borrowing heavily from how Plano did things.”

Top image: Session attendees — planner Ryan Wozniak, AICP, from Maricopa, Arizona and Megan Statt Blake, assistant community development director in Wyoming, Ohio — consider using the Sustaining Places standards in their communities' plans. Photo by Meghan Stromberg.


About the Author
Meghan Stromberg is APA's editor in chief.

May 7, 2017

By Meghan Stromberg