— A N OVERVIEW OF 26 PLANNIN G TOPICS —
FROM AUTOMOBILES TO ZONIN G
LAURENCE C. G ERCKENS
WITH LETTER ILLUSTRATIONS BY PAUL HOFFMAN
A is for Automobile N is for Neighborhood
B is for Budget O is for Open Space
C is for Comprehensive Plan P is for Public Health & Safety
D is for Design Q is for Quiet
E is for Ecology R is for Regional Planning
F is for Farmland S is for Sustainable Development
G is for Growth Management T is for Takings
H is for Historic Preservation U is for Urban Sprawl
I is for Inclusionary V is for Vision
J is for Justice W is for Water
K is for Knowledge X is for X-Rated Land Uses
L is for Land Subdivision Y is for Youth
M is for Maps Z is for Zoning
The automobile enabled creation of multi-million- increased demands on city services. Zoning was used to
person urban areas spread thinly over vast regional limit such developments to specific areas. This served not
expanses – and shaped the character of the 20th century only to conserve community tax resources, but also to
American city. The primary city-shaper until the mid-1920s assure the owners of single-family-detached homes in the
was the trolley. Electric trolleys, running on fixed-rails, newly emerging “suburbs” that the value of their property
generated high density residential development within a would not be threatened by the intrusion of undesired
few blocks walking distance of the main streets on which neighbors.
they ran. Small mom-and-pop grocery stores and personal America’s prosperity following the end of the Second
service shops were located at street corner trolley stops World War encouraged both auto and new home ownership,
regularly spaced along the major streets radiating outward stimulating the explosive growth of sprawling suburbs.
from the central commercial and manufacturing district: Unfortunately, one outcome was that American families
the “downtown.” became increasingly
The advent of the automo- dependent on the automobile.
bile changed all that. Not limit- This auto-dependency was
ed to fixed main-street routes, heightened by curtailment of
the automobile could travel suburban transit service in
anywhere there was a passable many communities. Reliance
public way. The auto-owning on the private auto generated
seeker of a housing site could the ubiquitous multi-car family
negotiate for a parcel of land as the varying transportation
beyond the limits of a few needs of family members
major streets. This dispersal of required travel over long dis-
new residential development tances, at diverse times, and to
led, in turn, to strip-commercial By 1927, when production of the “Model T” ended, America had widely scattered locations.
become an automobile society.
development along auto routes More cars, in turn, led to a
radiating outward from the city center. See “U is for Urban dramatic change in the layout of residential developments
Sprawl.” as wider streets were provided to permit parking on both
By the 1920s, the need for street-widening to relieve sides; wider lots to allow single-story houses with two-car
auto congestion in and near the city center was already garages to face on the street; and deeper front yard setbacks
triggering large and growing public expenditures. This to enable on-site parking of two or more automobiles. The
required careful budgeting of community resources – resulting increase in lot size – coupled with a reduction in
and stimulated the formal adoption of capital budgets family size – endangered the walk-in-school and the
and the preparation of long-range community plans for concept of an elementary-school-focused neighborhood.
physical development. See “B is for Budget” and “C is for And for those on the lower rungs of the economic ladder,
Comprehensive Plan.”Auto-accessed commercial and locked into central cities, the new auto-based suburbs
industrial developments beyond downtown made for meant reduced job and life opportunities.
T he public aspects of cities include not only services prepared forward-looking community comprehensive
(i.e., police and fire protection, education, and protection of plan is valuable in assessing whether the proposed facility
the public health) but also things (i.e., capital goods) that will meet the community’s needs years into the future,
require labor, materials, and finance to bring into being. and – quite importantly – whether it will be physically
Acquisition of these capital goods requires careful located where it can best serve current and future users.
budgeting. This means examining how the facility relates not only
A budget balances income sources against outgo items in to current, but also to future land use patterns.
the fulfillment of needs and aspirations. A municipal operat- The capital budget (or “program”) is often conceived
ing budget does this annually for the costs associated with as a six-year budget drawn from the recommendations of
the provision of on-going city services. A municipal capital municipal departments with
budget does the same for reference to a continuously
facilities to be constructed on updated comprehensive plan.
land owned by the communi- The capital budget is periodical-
ty or to be acquired to fulfill ly revised (commonly
the community’s needs. every other year) as
Responsible expenditure of elements are completed
public funds requires foresight or modified, and as new
into the emerging character of projects are added.
the community and its needs. The capital budget
Responsible encumbrance of includes not only a list
public funds and credit (future of projects and their
income) calls for a plan for estimated costs, but also
public construction prepared, the source of the funds to be
in most cases, well ahead of used to pay for each project.
actual needs. Running totals are kept to
One of the principal purpos- track their impact on the
es of the comprehensive plan encumbrance of the municipal
(see “C is for Comprehensive borrowing power and on the municipal tax rate.
Plan”) is to serve as a guide to the preparation of a capital One of the key responsibilities of many planning
budget to assure rationality and efficiency in the expendi- commissions and departments is the preparation of a
ture of public funds on capital projects. recommended capital program for the local governing
Capital funds borrowed to construct municipal projects body’s consideration. This planning commission role, first
are commonly provided in the sale of 20-year or longer, undertaken in Cincinnati in the 1920s, has helped ensure
bonds. Public facilities are constructed to serve, and are that the municipality’s capital expenditures serve to meet
expected to endure, at least as long as it takes to pay off the the goals and objectives contained in the adopted
bonds sold to construct them. For this reason, a carefully comprehensive plan.
A community’s comprehensive plan is not just a file spread slowly. It received its first major boost in the federal
cabinet full of plans for future streets; parks and recreation; Housing Act of 1949, which conditioned receipt of federal
housing; fire protection; environmental protection; historic central area redevelopment funds on compliance with a
preservation; land use zoning; sewers; flood protection; community plan. The widespread development of local
water supply and distribution; downtown rehabilitation and comprehensive plans was further stimulated by the federal
parking; school location; and community character. Housing Act of 1954’s provision of matching funds (through
More importantly, the comprehensive plan is an integrat- Section 701 of the Act) to communities for developing such
ed statement of the aspirations of the community (“this is plans.
what we will ourselves to be”) illustrating how the various Unfortunately, by the 1970s, very few of these “701”
function-specific plans in the community file cabinet plans were being kept up-to-date. Instead of allocating funds
are tied together to achieve a broad array of community to maintain dynamic and useful comprehensive plans, many
objectives. cities and towns fell back on “winging
The comprehensive plan (also often referred to as the it” with uncoordinated function-
“master plan” or “general plan”) is a practical specific plans, redevelopment plans,
vision of the future – capable of shifts in detail and neighborhood area plans that
and arrangement over time as available rarely met more than short-term local
resources and public preferences functional needs and those of
change. Note the juxtaposition of special interests.
the words “practical” and “vision” The pendulum began to swing
in the preceding sentence. The back in the other direction in the
comprehensive plan is practical in late 1980s and ’90s as a growing
that it lays out a series of objectives number of states began to require
that the community realistically that all units of government prepare
intends to accomplish over the com- comprehensive plans. Some states
ing years. The plan also reflects vision in that it encapsulates specified the minimum content for
the community’s goals and aspirations for its future. these local plans; made adoption of a comprehensive plan
While comprehensive plans typically include a “land prerequisite to the enforcement of local zoning power;
use” component, this is not zoning. The land use element of and/or required substantial compliance of zoning ordi-
the comprehensive plan is a more generalized statement of nances with comprehensive plan objectives. Several states
the objectives of future actions – to be implemented, in also required that local plans be consistent with adopted
turn, by detailed and immediately effective zoning, subdivi- state planning and development objectives.
sion regulation, and other land use ordinances. By the start of the new century, there was renewed inter-
Both the comprehensive plan and the capital budget est in the use of comprehensive plans, as many planners –
(see “B is for Budget”) were first introduced in Cincinnati in both professional and citizen – rediscovered the benefits of
the mid-1920s as part of a successful political reform move- an integrated, comprehensive approach to fulfilling com-
ment. Acceptance of the comprehensive plan idea, however, munity aspirations and functional objectives.
C reative designers established the foundations of Ameri- accomplished) for impressive groupings of public buildings
can community and regional planning in the second half of and monumental boulevards.
the 19th century, and early years of the 20th century. Their Although city planners no longer commonly execute
visions of a more ideal America, one that was orderly, clean, detailed plans for civic centers, their activity still involves
rational, functional, efficient, inspirational, and beautiful, design issues, now often termed “urban design.” Urban
kindled efforts in political reform that were realized in the design focuses on creating spaces (and places) that are
community comprehensive plan, land use zoning and build- multi-faceted, multi-use, pluralistic, interactive, and rich in
ing bulk controls, capital the way people experience
budget processes, and public them.
park and parkway planning. Planners also often deal
Widespread efforts with the design of the “street-
toward the physical scape.” This involves the care-
improvement of American ful construction of
cities were inspired by the relationships between people
work of landscape architects and the immediate elements of
Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr., the pedestrian and automotive
CHICAGO HISTORICAL SOCIETY
designer of New York’s Cen- environment such as paving,
tral Park (1857), and George trees, signs, building facades,
Kessler, designer of the and lighting fixtures. Street-
Kansas City Metropolitan scape design is very impor-
Park System (1893), as well tant. The experience of the
as by the work of architect View across the Main Basin at Chicago’s World Columbian Exposition of community by people on foot,
Daniel Hudson Burnham, on bicycles, and in automo-
director of works for the widely acclaimed Columbian biles or transit vehicles, structures their understanding of
Exposition (the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893). In addition, the community, their role in it, and their perception of the
significant contributions were made by sculptors, including community’s attitude toward them.
Augustus St. Gaudens, who collaborated with Burnham in Design, when considered in its broadest sense, is what
preparing the plan for the Columbian Exposition and the virtually every planner is engaged in. The act of community
McMillan Plan for Washington, D.C (1902). See “V is for planning itself involves participation in the design of rela-
Vision.” tionships that fulfill community goals and aspirations
The work of these designers resulted in this period being through preparation of integrated plans for community
known as the Era of The City Beautiful. Their work, empha- action. Planners today design plans not only for develop-
sizing the public built environment and focusing on roads, ment, but also, for example, for the protection of agricul-
parks, public buildings, and monuments, also generated a turally productive soils (see “F is for Farmland”) and for the
Civic Center Movement in which city boosters across Amer- shaping of patterns of development (see “G is for Growth
ica vied with one another to produce plans (sometimes Management”).
T he word “ecology” literally means the study of homes Care is given to avoid building on and polluting natural
(“eco”= homes; “ology” = the study of). In common use, aquifer recharge areas. Yet, with careful planning, even a site
however, ecology denotes the environment that surrounds that includes large areas of flood plain or swamp land, may
our human existence and how people interact with it. be developable – while preserving its wetland functions.
Ecology was powerfully brought to public attention with This was demonstrated in The Woodlands, a Texas new
the publication of Rachel Carson’s, The Silent Spring, in town built in the 1970s with the guidance of Ian McHarg
1963, exposing the devastating effects of agricultural insecti- and following his ecological principles.
cides on wildlife and on the Similarly, Village Homes,
food chain. Six years later, built in Davis, California, in
landscape architect and 1975 became a model for
planner Ian McHarg focused ecological application to a
on how ecology can be taken suburban neighborhood.
into account in planning and It utilized natural drainage
LOCAL GOVERNMENT COMMISSION
design in his landmark channels and grassed “soft”
book, Design With Nature. channel recharge areas in
With the establishment lieu of pipes and hard-sided
of the U.S. Environmental channels to handle the
Protection Agency in 1970, increased rainwater runoff
Village Homes in Davis, California, used grape arbors and swales to help
and the passage of the absorb stormwater runoff.
resulting from conversion
National Environmental of the site to a residential
Policy Act (which required “environmental impact state- neighborhood. At Village Homes, the width of the street
ments” for federally funded projects having significant paving was narrowed to reduce the impervious area, mini-
impacts on the environment), ecological considerations mizing runoff. Grape arbors were located between buildings
became part of the everyday planning vocabulary. and adjacent to drainage swales to absorb ground water,
It is logical that ecology should be integral to planning. as well as to interject agriculture as an immediate, visible,
The natural environment is the community’s birthplace. and continuing presence in the residential environment.
Terrain, soils and tree cover, underground water, surface When ecology is considered as part of the comprehen-
streams, vegetation, and wildlife all form an interdependent sive planning process, the community’s natural systems
unity of impact and adaptation. The goal of ecological stud- (its soils, slopes, and land forms; underground water and
ies, as applied to community and regional development, surface drainage patterns; tree cover; grassland areas; ponds
is to make the human impact on the elements of the envi- and wetlands; and wildlife) are all carefully mapped and
ronment mutually supportive and integrative with the studied in an effort to understand their role and to protect
whole, becoming one with the order of the natural world. them from adverse human impacts. Ecological design calls
The protection of the quantity and quality of water in for interacting with these natural systems to meet human
underground aquifers and wetland areas is a key concern needs in a manner that results in minimum disruption and
when planning with ecological considerations in mind. maximum retention of the natural environment.
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