The Planning Commission — Its Composition and Function

PAS Report 19

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Information Report No. 19 October, 1950.

The Planning Commission — Its Composition and Function

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Who are the members of planning commissions? Why were they selected? What do they do to help in the work of the planning agency?

In the Summer of 1950, PLANNING ADVISORY SERVICE circulated a questionnaire to staff members in 60 selected city and county planning agencies throughout the country* to obtain information on the age, sex, race, occupation, main civic interest or affiliation, main interest in the planning program, attendance record, reason for selection, and a number of other questions on the composition of planning commissions.** Information was also sought on the function of planning commissions — the work the members do, what they might do, and how staff members feel about commission membership, its optimum size, its representation, and its effectiveness.

There are some limitations in the data which must be borne in mind in reading this report. The data reflect conditions in the responding agencies and are not to be considered representative of all planning agencies. Since the survey was designed to reveal staff attitudes, only those agencies with known staff were queried; all cities of over 250,000 population known to have planning staffs, and selected cities. of under 250,000 population and selected counties known to have staff were circularized. Data in some cases were not known or reported by the respondent. An example of a possible reporting error is that a 30 year old planning director in guessing at the ages of older commission members might consider them all to be "around 55." Actually, if facts had been available, the indicated ages might have ranged from 48 to 63. Similarly, questions of opinion are open to possible distortions: (1) The answer reflects the view of the one staff member responding (generally the executive director) and may not be illustrative of the attitude of the entire staff or community; and (2) the opinion expressed on paper in answer to a questionnaire might be very different than what would be expressed in conversation after much probing. Another limitation to be recognized is that not all questions were answered by all agencies.

The results of this survey are of value in describing a number of particular situations rather than as being a statistical average for all planning commissions within the country. The materials are presented in over-all generalized form; data have sometimes been identified by locality to illustrate the more unusual conditions, but opinions have in no case been identified. Some of the cross-tabulations of data which might be of academic interest have not been included in the bulletin, either because no significant correlations were found in trial tabulations, or because the data were not sufficient to draw accurate conclusions.


There is considerable diversity of opinion on which occupations or groups should be represented in planning commission membership, or whether "representativeness" is important at all. Table 1 indicates the distribution of the 558 commission members (the total of all surveyed agencies) in major occupation categories. A detailed listing, indicating the wide range of occupations represented in the surveyed agencies, is presented in Appendix C.

As can be seen in the summary table and the detailed listing in Appendix C, representatives from industry, trade, banking, real estate, and building form about 30 percent of the commission membership, government employees 25 percent, and planning and related professions 12.5 percent. Of the last named, architects and engineers far outnumber planners. All ex-officio members of the commissions are included in the "government" category and consist of 104 persons, or roughly one fifth the commission membership. Others who have positions with governmental units but are not on the commissions by virtue of their positions, are also included in this category.

Planning directors or staff members who serve as secretaries to commissions and other persons who serve in this capacity but are not officially appointed to the commission, number 24. These persons were not included in the total number of commission members.


To a certain extent, representation on planning commissions is set either by state enabling act or local ordinance. This would be clearly the case for ex-officio members. In other cases, it is stated that certain professions must be represented, or excluded. For example, the enabling ordinance for the Detroit commission appears to require that the following professions must be represented: doctor, realtor, civil engineer, architect, builder, structural engineer, and lawyer.

On the other hand, Norfolk, Virginia, responded that "all members of the Commission must have the following qualifications:

"1. Must be prominent citizens and not connected with any other city department or commission.

"2. Must have knowledge of physical and economic conditions of the city and the purpose and scope of city planning.

"3. Members shall not be connected with any real estate firm, public utility, contractor or building organization or any other occupation which would embarrass or cause the member to be unable to vote on any question before the City Planning Commission."



Type of Occupation Number Percentage
Government   137   24.6
   Municipal 85   15.2  
   County 39   7.0  
   State 7   1.3  
   Federal 6   1.1  
Industrial, Manufacturing   32   5.7
Trade   46   8.3
   Wholesale 6   1.1  
   Retail 40   7.2  
Banking, Insurance, and Financial   26   4.7
Real Estate   43   7.7
Contractors and Builders   18   3.2
Planning and Related Professions   70   12.5
   Architects 32   5.7  
   Planning 8   1.4  
   Engineers 30   5.4  
Law and other Professions   51   9.1
Educators   13   2.3
Agriculture   14   2.5
Transportation   8   1.4
Advertising and Press   7   1.3
Service Trades   5   .9
Utilities   4   .7
Retired   22   3.9
Labor   15   2.7
Housewife*   12   2.2
Miscellaneous   23   4.1
Undesignated   12   2.2
Total   558   100.0

*Four women are not listed in this category but are listed under their respective occupations.

The Indiana state enabling act authorizing the establishment of planning commissions states that there must be bi-partisan representation on planning commissions. Thus, the political affiliation of the persons selected must, by law, be a consideration. The Wisconsin enabling act provides that persons are to be appointed only if they have knowledge of planning matters; thus the commissions are not intended to be representative of various groups or occupations.

A number of planning commissions have "heavy" representation from certain professions. For example, one commission has five lawyers out of a total of eleven commission members; another has four out of seven; a third has three out of nine. One eastern community has three civil engineers on its commission of five; another has three engineers out of a total of nine. There are other examples of doubling up of representation: two druggists out of a total of eleven members; two insurance men out of a total of seven; two public housing officials out of nine; two college professors of planning and one planning consultant out of a total of seven; and a commission of nine members with two planners.

Other commissions have a more diversified representation from occupational groups. For example, a mid-western city includes the following among its commission members:

Downtown real estate, representing Real Estate Board Manufacturer
Manufacturer, representing a commercial club
Bank building manager, Association of Commerce
Architect, directly representing AIA
Retired civil engineer
State highway construction engineer, Engineering Society representative
Club woman, American Garden Society
Dry cleaning businessman
Neighborhood merchant, President of Neighborhood Merchants' Association
Labor representative
Department store manager, representing Association of Commerce and downtown business district
Association of Commerce representative
Social service worker, directly representing social workers.

Many of these individuals were proposed by specific groups, to represent them. In addition, the planning director requested that a particular person be appointed; the mayor made certain appointments for political reasons. The professions of engineering and architecture are represented as are business and industrial interests, labor and social work, and civic organizations. There are no ex-officio members on this commission.

There are a number of retired men serving on planning commissions; twenty- two were reported in the survey. Planning directors state that one of the most desirable features of this type of representation is that it partially solves the problem of members who are "too busy" to adequately carry out their duties for the most successful functioning of the commission. Another stated advantage of retired persons is that their judgment and experience can be shared generously with the commission since they are no longer "politically ambitious."

Need for Additional Representation

The question of whether additional representation on the commission was desired was designed in part to indicate the degree of satisfaction with present representation. Many planning directors expressed full satisfaction with their commissions feeling them to be "well rounded" or "as hard working a group as can be found." Others felt the need for additional influences on the commission.

On the question of whether professionals in allied technical fields should be present, there were sharp divergencies. Several planning directors feel that the addition to their commissions of architects or engineers would be desirable for technical understanding. Another planner would like lawyers, engineers, and architects to give technical assistance. Some attitudes expressing the opposite point of view came from larger cities where it was stated that technicians (architects and engineers) were not preferred because "they are inclined to assume they are planners and as a result, interfere with staff operations." Another planning director noted that there is a tendency to overload a planning commission with architects, engineers, and builders. One planning director would prefer a better spokesman to balance the present domination of engineers and architects. He suggests a lawyer, top-notch business man, or a strong industrialist, and perhaps a labor leader.

The staff of a planning agency which has board members well qualified in technical matters, points out that "The Board does not have any members politically alert in municipal affairs."

A staff member in a community where a number of property managers and retail and service trade occupations are represented seeks: "...Members interested in more orderly civil development, keener appreciation of esthetic values. They (present members) probably have some of this but seem a little reticent about displaying it."

A large city staff member seeks "fine outstanding businessmen" and another large city spokesman thinks that neighborhood improvement associations should be represented.

Staff members who feel the need for additional labor group representation are primarily from industrial communities. The need was expressed thus:

"...This is an industrial metropolis. After several years of non­representation, there is now one such representative... We have had a more or less 'blue stocking' Commission, with good intentions but unrealistic views on some things. More good labor representatives would give better balance."

Another voice from an industrial -community comments: "Labor groups might be of help in further consolidating diverse thinking into a more common line," while still another states that the reason for wishing additional labor representation is "obvious." A county with important industrial centers says that its "Commission does not represent society. It should include at least one woman, a labor representative, P.T.A., farmer, etc."

Additional social or civic group representation is viewed as of two-fold benefit: first, in transmitting otherwise neglected attitudes to the planning commission, and secondly, as helping to "'sell" planning. For example:

"Social groups should be represented, for through their knowledge of social needs, certain practices in construction and developments not conducive to better living conditions could be eliminated. Civic groups should be represented since they are in direct contact with the residents of community groups and can either bring to the Commission the ideas of their communities or take to the community the plans of the commission. Lawyers, engineers, and architects can be most helpful, since many problems involving their skills arise and the staff is thereby relieved of many details of convincing the Commission on these points."

"Our greatest need in this respect is a representative from one or more women's organizations. The groups have been fairly active and reasonably effective in promoting desirable civic improvements, and our contact, which is now one of communication only, should be strengthened."

"Members of civic or service clubs or other organizations interested in the development of the city (P.T.A., etc.) would probably talk up the planning program and so interest a greater number of the public in the workings of the Planning Commission."

Other responses indicating groups which are unrepresented at present and in need of recognition, or in need of additional representation, include the following:

Minority groups (low income) needed for balance Racial minority groups
Social welfare and social service
Women's groups
Neighborhood groups
Advertising field
Cross-section of business and professional talent Outstanding business men
Building trades council
Contractor's associations
Building design and construction
League of Women Voters — because group is politically active
Ministerial associations — because this would be ethically stabilizing
College professors — academic objectivity (also student work is valuable as source of basic data)
School teacher
Student or school-age representation Parent Teacher Association
Organized labor
An Indian

The above data gives the range of desired additional representation. Two unusual proposals are those proposing that the younger generation should be given a voice through student or school-age representation, and (from a Western community) that an Indian be present. "The Indian problem is most serious in _____ and hence Indian representation on the Commission would be desirable (if an Indian can be found who would be willing to assume an active role)."

For the most part, however, staff members did not signify a need for additional representation on the commission. This was expressed four ways: (1) the present commission is well-balanced, as good as could be desired, as representative as possible with a small commission; (2) additional social or civic or other groups would tend to become pressure groups, or would cause confusion; (3) representation could be or is being furnished through an advisory body; and (4) what was important was the quality of the individual, and not the representation of a group. Quotations illustrate each of the above attitudes:

(1)  "We now have a good cross section of public represented."

"The present Commission represents a good cross-section of business and professional talent. It is believed that all sections of the city should be represented but this might lead to sectional disputes."

"Commission is well-balanced."

"Our Commission members are all professional people. Good set up."
"I believe the membership of our Commission represents, or are in some way associated with groups having to do with planning matters and see no need for further representation."

"The board is represented on the Chamber of Commerce Realty Board, Merchants' Association, and Citizen Civic Associations. Their directors and members are freely consulted."

(2)  "I do not feel that social and civic group membership is advisable. I think that what we have, i.e., a cross-section of technical and professional men is about the nearest approach to practicable planning. Social and civic groups somehow always tend to confuse the issue because of lack of knowledge of the specific problem. They are a 'necessary evil' in assisting the Commission in making important decisions, but I feel that representation on the Commission would only tend to confuse, rather than enlighten."

"No. They develop into pressure groups for selfish motives."

"Absolutely no. It has been my experience that when too many groups and persons attempt to plan a city, a chaotic condition arises which results in a lack of planning, as each group has its own particular project it wishes to project first into any planning without consideration to other groups or the Planning Commission."

"No civic groups seem in need of 'representation.'"

(3)  "In the City of _____ the Planning Commission has both a Fine Arts Advisory Committee and a General Advisory Committee. On the General Advisory Committee are representatives of all social and civic groups and, in my opinion, we need no further representation than we now have."
"I doubt that additional membership on the Commission would be of much service, unless the Commission could be reorganized so that the direct function of the Commission could be handled by a small executive committee. It is my feeling that the broad representation of planning should come through a planning association."

"...Selection of members on the basis of Social and Civic groups might result in claims for representation by a large number of such groups. (Such representation should be through a Citizens' Planning Organization.)"

"Additional social and civic groups, occupations and skills are represented on the Planning Board through the appointment of ad-hoc advisory subcommittees to the Planning Board (usually with one Planning Board member who acts as Chairman) ranging in size from 5 to 35 members, depending on the degree of public interest in the project. In this way, the staff has available the best of help from outstanding leaders in the community on any given project."

"...Our relationship is such that civic and social groups are as anxious for our material and collaboration as we are for theirs. Their proper place for representation is on the non-official planning group..."

"It may be argued that the inclusion of such groups will improve public relations and understanding. This can be accomplished if they are called upon to serve in advisory capacity, when deemed desirable, either independently or in association with other groups as citizens' councils."

"Our Commission is well supplied already with men of leadership in their fields. We do not favor representatives from other groups as such. However, the interest and assistance of all groups may be solicited by means of educating such groups in the aims and objectives of planning and zoning. We have a Citizens' Action Group which involves a large number of representative people who are of assistance. "

(4)  "Don't think it's a question of representation. Substantial citizens who are civic minded and can afford the time are what is needed. A prominent member of the banking fraternity can be a big help."

"In my opinion, the less attention is paid to representation of groups, occupations, etc., on the commission and the more the appointing body (Mayor and Council) endeavor to secure men of broad experience, some age and especially independence, the better for all."

"In my opinion, the person who serves is more important than the group he represents. Too much emphasis on representation of 'groups' may lead to undue pressure on the Commission."

A director who finds that representation both from technical and social groups is not desirable per se states:

"No, I am not too keen on social and civic group representation on a planning commission, especially if it is highly technical in the fields of engineering, architecture, and law...Too much chance for interference with the Director's initiative, enthusiasm, and pride. Just choose persons of good character, reasonable background of education, with a sense of honesty and pride and enthusiasm in a public connection of this kind."

A staff member of a county planning agency adeptly sums up the attitudes in this category:

"It is undoubtedly desirable to have a wide variety of background in the way of social, civic, and professional interest among members of the Commission; however, the personal capacity of the individual member to deal objectively with the problems of planning is of primary importance in selection of members of the Commission. In selecting a Commission member, no compromise should be made in this matter just to get somebody from a particular group."


The largest concentration of planning commission members is in the 45-49 age group, with 62 members being within this category; ages were given for 342 members. Almost as large a concentration is the group of 58 of the 50-54 age category. The largest reported concentration for a single year is that of 34 persons who are 60 years old. However, there is an obvious bias in replying to an age question; respondents gave approximate ages which were accurate to the nearest five year interval. Thus 30 members were indicated as being 55 years of age, although only seven were shown as being 54, and eight as being 56.

The bar chart below indicates the age distribution of commission members by five year intervals. The mode, as was mentioned above, is the 45-49 year old group. The mean age is 52, while the median age is 54.


Age distribution of commission members

It will be readily seen that there is a heavy concentration in the ages of 45 to 64, with about equal distribution between those under 45 and those over 64. It is interesting to note that 30 persons are 70 and above, while only 8 are under 35.

Although most commissions have a distribution of age representation corresponding to the over-all age distribution, there are some commissions whose members are predominantly old, and others predominantly young.

The youngest member of a southern city commission is 68, with the other members having ages of 74, 77, and 82.

Contrasting sharply with this commission is that of a California city which has a mean age of 41. In general, the cities and counties with the youngest commission members are in the Western portion of the United States (although some of the commissions with the oldest members are too). There was no apparent correlation between size of community and age of commission.


Only the larger cities of the nation have selected women to serve as planning commission members. Fourteen reporting cities have seen fit to give women an official voice in the planning process: Detroit, Cleveland, Boston, Pittsburgh, New Orleans, Cincinnati, Newark (two), Dallas (two), Rochester, St. Paul, Sacramento, Albuquerque, Austin, and Bay City. Almost all of the female members are in cities with populations of over 250,000; only two of the reported female members are in cities of less than 100,000. However, there are other examples of women participating on planning commissions not covered in the survey. For example, the chairman of the Dearborn, Michigan, Planning Commission is a woman; women are also represented in San Francisco and Westchester County.

Every one of the 16 reported women members is prominent in her city — as a member of a profession or a housewife with civic interests. The 12 housewives (one a widow), have achieved renown in or occupy positions of importance in the following fields:

Women's club work
League of Women Voters
President of Y.W.C.A. Board
Writer and publicist
Chairlady of Women's Democratic State Committee
Reform political party

Four are career women engaged in the professions of planning, banking, law, and architecture. The woman architect was selected to fulfill the city charter requirement that an architect be represented on the commission.

In addition to planning, these women are active in other civic organizations; garden societies, a war memorial committee, and a number of women's organizations are examples. Efforts of several women are also directed toward public relations aspects of planning and cooperation with various civic groups.

Attendance at planning commission meetings runs higher than 90 per cent for all women members. Their median length of service is five years with the newest appointee having served a year, and the most senior, 14 years.

The age of women plan commission members is similar to that of the men. The youngest, a lawyer, is 30, the oldest is 70, while the preponderant number fall within the 45-55 age group.

There seems to be no greater representation of women on planning commissions in 1950 than there was in 1937-38. Robert Walker*** reported that 12 out of 208 commissioners were women; PLANNING ADVISORY SERVICE's survey revealed that there are now 16 out of 558. (Although the proportion of women appears to be smaller in 1950, this may merely reflect the differences in sampling and reporting. If Walker had surveyed the same communities, he might have revealed higher proportions; also PLANNING ADVISORY SERVICE includes ex-officio members in its summary table while Walker does not. Ex-officio members by virtue of their positions are most likely to be men.)


Robert Walker reported that there was only one Negro represented on planning commissions during the time (1937-38) data was gathered for his book The Planning Function in Urban Government. This slight representation has not changed perceptibly. In 1950, only two cities — and these of nearly a million population — indicated that Negroes were represented on their commissions.

Since reorganization in Cleveland in 1941, a Negro has served on the commission. The present member is a 55 year old businessman who is prominent in Catholic Charities. He has served on the commission four years and is specifically interested in slum clearance. In Baltimore, a Negro physician has served on the commission for 10 years.

Attendance at Meetings

Attendance at planning commission meeting is high according to the questionnaire response. Ninety percent of the 410 members for whom data was given attended half or more of the meetings, and almost half the members attend every meeting (or approximation thereof) with 90 to 100 percent attendance. Only 5 percent attended less than 20 per cent of the meetings.

Illness accounted for some of the low attendance records. Mayors and labor officials were among those with poorest attendance. In absolute terms, there were more ex-officio members in the group with low attendance than citizen members but there were also a good many ex-officio members who were reported as turning up at every meeting. It was not possible to judge whether those with poor attendance records showed up at important meetings. (There was no way of knowing whether a mayor or labor official might, for example, appear at a policy meeting, but not at routine meetings.)

There appears to be no significant difference between the attendance of county and of city planning agency members. Apparently there is no correlation between attendance record and length of service of commission members. Attendance was not analyzed in terms of occupation or major interests of members.

Years Served on Plan Commission


Years Number of Members Years Number of Members
Less than 1 32 16 4
1 57 17 1
2 52 18 3
3 37 19 3
4 48 20 2
5 41 21 2
6 19 22 2
7 21 25 2
8 18 26 1
9 12 27 1
10 21 28 1
11 6 30 1
12 5 31 1
13 11 Total 410
14 4    
15 2    

Responses indicated that length of service ranges from new appointments to one member with 31 years of service, with most concentrated in the period from one to four years. Length of service is influenced by the fact that some commissions are of recent establishment while others date back several decades. In certain cases, entire commissions are composed of recently appointed members, although the commissions themselves were established much earlier.

Reasons for Selection of Members

A wide range of replies to the question, "Why was this member selected to serve on the commission?" indicates considerations similar to those involved in the replies on occupation and additional representation. Since respondents might not in all cases know why a particular member was selected, their replies include surmises.

"Good knowledge of city and interest in future growth," "interest, good judgment, leading citizen," "public spirited and civic-minded citizen," "ability and civic interest," "interest in community betterment," and "personality" (the most typical such answer) were frequently applied en masse to every single member of the commission involved.

Other replies were more differentiated, including such reasons for selection as "clearance by party machine," "political," "friend of the mayor," and "friend of council president." Also, "at his own request," "selected because his work greatly affected by proposals of the plan commission," "because he is an outstanding business leader who has shown leadership in community enterprises," "knowledge of the city, local born," "business ability, general civic respect, honesty," and "we selected men for their general ability and judgment. Attempt to get some who are familiar with special fields of activity."

Many persons were evidently chosen because of the representation their occupational interests would give. The following types of answers are indicative:

To represent a given profession.
To represent a specific area.
To represent the interests of a given economic group.
To represent a particular religious, racial, or national group.
Knowledge and experience in planning, research and education, engineering, real estate, etc.
"Attempt to make the planning commission more widely representative."
Requested, recommended, or urged by a given group such as social workers, AIA chapter, Engineers' society.
"To represent rural interests."
Selected by council from councilmen.

In a number of cities, the planning program operates under impetus given by a reform political party or a spontaneous recognition by a group of progressive-minded citizens of the urgent need for comprehensive planning action. In such cases, this has been a factor in the selection of members for the planning commission. Typical of such replies were the following:

"Recommended by Citizens' Planning Action Committee."
"Member of the reform party."
"Some of the members of the group suggesting organization of the planning board were appointed as official members."

Considering that members may give insufficient attention to the fulfilling of their duties as commission members, some commissions appear to appreciate members selected because of "available time."

The issue of whether or not the planning commission is political and should as such be frankly represented in commission membership was not raised by the respondents. However, it is apparent that the political reasons for selection of members are fairly widespread. Some respondents, however, pointed out that members seem to have been selected on non-political grounds:

"No partisan political issues have been influential in the selection of members."
"Recognized civic leader — no political background."

Specific Sphere of Interest in Planning Program

The question on the specific sphere of interest of the commission members in the planning program was included to see (1) how closely the interest in the work of the agency corresponded to the occupation and other major interests of the individual, and (2) what the general outlook of commission members is.

There is a marked relationship between reported sphere of interest in planning and occupation. For example, a settlement worker is reported as mainly being interested in recreation, a school principal in school problems, a civil engineer in highways, a housewife-clubwoman in making public information about planning, an architect in civil and cultural centers. This was generally the case, wherever specific fields of interest were indicated. There were exceptions, of course, such as the medical doctor who is most interested in industrial development, the executive secretary of a labor union who is most interested in street planning, etc.

A few examples illustrate the relationship of occupation and major civic interest and affiliation to the specific spheres of interest in the planning program.

From a small community, it is reported that the chairman, a real estate appraiser, affiliated with the chamber of commerce, is interested in zoning and subdivisions. The city assessor is interested in these subjects plus the capital budget. An attorney, affiliated with the merchants' association, is interested in zoning, recreation and education. An investment banker, connected with a citizens, association, is interested in recreation, zoning and housing; an accountant (also connected with a citizens' association) is interested in capital expenditures and recreation. The Commissioner of Public Works is interested in streets and capital expenditures, while the superintendent of schools is interested in education and housing.

In a large city, publications and cooperation with citizen groups are the chief interests of a businessman and a housewife; air, rail and water transportation and industrial development are the main interests of an industrialist and a lawyer-councilman; highways, parking, traffic and transit are the interests of a retired banker. The architect chairman is interested in zoning and redevelopment; the city manager in zoning.

Many answers indicate a "general" or "over-all" interest of the members in planning. Sometimes entire commissions were so categorized, e.g., the large city response, "All the present commissioners have a general interest in planning only. They do not represent a specific group or point of view." However, in some such instances, the reason given for initial selection of members was to represent very specific points of view — realty, architecture, business, a specific geographic area.

The listing below indicates the range of reported interests of commission members, and the "weighting" of these interests. The reported emphases have been grouped and listed in declining frequency; there are a number of reported interests which did not lend themselves to classification and have been listed separately under "other." In some cases, the interest referred to is the name of the sub-committee on which the individual serves. Where the individual is reported to have several major interests, each such interest has been noted:

General interest — 96 (Including master plan, completion of preliminary studies for city plan, etc. Includes two persons interested in the official map.)
Zoning — 59 (Includes one who "doesn't believe in it.") Streets, highways, traffic — 48
Housing, redevelopment, slum clearance — 38 Subdivision control — 25
Parks and recreation — 20
Civic centers, public buildings, architecture and architectural control — 19
Public works and capital improvements — 15
Transportation (Rail, water, air) — 12
Education and school planning — 10
Legal and legislative interest — 10 (Includes one interested in the administration of law.)
Industrial and commercial development — 9
Transit — 8
Parking — 7
Land development and land use — 6
Public information, publications, cooperation with citizen groups — 6 (Three who were reported as interested in education and classified with school planning above, might be added to this category.)
Social welfare and health — 4
Population — 4
River front — 4
Administration and personnel — 3
Furthering interests of particular section of city — 3
Geodetic and topographic survey — 3
Other: Financial — 2

Building promotion
Building valuation
Building (labor)
Better public services
Curb breaks
Set backs
Balanced relationship between business and residential districts
Neighborhood patterns
Neighborhood development
Community development
Neighborhood and community development
Procedure and publication — 3
"Making a good city."
Public improvement
Maintaining property values of city
"Protecting 'good' neighborhoods."

In counties, the following were represented as the specific interests of the commission members in the planning program:

General — 16
Zoning — 3
Transportation — 3
Subdivisions — 2
Recreation — 2
Subdivision design
Roads and traffic
Highway design
Auto parking
Park design
Strong support of planning program in press
County government.

Function and Suggested Function of the Commission Members

Only 36 city planning agencies replied to both questions regarding the function and suggested function of the commission members. One-third of these state that there are no additional ways in which their commission members can be of assistance. The staff members believe that it would be unreasonable for more to be expected of unpaid members. The chief functions of the commission members are to set policy, to make contacts with other organizations and with government officials, to attend and address public meetings, to "sell" planning, and in general, the staff is most pleased with this role.

Two-thirds of the reporting city planning agencies stated that there were additional ways in which the commission members could be of assistance. Since the question of time available or other considerations were not discussed, the responses must be evaluated in terms of possibilities within particular communities.

In some cases, commission members very generously give their time to detailed work in the consideration of zoning, street vacations, platting, capital improvement, budgets, etc. These members are active, energetic, spend many hours in hearings and meetings, etc., and frequently work in committee form along with staff members. In general, in those agencies where commission members concentrate on detailed work (such as gathering data, passing on individual zoning variances, or subdivision plats, etc.) the staff would prefer that more time be given to consideration of over-all policy matters and to promoting planning within the community (either through education of the general public or through liaison with public officials). In some cases, the legal framework of the commission is at fault and it is mandatory that the planning commission members, for example, pass on zoning matters.

Some of the functions of the commission members for which the staffs are grateful are those of "taking the heat off staff in controversies”; advice and guidance to staff representing public viewpoint in planning; help on specific problems in the members' fields of competence; active committee work; support of budget requests; sounding board on policy matters; interpretation of planning agency proposals to official and unofficial agencies; making community aware of need for planning; being informed of the nature of the community.

Some of the ways in which commission members could be of more assistance were stated as follows:

Commission members could become more familiar with the plan and do more to sell it in city organizations and areas. They could initiate new approaches and new studies.

Commission members could put pressure on the mayor to get a budget to support adequate qualified technical staffs.

Commission members could inform themselves more about planning and could increase their efforts to improve relations with the officials and the public.

Commission members should make more frequent field and inspection trips of sites and projects and could consult with the staff more often.

Commission members should devote more time to decisions to make them on basis of fact rather than on personal feelings.

Commission members should respect the staff in submitting to it planning matters for their opinion.

Commission members should attend the meetings better and understand the work of the staff better so as to expedite same.

Commission members should more regularly attend the meetings and give personal inspection of sites in planning and zoning. They should make a greater use of the committees to expedite and give closer study to plans.

Commission members should more actively represent the Planning Board needs and proposals to Council and other city agencies.

There should be less perfunctory attendance and participation by several of the members.

Size of Commission

The size of a planning commission is usually established by law. For all cities and counties reporting, the mean number of members on commissions is approximately 9. The largest reporting commission is that of Danville, Illinois, with 17 members; the smallest, that of Ramsay County, New York, with 3. (There are larger commissions. Chicago has 34 members, 20 of whom are ex-officio.)

Planning agency staff members asked what they considered the optimum size of a planning commission, indicated a range of from 4 to 5 members up to 20 members (approximately the reported existing range of 3-17). Almost all answers indicated that the present commission size was satisfactory; only a few stated an optimum which differed from the existing size. Those who expressed a desire for a different size of commission generally wanted a reduction in the number of members. Six replies indicated a desire for change, generally from the 11-15 member category to the 6-9.

A partial explanation of this seems to be that several directors do not regard their ex-officio members as fully active or qualified participants in the functioning of the body. One director of a county agency would reduce the size of his commission from 11 to 5 because he disagrees with the prevailing sentiment that representation on an area basis is necessary. Another planning director simply feels that his commission is too cumbersome and that it should be reduced from 11 to 7 or 9. A director of planning in a rapidly growing city feels that although a smaller size (7-9) would normally be the optimum, the extensive development and fast growth justify the larger size.

Opinion is about evenly divided on the major issue of whether a "small" or "large" commission is preferable. Among the proponents of large commissions, several directors pessimistically hope to get a few interested, punctual, capable commission members by having a large total number of members: that is, a commission should be "adequate to assure a reasonable chance to get several active members." Other large commission supporters believe that:

"Less than seven would not secure sufficient breadth of experience to generate really fundamental decisions on policy," and "larger group would give opportunity for possible classification distribution of membership, or a wider membership on an interest basis."

In examining the relationship between desired size of commission and desired help from the commission members, it was found that supporters of a large commission offered reasons such as the following:

"Smaller groups would be overloaded."

"Because of the heavy volume of development and the considerable amount of committee work required, we find the larger commission essential in order to prevent unreasonable burdening of the members."

"We have thirteen members; we need this many for forming the various sub-groups of which we have seven. Even then we have duplications. We do not find the number too cumbersome in general meetings."

Small commission arguments include many similar to the following:

"A commission larger than 9 might be a little perplexing."

"Large groups do not take responsibility seriously."

"Over eleven might easily cause too much time lost in debate."

"Too large a commission develops a case of 'let George do it.'"

"A small permanent commission, provided its operations can be augmented from time to time with advisory sub-committees. Experience indicates that this type of a group will really work and take a direct personal interest in the operations of the planning process. "

"With 11 it begins to be cumbersome — that's because of the individuals, maybe."

"The larger commissions complain of the difficulty of reaching a decision."

"The commission should be small unless its purpose is representation alone."

"Large groups may tend to split up into local representation groups - wards, if you will - with consequent local partisanship of attitude."

"Because the smaller group is more efficient in handling public meetings."

"The smaller the number, the greater the tendency to get down to business rather than talk on irrelevant matters."

"Anything in excess of five citizens would prove cumbersome. The smaller the commission, the easier it is to get unanimity of opinion on matters of policy in planning. With commissions having large memberships, the tendency is to divide up into committees, resulting in the committees finally attempting to do staff work, or to become involved in administrative details, when the primary function of a commission is to address itself to matters of broad general policy."

A medium sized commission is favored by one director who says, "Less than 8 can likely cause a commission to become a static body, while 8 is of sufficient size to permit representation by various groups, skills, and occupations, and not too large to permit reasonable administrative control." In substantial agreement is another who feels that "more than 9 would be unwieldy, less would fail to represent various elements of the city adequately."

Quorums present a problem which various directors of planning would solve in various ways - some by large and some by smaller commissions:

"Nine members provides a minimum of 4 or 5 commissioners present at all meetings."

"With 9 members, we have always had more than a quorum (5 members) at every meeting."

On the other hand... "We have now a nine member commission and find a quorum of five is sometimes hard to assemble. Recommend seven."

"The difficulty of getting a quorum with a larger group."

"State law requires a two-thirds vote on action involving the official plan...six would be best ...a quorum of four could be obtained."

"It is believed that an odd number of seven or nine is the optimum size, providing that business can be conducted by three or five members after recommendations have been received from committees. A quorum of less than the majority should be established. This would permit the prompt clearance of dockets and avoid undue delay on decisions."

Other planning directors see either direct or inverse relationships between the size of a community and the optimum number of commission members:

"Nine to fifteen, depending upon the size of the city."

"For a city over one-half million, 7 to 9 at least; fewer could hardly be representative of the various groups that ought to be in."

"Our present commission is composed of five members. This seems to work out very well for a city of more than 50,000. Any more would prove unwieldy."

"In our city of more than 50,000, I feel that our regular membership of 15 members is an optimum size. Beyond that size, I feel the group becomes unworkable. Yet, with 15 members, it is possible to divide the work of the commission into a number of committees without overburdening any particular member. Our committee work is large because of the amount of planning matters transacted by our commission."

"Depends upon the size of the community, but _____ with over 150,000 could well use six persons."

"Small city — 15; large city — 5 to 8. The small city has a man-on-the-street importance and a feeling of equal importance between citizens, clubs, organizations, etc. A small commission would be politically improper. The larger city loses this feeling and representation of the vast number of agencies would be impossible. The efficiency gained from a small number can be gained without hard feelings."

The question of optimum size also involves the wisdom of inclusion or exclusion of ex-officio members. There is diversity of opinion on this issue, too, as reflected by the following:

"I think our commission of 9 members with none ex-officio is ideal."

"Nine in our case. We could then have the Commissioner of Finance or Public Safety. More members — more views, ideas, or opinions."

"Six lay members and three ex-officio members, including the City Manager, a member of the City Council chosen by the Council and one administrative official chosen by the City Manager has been quite satisfactory. It has been policy to elect the chairman and vice-chairman from the lay members. This arrangement makes for good relations with the legislative body, the chief administrator and other administrative departments as well as satisfactory citizen representation."

A feeling that size (similar to representation) is irrelevant and that all the desired goals could be accomplished through proper selection of members is echoed by several directors:

"The question of size is irrelevant. The main question is how interested the members are, whether there are one or twenty."

"Greater care should be given to the qualifications of the members, as has been done in this city."

"There is obviously no specific optimum as it depends upon personalities."

Larger size and geographical representation seem to be more stressed in the case of counties than for city agencies. In some cases enabling statutes provide specifically for this, as follows:

"Limited by law to not less than 4 and not more than 20 members, made up of 2 representatives from each municipal member unit."

"In this state, active membership is limited to twelve. If it were not for the seeming need for representation from the entire county, I would recommend a board of five representing architectural, civil engineering professions, an economist, and a realtor."

"About 20 members, giving us representation from each of the 19 towns comprising the county, and a representative from the City of _____."

"This comment applies only to county or regional planning bodies, at least 9 in order to make possible geographical representation. Five to seven members for a single municipality should be sufficient. Certainly an odd number is desirable from the standpoint of voting convenience. I agree with Walker's thesis of a single planning director or commissioner only for a community with reasonably long experience in planning and where there is not much controversy over the status of planning as a municipal function. This is not true in _____, where the planning commission carries a great deal of respect and thus gives technical recommendations much more weight."


The responses to the survey conducted by PLANNING ADVISORY SERVICE indicate that on the whole, staff members are pleased with both who their Commission members are and what they do. Certain recommendations for increasing the representation of the commission, for altering its size, and for different or additional functions of its members, have been made. The ultimate test of a commission is its effectiveness in comprehending and performing the tasks before it. Basic to fulfilling these tasks are the zeal, foresight, unselfishness and courage that commission members possess individually and collectively.



(Arranged according to population size)

Class I (Over 1,000,004)   Class V (50,000 to 99,999)  
Philadelphia, Penn. 2,064,794 Albuquerque, N. Mex. 97,012
Los Angeles, Calif. 1,957,692 Madison, Wis. 95,594
Detroit, Mich. 1,838,517 Saginaw, Mich. 92,352
    Schenectedy, N.Y. 92,070
Class II (500,000 to 999,999)   Burbank, Calif. 78,318
Baltimore, Md. 940,205 Davenport, Ia. 70,749
Cleveland, O. 905,636 Lakewood, O. 67,878
Boston, Mass. 788,600 Waterloo, Ia. 64,214
Pittsburgh, Penn. 673,763 Bay City, Mich. 52,372
Milwaukee, Wis. 632,651    
Houston, Tex. 594,321 Class VI (Under 50, 000)  
Buffalo, N.Y. 577,393 Tucson, Ariz. 45,064
New Orleans, La. 567,257 White Plains, N.Y. 43,501
Minneapolis, Minn. 517,277 Danville, Ill. 37,892
Cincinnati, O. 500,511 Merced, Calif. 15,144
    Palm Springs, Calif. 7,428
Class III (250,000 to 499,999)      
Seattle, Wash. 462,440 COUNTIES  
Kansas City, Mo. 453,200 Alameda, Calif. 733,999
Newark, N.J. 437,857 Bergen, N.J. 536,310
Dallas, Tex. 432,927 Monroe, N.Y. 484,877
Denver, Col. 412,856 Jefferson, Ky.* 482,285
Oakland, Calif. 380,576 Montgomery, O. 396,561
Portland, Ore. 371,011 Ramsay, Minn. 353,194
Louisville, Ky.* 367,359 Davidson, Tenn.** 324,388
Rochester, N.Y. 331,252 Sacramento, Calif. 275,659
Atlanta, Ga. 327,090 Fresno, Calif. 274,225
St, Paul, Minn. 309,474 Middlesex, N.J. 264,659
    Knox, Tenn. 221,825
Class IV (100,000 to 249,999)   Spokane, Wash. 224,149
Providence, R.I. 247,700 Orange, Calif.*** 214,061
Norfolk, Va. 188,601 Broome, N.Y. 184,664
Nashville, Tenn.** 173,359 Pima, Ariz. 141,074
New Haven, Conn. 163,344 Arlington, Va.*** 134,990
Flint, Mich. 162,800    
Sacramento, Calif. 135,761    
Austin, Tex. 131,964    
Cambridge, Mass. 120,676    
Waterbury, Conn. 104,242    

(Differences between the order in this list and that in Information Report Number 18 due to later 1950 Census figures becoming available.)

* One single commission represents both Louisville and Jefferson County.

** The membership of the Davidson County Planning Commission (10) includes the total membership of the Nashville City Planning Commission (5).

*** Information was obtained from sources other than questionnaire and pertains only to size of commission, ex-officio, and occupation.



Function of Planning Commission

a. In what ways do the members of the planning commission help the staff? What are the actual functions of the planning commission in the planning program?

b. In what other additional ways do you think the members of the planning commission could assist the staff?

c. Should additional social and civic groups, occupations, and skills be represented by membership on the commission? If so, which ones would be most helpful to you, and why?

d. From your personal experience, what do you think is the optimum size of a planning commission? Why?

Membership Composition of the Planning Commission

1. Members (indicate by X if ex-officio).
2. Main occupation.
3. Major civic interest and affiliation.
4. Age.
5. Sex (M, F).
6. Race (W, N).
7. Approximate percentage of planning commission meetings attended 1949-50.
8. Specific sphere(s) of interest in planning program.
9. Why was this member selected to serve on the commission?
10. Years served on planning commission.


Detailed List of Occupations of Planning Commission Members

A summary table, such as that presented in the text of this report, must sacrifice richness of detail in answering a question such as "Who are our commission members?" This listing reproduces questionnaire responses as fully as possible. Thus, the owner or president of a company can be differentiated from a foreman, a salesman, etc.

Some of the responses indicated that the individuals had dual or several occupations. The most frequent cases of this were for those with government affiliations. An arbitrary decision was made in classifying these persons under "government"; this was done to show the extent of governmental contact. All ex-officio members (104) are included in this category. Some municipal officials serve on county planning agencies, while some county officials serve on city agencies.


Municipal 85
City Manager 5
City Manager — engineer
City Manager — accountant
Mayor 11
Mayor — lawyer
Mayor — undertaker
Mayor — City Commissioner — teacher
Mayor — insurance
Councilman 2
Councilman — warehouse broker
Councilman — salesman
Councilman — lawyer 2
Councilman — theater owner
Councilman — grocer - farming
Councilman — manager trailer park
Councilman — builder
Councilman — restaurateur
Councilman — filling station proprietor
Commissioner — owns wholesale company
Commissioner of Public Works 2
Director of Public Works 8
Director of Public Works — labor executive
Director of City Transit Department
Chief Engineer
City Engineer 7
Assistant City Engineer
Civil Engineer Ex-officio member Department of Public Works
Village Engineer
Alderman — architect
Alderman — political science professor
Board of Education — engineer
Member Consolidated School District Board
Board of Education member — printing company owner
Superintendent of Schools
Superintendent of Buildings of City
Chief of City Construction
City Building Inspection Superintendent
Building inspector
Chief of Construction' for Housing Authority
Administrator of Housing Authority
Public Housing
Superintendent of Parks
President Board of Park Commissioners
Park Board member — retired businessman
Sanitary District member
Director Water Department
Director of Welfare Department
Member of Town Board 3
City Assessor 2
City Attorney
City Clerk

County 39
County Manager 2
County Commissioner
County Commissioner — cash register manufacturing official
County Commissioner — farmer
County Commissioner — banker
County Board of Supervisors
County Supervisor — butcher
County Supervisor — certified public accountant
County Board of Freeholders 4
County Board — Finance
County Director of Public Works
Commissioner of Public Works
Highway Commissioner
Construction Superintendent County Highway Department
Road Commissioner
County Highway Department
County Highway Superintendent
County Road Engineer
County Engineer 3
Assistant County Engineer
Consulting Engineer with flood control and Highway Department
County Surveyor 2
Building Inspector
County Judge 2
Deputy County Counsel
County Legal Adviser
District Attorney
Deputy County Attorney — attorney and rancher
Constable — real estate broker
County Auditor (keeper of county records )
County Treasurer

State 7
Member of State Legislature — wholesale drugs
Member of State Legislature — lawyer
Engineer — State Board of Equalization
State Highway Bridge Engineer
State Highway Engineer
Cashier in State Treasurer's office
State Senator — attorney

Federal 6
Federal Judge
Congressman — attorney
FHA Consultant
FHA Field Office Director
Department of Agriculture employee
Executive Secretary of Presidential Council of Economic Advisors


Owners and executives 32
Manufacturers (undesignated)
Manufacturer and real estate dealer
Furniture manufacturing (industrial executive)
Industrialists (undesignated) 8
Industrial executive
Industrial Superintendent
Owner of printing company
Owner of heavy machinery foundry
President of sheet metal company
President pharmaceutical plant
Vice-President of playing card company
Packing plant executive
Personnel manager
Standard sanitary plumbing
Wood products
Canvas goods


Wholesale 6
Wholesale merchant
Manager of oil distributing company
Paint and glass

Retail 40
Auto dealer 2
Retail auto distributor
Building materials dealer
Department store (owner, owner and manager, Board chairman, executive, manager) 6
Druggist 5
Farm store
Feed grain, coal
Paint store owner
Produce merchant
Seed business
Shoe merchant
Shoe store owner
Welder's equipment supply, manager and owner
Businessman 6
Merchant 4
Neighborhood merchant


Banker 7
Bank president 2
Bank vice-president
Investment banker
Real estate development for large bank
Bank loans
Loan Company
Building and loan
Insurance 4
Insurance company president
Insurance company executive
Insurance agent 2
Life Insurance
Insurance and bonds


Realtor or Real Estate 23
Real estate appraiser
Real estate and insurance 4
Real estate and investment executive
Real estate and building
Real estate firm president 2
Real estate executive
Real estate broker
Real estate operator
Real estate broker and manager
Industrial realtor
Downtown realtor 2
Bank building manager
Property manager
Property manager for construction company
Apartment owner and manager


Builder 4
Secretary treasurer of building company
Carpenter and builder
President of construction company
Superintendent of construction
Contractor 7
Electrical contractor 2


Architects 32
Architect 30
Professor of architecture
Architect — State of Wisconsin

Planning 8
Planners 6
Professors of Planning 2

Engineers 30
Civil 8
Consulting 4
Civil — highways
Engineer — sales
Mechanical 2
Structural 2
Engineer and surveyor
Undesignated 7


Dentist 4
Doctor 5
Lawyer 38
Plant scientist
Social Service Administrator
Social Service worker


Educator — Business Research

Civil Engineering
Physical Education

School Principal 4
School system business manager
Superintendent of Schools
University Chancellor


Farmer 7
Farmer and varied financial
Florist and vegetable grower
Fruit grower
Milk producer
President of nurseries
Rancher 2


Auditor of railroad
General manager of railroad
Railroad (undesignated)
Vice-president of transit company
Motor freight
Manager of trucking company
Attorney for transportation company
Airport manager


Lobbyist for advertising agency
Advertising executive
Newspaper editor
Newspaper publisher 2
Newspaper publisher and lawyer


Auto electric shop owner
Dry cleaning business
Owner and manager of garbage collection service
Laundry manager
Restaurant owner and investor


Public utilities
Public utilities executive
Power company employee
Telephone company official


Banker 2

Civil 2
Telephone company
Undesignated 2


Oil company
Undesignated 2

State Legislator
On Bank Board of appraisers — retired University business manager
Undesignated 5


Labor executive 12
Labor executive and editor
Labor representative 2


Housewife 11
Housewife and writer


Accountant 2
Accountant, Public
Attorney and tax consultant
Auto salesman
Cemetery superintendent
Counsel for hotel agency
Crane operator
Director, Bureau of Municipal Research
Executive Secretary of Chamber of Commerce
Association of Commerce Representative
Landscape architect
Landscape architect — nurseryman
News agency
Night watchman
Production worker in chemical plant
Secretary of Board of Commerce
Tax Consultant



*See Appendix A for list of responding agencies.

**For list of questions asked, see Appendix B.

***In his The Planning Function in Urban Government (enlarged and republished in 1950 by the University of Chicago Press, Chicago 37, Illinois).

Copyright, American Society of Planning Officials, 1950.