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 Community Development Director at the City of Salem, Oregon. He is a regular contributor to the APA's Zoning Practice magazine and has also been featured with blogs, video series, and articles with, Practicing Planning, Better! Cities and Towns, and Public Management Magazine. He is also a member of the APA's Foresight Commmittee on Artificial Intelligence.