Applying Algorithms to Land-Use Decision Making

Zoning Practice — March 2019

By Norman Wright, AICP


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Every planner has a set of variables and values that they consider when judging a land-use proposal. Informally, we think of these as our expert intuitions, the sort of thinking that we developed through years of experience and training. In a formal sense, these are known as algorithms, and they create a formula for how we make decisions. When we deliberately write this formula as an explicit algorithm, we can combine it with data and create a more transparent, consistent, and adaptable approach to decision making.

This issue of Zoning Practice reviews simple methods for defining and applying a decision algorithm for land-use cases, and it explores how back testing; best-case, worst-case scenarios; and extrapolation can improve this approach.


Page Count
Date Published
March 1, 2019
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American Planning Association

About the Author

Norman Wright, AICP
Norman Wright is the founder and principal at Parameter, a consulting firm dedicated to improving local government. From 2005 to 2022, he served as a local government executive over-seeing planning, development, and many public services in cities and counties in Oregon, Colo-rado, Tennessee, and South Carolina. He holds a master’s degree in city and regional planning from Clemson University and is a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners.