Guiding Plan Implementation With Degree of Change

PAS Memo — July-August 2021

By John Zeanah, AICP


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In 2019, the City of Memphis completed the Memphis 3.0 Comprehensive Plan, the city's first comprehensive plan since 1981 and guide for a new direction of growth. The headline of the vision statement is brief, yet bold: "Build up, not out."

This comprehensive plan vision statement was memorable and effective. But while the public embraced the plan's vision, it led to questions. How far up? And where? And when? Memphis's planners used an emerging tool called "Degree of Change" to answer these questions and organize the plan's implementation and the various actors engaged.

Using the Degree of Change approach in the comprehensive plan helps to address the plan's limitations, provides clarity and strategy to the pace of change desired or expected from the plan, and focuses the process of implementing the plan to address questions of where, when, and how.

This issue of PAS Memo makes the case for using Degree of Change and illustrates the most effective ways to apply this concept to the comprehensive plan by discussing in depth the experience of Memphis.


Date Published
July 1, 2021
Adobe PDF
American Planning Association

About the Author

John Zeanah, AICP
JOHN ZEANAH, AICP is the Director of the Memphis and Shelby County Division of Planning and Development. In this role, he leads a cross-functional agency responsible for planning, zoning, and construction permitting throughout the largest county in Tennessee. Among his accomplishments, John led the development and adoption of the Memphis 3.0 Comprehensive Plan, the City’s first comprehensive plan in 40 years and winner of the American Planning Association’s Daniel Burnham Award of Excellence for a Comprehensive Plan in 2020 and a Charter Award from the Congress for the New Urbanism in 2021. John has also led the city and county’s housing policy plan, climate action and resilience plans, and improvements to development review and permitting. John holds a BA in Political Science from Rhodes College and a Master of City and Regional Planning from the University of Memphis.