Comprehensive Plans and Comprehensible Geographies: Developing Plans and Learning Through Planning

Authors: Henry Way*, James Madison University
Topics: Urban and Regional Planning, Urban Geography, Geography Education
Keywords: urban planning, urban geography, geographical education
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/4/2019
Start / End Time: 5:00 PM / 6:40 PM
Room: Roosevelt 4, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper examines the geographical dimensions to, and potential for geographical engagement with, comprehensive plans. Comprehensive plans (sometimes called “general plans” or city master plans) are the legal documents, adoptive by a local legislative body, that set out the maps that guide land use and zoning, and the accompanying text outlining community development priorities, typically over a 5-10 year horizon. Drawing on the author’s participant-observational experience as chair of his city’s Planning Commission during the drafting and adoption of the latest comprehensive plan, the paper explores the way geography – urban, economic, political, cultural, and environmental – shaped the plan outcomes, and how the plan itself in turn can shape the geography of the case study city. It will draw on the impact of historic plans on the current built environment, and the limitations of city plans such as these for shaping cohesive urban outcomes. The paper will also examine the opportunities for using the comprehensive plan – as a document, but also as a process of planning – as a tool in the teaching of urban geography and sustainable urbanism in a higher education setting. In a classroom setting, comprehensive plans can provide not only eloquent case studies in how policy documents shape material outcomes in a significant way, but also illustrate the potential roles geographers (and geographical thinking) can have in improving our urban realm.

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