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We noted in Chapter 6 that over the last several decades the comprehensive planning process has changed from one in which a small group handed down a plan, to one in which the making of the plan is a participatory process open to the citizens of the community. This section describes a participatory plan-making process. The process will vary from one community to the next, but we can identify some common elements.

  • 1. A research phase. One cannot plan very much if one does not have a sense of the present state of events and their probable future direction. Thus many comprehensive planning efforts began with a data-gathering and forecasting phase.
  • 2. Clarification of community goals and objectives. At some point, preferably early in the process, there has to be some agreement about what the plan is intended to achieve. This is not to say that agreement will ever be total.
  • 3. A period of plan formulation.
  • 4. A period of plan implementation.
  • 5. A period of review and revision.

Although presented as a sequence, these items necessarily overlap. Insights gained in the research phase will reveal problems that affect the goals the community will formulate. But selecting goals will affect what things a community should know about itself. Thus the research and the goal-formation processes tend to proceed simultaneously. Research regarding population trends may lead to formulating the goal of acquiring an additional 500 acres of parkland. That, however, suggests another research question: Is the community able to pay for it? Steps 1 and 2 inevitably become intertwined.

Plan formulation tends to modify goals by making plain the real implications of generalized goals. A community may set a goal of "an adequate supply of housing at affordable prices." It is hard to be against such a goal. Few will come out publicly in favor of an inadequate supply of housing at exorbitant prices. But when the community looks at the matter in detail, it may not like what the goal implies. Getting prices down to affordable levels may mean building smaller housing units at higher densities than present residents want. Perhaps getting prices down will also necessitate a major increase in housing supply, with attendant increases in traffic congestion and overcrowding in the schools. Perhaps an increase in the supply of lower-cost housing will impose costs that push up property tax rates. At this point the community may go back and rethink its goal.

In the following sections we discuss the five steps in detail.

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