Comprehensive Plan Standards for Sustaining Places

APA's work in developing the comprehensive standards grew out of a larger APA initiative, Sustaining Places.

Through the Sustaining Places Initiative, the comprehensive plan was recognized as ideal vehicle for addressing the sustainability challenge:

Planning for sustainability is the defining challenge of the 21st century. Overcoming deeply ingrained economic and cultural patterns that result in resource depletion, climate instability, and economic and social stress requires holistic problem solving that blends the best scientific understanding of existing conditions and available technologies with the public resolve to act. Planning processes allow communities to look past immediate concerns, evaluate options for how best to proceed, and to move towards a better future. The Comprehensive Plan has the legal authority to act as the vehicle for guiding community development, the scope to cover the necessary functions and facilities, and the history of practice to inspire public acceptance of its policies. Planning can provide the necessary analysis, the requisite communitywide reflection and education, and the momentum required to respond to these monumental challenges (Godschalk and Anderson 2012, 7).

APA's work through this initiative has resulted in discussion on the issues posed by concerns over long-term global sustainability.

Comprehensive Plan Standards for Sustaining Places

Through this initiative, APA defined a set of principles to guide comprehensive plans for sustaining places, and developed these guiding principles into a set of recommended planning practices to serve as a resource for the preparation of local comprehensive plans.

The comprehensive plan standards are defined around principles, processes, and attributes, as well as supporting best practices for what a comprehensive plan should do:

Principles: Normative statements of intent that underlie a plan's overall strategy, including its goals, objective, policies, maps, and other content.

Processes: Planning activities that take place during the preparation of a comprehensive plan and define how it will be carried out — public participation and plan implementation.

Attributes: Plan-making design standards that shape the content and characteristics of comprehensive plans.

Sustaining Places: Best Practices for Comprehensive Plans

The report, Sustaining Places: Best Practices for Comprehensive Plans (PAS 578), which defines the comprehensive plan standards for sustaining places, is the result of this effort to define the role of the comprehensive plan in creating sustainable communities.

Pilot Communities

In 2013, APA selected 10 pilot communities in various stages of developing their comprehensive plans to help refine and finalize the standards as well as to evaluate a proposed designation program to recognize exemplary plans using these standards. These communities were selected based on the following criteria:

  • Size of jurisdiction
  • Geography
  • Stage in comprehensive planning process
  • Commitment to monthly conference calls and attendance at the National Planning Conference (NPC) in Atlanta April 2014

Four communities — three additional communities and one of the pilot communities — with adopted comprehensive plans agreed to test the standards and the proposed designation system on their plans. These communities went through the proposed designation program, which included self-scoring their plans to measure their plans' strengths and weaknesses against the comprehensive plan standards.

At the 2014 National Planning Conference in Atlanta, APA and representatives of the communities shared the results of their work and their thoughts about the standards and designation program at a day-long workshop. Workshop participants worked with the community representatives to apply the standards and proposed designation system to the "test" comprehensive plans.

"Memphis and Shelby County have benefited from using the standards as a guide for the regional (greenprint) plan. The standards have been a valuable tool for project planners to evaluate how effectively the vision addresses sustainability best practices."
— John Zeanah, Memphis/Shelby County, Tennessee

Pilot Communities — Plan Development

Auburn, Washington
Foxborough, Massachusetts
Goshen, Indiana
Memphis/Shelby County, Tennessee
New Hanover County, North Carolina
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Rock Island, Illinois
Seattle, Washington
Savona, New York
Wheeling, West Virginia

Pilot Communities — Plan Designation

Austin, Texas
Norfolk, Virginia
Raleigh, North Carolina
Rock Island, Illinois

Comprehensive Plan Standards for Sustaining Places Recognition Program

Building on the experience and success of the Pilot Communities, APA is now working to develop a Comprehensive Plan Standards for Sustaining Places Recognition Program. The Recognition Program will be a voluntary program for recognizing communities that are integrating sustainability into their comprehensive plans. A pilot phase of the Recognition Program took place in 2016.

Learn More

Working Group Members

Kenneth A. Bowers, AICP (Chair), Deputy Planning Director, City of Raleigh, North Carolina
Philip R. Berke, Professor, Texas A&M University
Kenneth R. Markert, AICP, MMI Planning
Douglas Melnick, AICP, Chief Sustainability Officer, City of San Antonio
Joanna B. Nadeau, AICP, Audubon International
Petra Stieninger, CCJM
Abby E. Wiles, AICP

Comprehensive Plan Standards Timeline from 2010 through 2016

Comprehensive Plan Standards Timeline