A farm consists of land and buildings used in the production of crops and livestock. Farms are found in every state and nearly all are family-owned and operated. They typically consist of a farmstead, which includes a farmhouse and buildings used to shelter livestock and store crops, livestock feed, farming equipment and land used to grow crops or pasture to graze livestock. Farms today can include both the classic white farmhouse and red barn and more industrial complexes with modern barns and storage sheds that are primarily functional. Most local governments do not regulate the construction and design of farm buildings.

The regulatory responsibility of local governments over farms typically covers issuing building permits and requiring farm buildings to be set back a certain distance from property lines. Some activities related to farm operations can have impacts beyond the farm. Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) can generate extensive noise and odour. Also, certain nonfarm businesses may be located in farm buildings, generating traffic or sewage that cannot be adequately handled on the farm. These businesses might be more appropriately located in a commercial zoning district off the farm.

Farm Sizes

Farms vary considerably in their size and buildings. Small farms those smaller than 50 acres (20.2 hectares) usually produce specialty crops, such as fruits and vegetables or horticultural nursery stock for landscape planting. Typical buildings on small farms include greenhouses, small machinery and storage sheds and roadside stands for direct sales to consumers. Specialty livestock farms, especially horse farms, are fairly common. Horse farms have barns for boarding horses and often have an indoor riding ring for training horses. Row crops, such as corn, soybeans, wheat and cotton are usually grown on medium and large farms. Barns, grain bins and commodity sheds are common on medium to large farms. In the past 30 years, many livestock farms have added large numbers of animals. Many of the hogs and chickens produced today are raised in CAFOs, with thousands of animals in a single building. Farm size can also vary by geographic location.


The area encompassing the farmhouse, barns and other outbuildings is called the farmstead. Many farmsteads still have an older wooden barn, but modern livestock and production buildings are often the centre of the farming operation. These structures are low and long and cover more land area than barns in the past did. Specialty buildings, such as machinery sheds and grain bins, built out of corrugated metal are also found on farmsteads. In order to support frequent truck traffic, farmsteads often have significant amounts of pavement.


The main farmhouse is where the owner and the owner’s family usually live. It can vary in style and age. Some farms may have additional dwellings for other members of the family to live. Tenant houses provide a place for full-time hired help to live. These houses can also vary in their style and construction, but are usually one or two stories high and can be permanent or temporary, sometimes including mobile homes. The temporary housing for migrant labour is meant to shelter several people, often resembles a small barrack.


A barn is used to shelter animals and store farming equipment and feed for animals. The traditional wooden barn is typically 5,000 square feet (50 feet by 100 feet; approximately 464.5 square meters or 15.2 meters by 30.5 meters) and 60 feet (18.3 meters) high. In recent years, specialty barns have replaced the traditional style. Specialty barns have become popular because of the greater number of livestock raised on farms. Such barns are often dedicated to one type of livestock. For hogs and chickens, there is also the need to provide a barn closed off from the outdoors to minimize the possible spread of diseases.

a) Dairy Barn

A dairy barn consists of two main parts, the milking parlour and the loafing barn. The portion of the barn that contains the milking parlour and other support areas may be approximately 2,000 square feet (185.8 square meters). The size of the milking parlour depends on the size of the herd. A large dairy farm may have a double-30 “parlour,” which has two rows of milking stations, 30 stations in each row, to milk 60 cows simultaneously.

A loafing barn is where the cows sleep, eat and feed. In modern milking operations, cows are not let out to pasture but are kept inside the loafing barn in stalls. The size of the loafing barn may vary. For example, a loafing barn with 105 stalls, passageways and holding areas may be 8,000 square feet (40 feet by 200 feet; approximately 743.2 square meters or 12.2 meters by 61 meters). The loafing barn is attached to the milking parlour, providing the cows with a short walking distance to the parlour. Silos containing corn silage and other buildings storing hay and animal feed are typically located close to the loafing barn.

b) Hog Barn

A hog barn is a large, long, low rectangular building, usually constructed of corrugated metal, that sits on a concrete slab and is equipped with large fans to regulate temperature. Some hog barns also have slat systems to collect manure. A typical hog barn is 8,000 square feet (50 feet by 160 feet; approximately 743.2 square meters or 15.2 meters by 48.8 meters). A hog barn can house several hundred to a few thousand hogs. Larger hog farms have a number of hog barns, along with large manure and grain storage facilities and farm machinery sheds.

c) Chicken Barn

A chicken barn (also referred to as a chicken house) is also a long, low rectangular building that sits on a concrete slab. A typical chicken barn is 15,000 square feet (50 feet by 300 feet; approximately 1,395.5 square meters or 15.2 meters by 91.4 meters). The roof and sides are often constructed of corrugated metal or plastic. A chicken barn may be used for layers, which produce eggs or to raise broilers for eating. Although chicken barns contain thousands of chickens, it is fairly common to see more than one chicken barn on a farm.

d) Horse Barn

A horse barn is likely to be constructed of wood. Older barns can be adapted to house horses, or a new barn can be built. A horse barn features stalls for the horses and storage areas for hay and grain and may include a loft. A typical horse barn may be 1,440 square feet (36 feet by 40 feet; approximately 133.8 square meters or 11 meters by 12.2 meters), which allows for two stalls on either side of a 16-foot (4.9 meter) wide alley, a feed area and a tack area. A typical stall is 144 square feet (13.4 square meters) and the feed and tack areas may be of similar dimensions.

Manure Storage

Livestock farms with large numbers of animals typically store manure for several months before pumping it out and using it to fertilize cropland. There are three main types of manure storage facilities: manure pits, lagoons and slurry systems. A manure pit is an in-ground concrete lined cylinder. A manure pit is typically approximately 12 feet (3.7 meters) deep and 100 feet (30.5 meters) in diameter. A lagoon is fairly shallow and open to the air, resembling a large swimming pool and may have earthen sides or concrete. Lagoons have been banned in some states because their sides may rupture, or the lagoon may overflow during a major rainfall. A slurry system is a large aboveground metal tank.

Silos and Grain Storage Structures

A silo is a common structure on farms with livestock, especially dairy farms. Silos are used to store corn silage or chopped hay (known as haylage) that is fed to farm animals. Silos are either vertical or horizontal in their construction. The tall and cylindrical silo, which has a rounded dome and is often located close to a barn is the most common. These silos are typically 20 feet (6.1 meters) in diameter and 80 feet (24.4 meters) high. Horizontal concrete bunker silos are often used on large dairy farms, feedlots and in parts of the areas with low rainfall. A bunker silo is often covered with a plastic tarp, held in place with temporary fixtures (such as old tires).

Farmers store grain to feed to their livestock and to sell on the open market. Older barns often have small grain storage bins inside. A grain bin is usually 25 feet (7.6 meters) in diameter and 35 feet (10.7 meters) high. Some farms still have corn cribs, which are metal buildings that resemble oversized birdcages stuffed with corn on the cob. Modern farms often need larger structures to store grain. Common storage buildings today are round, corrugated metal bins with a funnel top. Pipes, called grain legs, connect the grain storage bins to a central loading and unloading point.

Machinery Sheds

Machinery sheds are specialty buildings for storing machinery and other farm equipment. They vary in size and often are made of corrugated metal or plastic. These sheds are quick and easy to build. A typical machinery shed is 3,200 square feet (40 feet by 80 feet; approximately 297.3 square meters or 12.2 meters by 24.4 meters) and 20 feet (6.1 meters) high.

Commodity Sheds

Commodity sheds are specialty buildings for storing feed that does not need to be covered, such as cottonseed. They typically have a number of storage bays that offer easy access to bucket loaders or for shovelling. A commodity shed may be constructed of metal or wood with plastic sides. A typical commodity shed is 600 square feet (15 feet by 40 feet; approximately 55.7 square meters or 4.6 meters by 12.2 meters) and 15 feet (4.6 meters) high.

Farm-Based Businesses

Many farm families supplement their farm income with other businesses conducted on the farm. In some cases, these businesses can be operated within existing farm structures. In others, farm buildings may need to be remodelled. And sometimes completely new buildings are built. Permitted farm-based businesses should be described in the local zoning ordinance. Typical farm-based businesses include machinery repair and storage, bed and breakfast operations, woodworking shops, beauty salons, limited food processing and farm stands among others.

a) Roadside Stands

Direct marketing of crops, arts and crafts produced on the farm to consumers has recently grown in popularity. Roadside stands are usually seasonal buildings that cater to consumers arriving via automobile. The stands are typically located close to the road and should have adequate parking space for safety. The local zoning ordinance should define the maximum size of roadside stands allowed. Most of the goods sold from roadside stands should be produced on the farm.

b) Roadside Markets and Garden Centres

Some communities have allowed farm stands to expand into year-round commercial operations that sell many products not grown or made on the farm. A roadside market features food and fibre products. A garden centre typically combines a nursery operation with the sale of mulch and fertilizers to the general public. Key issues with roadside markets and garden centres are parking and whether the operation should be moved to a commercial zone off the farm.

Siting of Farm Buildings

The siting of farm buildings has grown in importance, especially as more residential and other non-agricultural development occurs in the countryside adjacent to active farms and as livestock farms increase their number of animals. The local zoning ordinance should establish siting standards to protect health and safety. New farm buildings should be set back a certain distance from property lines to minimize the spill over of noise and odours onto neighbouring properties. In the case of farms with livestock, setbacks can vary from a few hundred feet or meters for crop producing farms with storage buildings to more than 1,000 feet (304.8 meters) for CAFOs.

Environmental Issues

Agriculture is often cited as a major source of water pollution. Rain and wind cause soil erosion from farm fields which contribute sediment to rivers, streams and lakes. The increased turbidity can adversely affect drinking water and fish populations. Soil particles often bond with manure and nitrogen fertilizers carrying nutrients into waterways that can produce algae blooms and reduce water quality. Herbicides and pesticides also can be washed into waterways and seep into groundwater. Air pollution, especially from large hog operations, has recently become a major concern. The issue of farm odours, mainly from the spreading of manure on fields, also has become contentious in some areas. Noise from farm machinery operating early in the morning or late at night may raise complaints from neighbours.



Playgrounds are important elements of healthy neighbourhoods and communities. Successful playgrounds provide safe and challenging environments for children to learn about the world around them and about themselves.

Types of Playgrounds

Playgrounds fall into three primary categories: neighbourhood, school and regional. A neighbourhood playground serves a local community. School playgrounds are areas designated for use by the student body of a specific school. A regional playground serves a wider area, such as a group of neighbourhoods or an entire metropolitan area. Regional playgrounds are often elements within a larger outdoor development that includes public parks or athletic fields. Each type of playground offers a unique set of characteristics that affect its design and the activities appropriate for inclusion.


Consider the following points while selecting a playground location.

  • Locate playgrounds in safe proximities to roadways to reduce the possibility that a child could run into the street or that a distracted driver or car collision could propel an automobile into the play area.
  • Place bike paths beyond the immediate perimeter of a playground to prevent children from running into the path of cyclists.
  • Locate playgrounds within sight of adult activity areas, such as picnic areas, so that the adults can provide a level of security and supervision. However, provide appropriate distances so that playground noise is not disturbing to other areas.
  • Site playgrounds on the same sides of a roadway as support facilities, such as restrooms, picnic areas, concession stands or ball fields. As children run from one to the other, they may not watch for oncoming traffic.
  • For neighbourhood playgrounds, a rule of thumb is to assume a playground is accessible to walking children within a one-quarter-mile (0.4 kilometre) radius of the playground.
  • Minimize site development costs by selecting relatively level land that is not densely vegetated.


To determine the amount of space for a playground, first determine the average number of children expected to be playing on the playground at the same time. As the amount of square footage provided per child increases, the number of injuries has been found to decrease. The table indicates varying levels of quality based on the amount of square footage provided per child. These guidelines include the minimum 6 foot (1.8 meter) recommended safety zone around the perimeter of all play equipment.

Playground Zones

Current trends in playground design acknowledge that children choose to play in many different ways. This should be reflected in playground design. Include a variety of areas that feature different play activities. Today’s playgrounds should seek to incorporate a variety of activities or zones. Depending on factors such as playground type or the level of supervision anticipated, some zones will be appropriate for some playgrounds and inappropriate for others. One zone may be more developed or emphasized on some playgrounds than on others. For some playgrounds certain zones may be inappropriate. The following list of zones is an inventory of potential activities to be considered for inclusion on a playground. This list can be used during programming to discuss the appropriateness and means of inclusion of each selected activity.


The playground entry area is a definitive and recognizable transitional space. It may be a transition from the inside of a building to the outdoor play space or it may be a transition from one type of open space, such as a picnic area, to the play area. The entry area allows a child to assess the playground environment and the other children who may already be engaged in play activities and to decide about the manner and time in which he or she wants to integrate. The entry area may be defined simply by an open area or further distinguished with an entry gate or arch.

Water Play

The introduction of water play provides a unique play experience each time the child comes to the playground. Water enlivens a child’s imagination and serves as a natural interactive activity, responding immediately to a child’s actions. It can be a simple water table that is filled and drained at the end of each day, allowing a child to interact with hands and arms or a water feature that allows a child to become totally wet. Water features can be manufactured products or naturally occurring streams. Lockable hose bibbs, useful for washing off hard surfaces or watering the landscape, can also provide water play by serving as a means for filling buckets and combining water and sand play.

When considering the inclusion of water play, factor in the type of playground being developed and the degree of supervision anticipated. School playgrounds used only when adult supervision is present are more valid for the inclusion of water play features because of the increased amount of supervision. Even in this case, the water feature should be located so that it is highly visible. Providing water play activities in neighbourhood and regional playgrounds where supervision may not be present at all times should receive serious consideration as to the safety and legal issues involved.

Sand Play

Like water, sand provides a child with a unique experience with every visit to the playground. It is an especially favoured activity of young children. It can be enjoyed alone or with other children, making a sand play area very adaptable to a child’s level of social development. Sand play has also been found useful in developing fine motor skills that translate to a young child’s ability to hold pencils and crayons and manipulate scissors. Include devices to shade the sand area during the hottest part of the day and storage for toys to be used in the sand box. The sand should be either covered nightly or inspected at the start of each day to keep the area free from litter, debris and animal feces.

Dramatic Play

Dramatic play areas encompass a wide variety of activities. Foremost is the act of role-playing, an especially favoured method of play among four to six year olds. Imitating adults as they play house or store gives children a script of sorts and a framework for interaction. The structures that promote and support this type of play can be abstract in shape, allowing children to use their imaginations or they can be more definitive in appearance such as a playhouse or a store. This area also offers opportunities to include activities and components that reflect important aspects of the community where the playground is located, giving the playground a unique character.

On supervised playgrounds, providing props such as dress-up clothes, empty food boxes and tables and chairs can further enhance the richness of this play experience. However, provide a means of lockable storage nearby for such items. This area may also include events that feature music, art and theatre related themes. For example, a small stage or chalk wall, or a set of hanging chimes or cymbals may be provided. When musical or noisemaking activities are provided, locate these activities so that the noise will not be disruptive to other activities occurring on the playground. Structures built to enhance dramatic play should have an open design and be easily monitored and accessible to children and caretakers.

Hard Surfaces

Some activities such as bouncing or dribbling a ball, riding tricycles or pushing wheeled toys, require a hard surface. They can be in more than one location on the playground and can double as a circulation system through the playground. However, “roadways” should be laid out in such a way as not to create a potential conflict with an active play area of the playground. In addition, do not locate hard surface areas under or within the “fall zone” for play equipment. Hard surfaces can be constructed of packed earth, concrete or asphalt. Each material has advantages and disadvantages.

Packed earth maintains a natural look and when children fall it is less likely to scuff up knees and elbows. However, it can become muddy, making areas of the playground unusable until they dry out or drain. Concrete provides surfaces that can be painted with sidewalk games or used for sidewalk chalk art. It is also durable and sheds rainwater quickly. However, falls onto concrete can result in scraped knees and elbows. Asphalt, although typically less expensive, retains heat during the hot summer months. Environmentally sensitive alternatives include pervious concrete products that allow rainwater to drain through them.

Big Loose Parts

The big loose parts area features large elements that children can manipulate and configure in an infinite number of ways, creating their own unique play experiences and structures. This zone requires an open area of safety surfacing supplied with wood boards and planks, crates, and large boxes that have been checked for safety hazards, such as splinters, nails and staples. There are also manufactured big loose parts systems available that, while more expensive, offer a higher degree of safety and durability. This area requires supervision to prevent children from constructing dangerous situations. It may not be appropriate for inclusion on playgrounds in which children may play unattended. Adequate storage is also needed within close proximity to store the materials between uses.

Gross Motor Play

Gross motor play includes the types of activities most commonly associated with playgrounds. Today’s playgrounds are typically furnished with a large manufactured or custom-built play structure that features slides and monkey bars, bridges and tunnels. When selecting play activities to be included in the gross motor zone, create a balance of activities that will exercise both the upper and lower body. In addition, play equipment for this area may be intended for use by children ages five to twelve or in the case of a school playground, grades one to six. Provide activities that offer varying levels of challenge because the range of physical abilities of children within these age groups varies greatly. The play structure should be manufactured and built according to the safety standards recommended by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) and be designed to meet the requirements of the peoples with disabilities.


Swings can be a traditional type that move back and forth, or a piece of equipment that pivots from a single point, such as a tire swing. Swings are one of the most favoured activities and one of the most used pieces of equipment on a playground. They are well liked by children and adults alike. However, swings are also one of the top causes of playground accidents. A major source of swing related injuries is children running into the path of a moving swing. In addition to the recommended safety zone around swings, install barriers along the edges of the safety zone parallel to the supports of the equipment and along one end. This technique is especially helpful on compact playground sites or on playgrounds where the swing zone is centrally located. These barriers can be hard materials such as fencing or natural barriers, such as dense landscape planting. Barriers along the sides of the swing area force entry into the swing area in line with the path of the swings, eliminating the possibility of running into the path of a moving swing. A barrier along one end of the swing zone eliminates the potential of a child running through the swing zone.

Social Spaces

Social spaces are spots located throughout a playground that encourage and support social interaction between children and between children and adults. These spaces should be of various sizes to accommodate small and large groups. School playgrounds may even have an area that accommodates an entire class. Social spaces should also feature a variety of character. One may overlook the playground from an elevated platform, while another may be a quiet, shady nook next to a tree. When furnished with strategically placed benches, some can double as locations from which adults can monitor the playground.

Natural Elements

Integrate natural objects and settings into the playground to add to the aesthetic and functional success of the playground. Currently, there is an influential movement in design that encourages making natural elements the prominent focus of the playground in order to create places that provide for play, learning and environmental education for children. Natural elements may include trees that provide shade and social spaces, and large boulders children can climb and sit on. An open field for running and playing games, such as kickball and tag, is invaluable.

Creeks provide a unique and rich outdoor experience. They may be incorporated into playgrounds that will be closely supervised when in use. Raised vegetated beds can deter children from running through and harming growing plants and the perimeter of the planter can provide seating. When planning to incorporate natural elements into a playground, consider how, by whom and how often these elements will be maintained, so that their nature and heartiness will correspond to the level of care and maintenance. The installation of an underground irrigation system may also be considered as part of the maintenance program of these areas. It may also be necessary to provide storage for any maintenance equipment.

Safety Amenities

Several safety amenities and issues need to be considered and incorporated throughout all areas of the playground.


Placed around the perimeter of a playground, a barrier is advantageous for several reasons. Perhaps most obvious, it keeps children, especially young children from wandering away from the playground area into surrounding developments. A barrier also establishes a point of entry into the playground, creating a sense of place and providing supervisors with an easier means of monitoring who is coming and going from the playground. Within the playground, using barriers can increase the safety within the swing area and can effectively separate toddler play areas from those of older children.

The physical nature of the barriers, both around the perimeter and inside the playground, may vary depending on the degree of separation desired. For the perimeters and the swing zone, an impenetrable barrier such as an impassable fence or dense landscape planting is appropriate. Around the toddler play area, the barrier may be less formidable. It may consist simply of a wide strip of landscape planting or a small mound. However, for playgrounds featuring a toddler play area, many caretakers of children playing in the toddler area may also have children playing in the larger play area. Therefore, the barrier should not obstruct or eliminate visibility between the two.


One of the most critical components of a safe play environment is the surfacing beneath and around play equipment. There are two types of surfacing that meet recommended safety standards: loose fill materials and unitary materials. Loose fill materials include sand, gravel, shredded wood products and shredded tires. Unitary materials include rubber mats and poured-in-place rubberlike products. A critical height is the approximation of the fall height below which a life-threatening head injury would not be expected to occur. For a playground, the critical height is the height slightly above the highest point from which a child might fall from a piece of equipment onto the ground. When using unitary materials as a playground surface, request test data from the manufacturer that identifies the critical height of the material because different materials in this category have differing shock-absorbing properties.


Provide a sign that communicates the hours of operation, the level of supervision provided, the age appropriateness for different areas and pieces of equipment on the playground, and any other rules regarding expected behaviour while using the playground. Locate the sign in an obvious and highly visible location of the playground, such as the entry zone. Information about whom to contact should unsafe situations occur may also be listed.

Observation Points

Provide locations throughout the playground that allow those monitoring the play environment to do so effectively and comfortably. Often simply strategically placed benches, these areas can also serve as social spaces for adults and children to interact. Seating should be placed in such a way as to allow unobstructed views into and around the various pieces of equipment. This feature can be further enhanced by siting play structures in such a way as to maximize the sight lines from observation points to the play equipment.


Provide lighting to extend the playground’s usable hours, but be aware that doing so can raise additional safety concerns. Therefore, ensure light levels ample enough to make all areas and play components fully visible, without dark spots that may obscure parts of play equipment such as ladder rungs and handholds. If lighting is not provided, post signage stating that the playground closes either at a certain time or dusk and continuing to play past that time is at one’s own risk. Bury electrical service lines for lighting underground.


Install a means of communication, such as a telephone or an emergency call box, on or near the playground so that medical services can be reached in the event of an emergency. This may be especially appropriate for neighbourhood playgrounds on which children may often play unsupervised by adults. Bury electrical service lines underground.

Comfort Amenities

It is essential to provide for the physical comfort of both the children using the playground and those supervising. This will add to the enjoyment and amount of time spent at the playground.


Tables provide places for picnic lunches and card and board games. For school playgrounds, tables offer a place for students to do schoolwork outside. If desired, enough tables could be set up to accommodate an entire class, thereby allowing the playground to function as an outdoor classroom.

Water Fountains

Provide water fountains for drinking water because the playground will typically be used during the hottest parts of the day. Water-misting equipment has become a common method to cool off playground users.


Provide shade, through shade trees, umbrellas, awnings, or gazebos, as a cost-effective and valued means of creating cool areas. Many manufacturers of playground equipment also offer shading devices that can be attached directly to play structures, providing cool spots for children in the active play area.


Restrooms are perhaps the most often used and requested amenity of playground users. Including restroom facilities on or near the playground depends on the type of playground, as well as the plans for maintenance. Playgrounds located near buildings, such as schools, may not need to provide separate facilities on the playground if the distance and path from the playground to the building can be easily monitored. For larger, regional playgrounds, restrooms are highly recommended. Often these restrooms will serve additional areas around the playground, such as picnic areas and ball fields. Locate the restrooms as close to the playground as possible. Never require a child to cross roadways to access them. It is helpful to those supervising more is clearly visible from the playground. This allows older children to be visually monitored as they go to the restrooms without assistance. If providing restrooms on neighbourhood playgrounds that may not be monitored or used continuously, address maintenance and security issues because the playground may be more susceptible to vandalism.

Service Amenities


Depending on the type of playground, activities provided, and maintenance arrangements, on-site storage may be required. Typically, playgrounds that are supervised during use, such as school playgrounds, benefit from on-site, easily accessible storage. Storage may be required for items and toys used in the water play and sand play zones, props for the dramatic play zone, and materials for the big loose parts zone. Balls, jump ropes, Frisbees, sidewalk chalk, and other miscellaneous toys may also be stored. Gardening tools for use in garden areas maintained by the children should be stored. Brooms and rakes may also be available to allow children to contribute to playground maintenance. First-aid kits, bug sprays and sunscreens may also be stored on supervised playgrounds. Storage areas for playground equipment should be secured when the playground is not in use. If maintenance equipment is to be stored on the site, it should be stored separately from the playground equipment. Maintenance storage areas should remain locked except when the playground is being maintained.


Trash receptacles should be located throughout the playground. They should be convenient to areas most likely to generate trash, such as the entry, table and seating areas. Playground maintenance should include trash disposal as often as needed to reduce litter, odours and insects.

Bike/Car Parking

The manner in which people will be arriving at the playground should be considered and provided for accordingly. For neighbourhood playgrounds accessed mostly by walkers and bicycles, sidewalks and paths should lead to the entrance of the playground. Bicycle parking racks should be provided. School playgrounds typically do not require car or bike parking unless they serve as neighbourhood playgrounds during non-school hours. Regional playgrounds do require car-parking areas, which should be designed to minimize the potential of a child entering the path of a moving car while running between the car and the playground.

Electrical Power

Depending on the anticipated activities, convenient access to electrical power may be desirable. For school and regional playgrounds, electrical service may allow for outdoor activities that use projection or microphone systems. Bury electrical service lines underground to prevent the possibility of a sagging or downed power line lying near the play area, and to eliminate a power pole that some children might use as a climbing device. Use weatherproofed and lockable exterior electrical outlets. Make them inaccessible to children.


Many playground injuries result from a lack of maintenance of playground facilities. The design of the playground should include a maintenance process for the playground and its components and materials. This information will influence the selection of playground activities and materials. A document delineating required maintenance procedures and time frames for products or systems used on the playground should be developed during the design phase for use by the client upon completion of construction.

Age-Appropriate Playground Areas

The manner in which children play and the types of activities enjoyed depends greatly on their ages. Therefore, on playgrounds where toddlers and older children will be playing, separate play areas should be developed for both age groups. This is a function of safety and a means of providing age-appropriate activities and appropriately sized equipment for each age group. Programming a toddler area should proceed similarly to programming a playground for older children. Each area listed above should be discussed as to its appropriateness and, if included, developed at a level suitable to this age group. The less active play activities and the dramatic play events take a more prominent role in the toddler playground. These areas also serve as transitional activities for young children between the toddler playground and the main playground.

If a large number of teens will use the play area, consider providing play opportunities that reflect the activity interests of that age group. Consider providing an increased number of places for socializing. Facilities for “extreme sports,” such as rollerblading, skateboarding and freestyle biking, may also be considered. However, barriers should separate these areas from the playground areas.

Cost Estimate

The cost of developing a playground depends on many factors. Site development costs are typically a substantial portion of the budget. Therefore, it is beneficial to begin with a fairly flat site on which a 1 to 2 percent slope can be obtained with minimal earthwork. While sites with mature trees and shrubs offer the opportunity to incorporate these into the playground design, avoid sites with extremely dense vegetation to reduce site-clearing costs.

Total project cost or budget = Cost of playground equipment (x) + Cost of installation (.30x) + Cost of surfacing (.12x) + Cost of design fees, grading, landscaping, and other expenses (.10x)


Total project cost or budget =1.52x

The number and types of play structures and zones included on the playground and the type of safety surfacing installed also affect the project’s budget. The following formula, proposed by Jay Beckwith, a leader in modern playground design, can be used in determining a programmatic budget for playground design and construction.

Community Build

A large portion of a playground’s budget is spent on the installation of the playground equipment, including the large play structure in the gross motor play area. To help with this cost, many playground manufacturers and designers work with organizations and communities to conduct community build projects in which volunteers install the equipment. This process can reduce the cost of a project up to 30 percent. The point at which community volunteers or playground designers become involved in the process of developing a playground can vary. Most playground manufacturers, when given a site, can design and construct a playground with little to no input from a community organization or user group. However, this typically leads to playgrounds that consist of only manufactured play equipment. Speed of delivery is exchanged for a sense of ownership and a variety of play opportunities on the playground.

Another option is for a community group or organization to plan a playground that designates an area for the gross motor play equipment. Manufacturers can then be sent a drawing indicating the size of the area from which they can propose possible play structure designs, which will become part of the overall playground development. These structures can be installed in one of three ways: solely by the playground manufacturer, by volunteer labour with a supervisor provided by the manufacturer or by volunteer labour only. An increasingly popular source of playground design and construction services is the design firm that specializes in community-built playgrounds. These firms become part of the process from the inception of the project; they lead a community group or organization through activities that result in a unique playground designed specifically for a particular locale. Often these playgrounds feature custom-designed gross motor play activities and incorporate little to no manufactured play equipment. The design firm then assists the community group in organizing the construction of the facility through volunteer labour. While this can be a time-intensive experience for an organization to undertake, the result is a playground unique to the community and one in which the community takes greater responsibility for its upkeep and maintenance because of the high level of civic pride in what was accomplished.


Conservation Area Planning

Conservation areas are important natural environments that are integrated with human recreation uses. They are important components of worldwide conservation planning. When planning for conservation areas, a variety of methods and tools to identify lands critical for ecosystem protection are used. Fundamental to this is an understanding of the ecological processes and functions that maintain the viability of living systems, including human societies.

Planning for conservation areas requires an approach to ecosystem protection and management that integrates the concept of sustainable use with human needs and uses into ecosystem management so that the needs and aspirations of future generations are not compromised by those of the present. Conservation areas represent the leading edge of an opportunity to manage protected lands in a way that educates and inspires us while maintaining capacity for future generations. Conservation planning requires going beyond geopolitical boundaries.

For example, the overlap of potential uses for a freshwater lake (water supply), fishing, habitat protection, recreation, tourism and travel triggers the involvement of multiple regulatory agencies with differing and often conflicting agendas. Acceleration of ecosystem degradation due to climate change, incursion of invasive species, unsustainable consumption and inappropriate development will require a reassessment of our lifestyle practices, as well as assessment of the adequacy of our protected areas. Conservation planning requires active, adaptive management to identify new threats and flexible strategies for action.

Global Conservation Planning

In developed countries such as Australia, United Kingdom and Canada, specifically named conservation parks are implemented at both “state” and federal levels. Most nations, under the leadership of the International Union for the Protection of Nature (IUCN)/World Conservation Union, have implemented a system of national parks, biological reserves, wildlife refuges and conservation areas that incorporate permitted recreation types within the main objective of ecosystem conservation.

IUCN notes that current management structures for parks are not necessarily able to adapt to the pressures of significant and rapid environmental change. New networks, learning institutions and flexible approaches to open space management are necessary for increasing our capacity for conservation planning. The multidimensional approach that is being adopted for conservation parks worldwide focuses on several goals and are listed below.

  • Address gaps in national protected area systems.
  • Promote connectivity at landscape and seascape levels.
  • Enhance public support for conservation parks and protected open space.
  • Recognize the importance of a range of governance types as a means to strengthen management and expand the world’s protected areas.
  • Strengthen the relationship between people and the land, freshwater and the sea.

Components of Conservation Planning

Based upon a sound understanding of ecological systems, conservation requirements and community needs, planning for conservation parks and open space should do the following.

1. Reconcile public use with environmental concerns

Identify and plan for the compatible and sustainable human use of an area within the goals of conservation. Conservation parks often suffer from the same abuse as traditional parks with off-trail hiking, illegal hunting, damage from wheeled vehicles and speedboats, vandalism and dumping.

2. Provide for public education and awareness

Conservation planning requires public participation, education, and high levels of communication with the community. Conservation parks provide important opportunities for research and education programs at many levels: local schools and universities, training classes and workshops for young professionals, practitioners and public officials and visitors to use these lands for long term investigations.

3. Identify partners for collaboration

Environmental issues, such as flood control, water quality, coastal erosion prevention and biodiversity conservation are not confined to property boundaries and are most effectively addressed through collaboration.

Identifying and Evaluating Lands for Conservation

Conservation and restoration are interrelated. To identify and evaluate lands for conservation parks, a planner must consider land acquisition, the ability to increase habitat and create new habitat from urban land, restore linear connections and protect riparian and migratory corridors. In addition to natural lands, industrial lands, derelict lands and brownfields can be regarded as good candidates for conservation parks for their capability to contribute to the elimination of sources of disturbance and pollution. Consider the identification and evaluation of lands in order of priority, highest to lowest.

  • Protect undeveloped properties with significant natural values within a region.
  • Conserve properties that could serve to join together existing conserved properties.
  • Protect land alongside riparian corridors to develop and maintain a contiguous corridor.
  • Preserve or restore riparian communities and preclude development in floodplains.
  • Manage croplands and recreation areas as buffer lands for conservation parks.
  • Maintain opportunities to create trail links.
  • Assess underutilized or abandoned properties for conservation potential.

Inventory and Analysis Studies

The planning process for conservation parks includes studies that identify and evaluate lands along the lines of the natural patterns of the landscape, natural drainage ways and flood retention areas, surface water and groundwater quality, historic and rural landscapes and vegetation and wildlife diversity. Technological advances are now available to planners and design professionals that include geographic information systems (GIS) and advanced modelling tools to map and analyse vast quantities of data. Geographic data, which are important for analysis and mapping are available from cities and counties, water districts and utility providers in digital format. At a minimum, an inventory and analysis dataset for a conservation park includes the following.

1) Environmental Value

  • Forested areas
  • Stream channel
  • Wetlands
  • Floodplain areas
  • Steep slopes: greater than 12%
  • Moderate slopes
  • Hydrologic soils: D (saturated floodplain soils)
  • Stream channel buffer: 30 to 90 feet
  • Key species habitats

2) Hydrology

  • Physiography
  • Watershed sub basins and floodplains
  • Tributaries and stream orders
  • Land cover: pervious/impervious surfaces

3) Vegetation

  • Vegetation cover types, such as forest, open woodland, prairie, old field, turf
  • Existing natural plant communities

Conservation Plan

A conservation plan uses the inventory maps as an analytical tool to establish degree of protection, permitted uses and the relationships between resource areas. Composite overlay maps are created as the next planning step in order to outline priorities for further acquisition, park management and guidelines for permitted uses.

Conservation Strategies Maps

1. High Priority Conservation/Acquisition Areas

  • Important watersheds associated with protection of water quality and water supply
  • Habitats or potential habitats of endangered or declining species
  • Riparian and coastal areas associated with wildlife, water conservation and shoreline protection
  • Wetlands associated with flooding protection, wildlife and water conservation
  • Geologic features or soil types that contain rare minerals or potential for unique habitat

2. Medium-Priority Conservation/Acquisition Areas

  • Areas of less significant habitat or natural features that can be managed for limited public access for environmental education, tourism and low impact recreational uses
  • Areas that can be used to test management prescriptions for higher quality areas

3. Lower-Priority Conservation/Acquisition Areas

  • Areas that can be managed for sustainable use to serve as buffer areas between developed areas and conservation parks. Examples of activities that might be permitted include controlled hunting, organic agriculture and pasturing and sustainable harvesting.

Restoration Strategies Maps

  • Potential high quality habitat areas for restoration
  • Areas of medium or low disturbance for restoration
  • Areas for potential large scale restoration strategies
  • Riparian corridors that can be reforested
  • Forest gaps that can be filled to create continuous forest canopy and forest interior
  • Woodland edges of mixed plant species

Management and Monitoring

Conservation areas require both a land management and a monitoring plan/program. The character and quality of the landscape depends directly on how it is managed over time. Land management for conservation parks involves several approaches.

  • Control, manage and preferably, eliminate invasive, non-native species.
  • Maintain the population density of fauna that threaten the natural regeneration of native plant species.
  • Replant with species native to the region.
  • Reintroduce extirpated native species.
  • Maintain habitat diversity, especially high priority ecosystems, such as interior forest, expansive grasslands and riparian woodlands.

Controlling invasive species is the most difficult environmental degradation to reverse in a conservation park. Continuous scientific monitoring of interventions in the landscape is crucial to the success of future landscapes and to cost effective actions. Monitoring provides the information to judge the effectiveness of actions and revise poor management decisions which ensuring that chronic problems are resolved, not exacerbated.


Comprehensive Plans

The comprehensive plan is the adopted official statement of a local government’s legislative body for future development and conservation. It sets forth goals such as analyse existing conditions and trends, describes and illustrates a vision for the physical, social and economic characteristics of the community in the years ahead and outlines policies and guidelines intended to implement that vision. Comprehensive plans address a broad range of interrelated topics in a unified way. A comprehensive plan identifies and analyses the important relationships among the economy, transportation, community facilities and services, housing, environment, land use, human services and other community components. It does so on a communitywide basis and in the context of a wider region.

A comprehensive plan addresses the long-range future of a community, using a time horizon up to 20 years or more. The most important function of a comprehensive plan is to provide valuable guidance to those in the public and private sector as decisions are made affecting the future quality of life of existing and future residents and the natural and built environments in which they live, work and play. All states have enabling legislation that either allow or require, local governments to adopt comprehensive plans. In some states, the enabling legislation refers to them as General plans. Most state-enabling legislation describes generally what should be included in a comprehensive plan.

Reasons to Prepare a Comprehensive Plan

1) View the “Big Picture”

The local comprehensive planning process provides a chance to look broadly at programs on housing, economic development, public infrastructure and services, environmental protection, natural and human-made hazards and how they relate to one another. A local comprehensive plan represents a “big picture” of the community related to trends and interests in the broader region and in the state in which the local government is located.

2) Coordinate Local Decision Making

Local comprehensive planning results in the adoption of a series of goals and policies that should guide the local government in its daily decisions. For instance, the plan should be referred to for decisions about locating, financing and sequencing public improvements, devising and administering regulations such as zoning, subdivision controls and redevelopment. In so doing, the plan provides a way to coordinate the actions of many different agencies within local government.

3) Give Guidance to Landowners and Developers

In making its decisions, the private sector can turn to a well-prepared comprehensive plan to get some sense of where the community is headed in terms of the physical, social, economic and transportation future. Because comprehensive planning results in a statement of how local government intends to use public investment and land development controls, the plan can affect the decisions of private landowners.

4) Establish a Sound Basis in Fact for Decisions

A plan, through required information gathering and analysis, improves the factual basis for land use decisions. Using the physical plan as a tool to inform and guide these decisions establishes a baseline for public policies. The plan thus provides a measure of consistency to governmental action, limiting the potential for arbitrariness.

5) Involve a Broad Array of Interests in a Discussion about the Long Range Future

Local comprehensive planning involves the active participation of local elected and appointed officials, line departments of local government, citizens, the business community, nongovernmental organizations and faith based groups in a discussion about the community’s major physical, environmental, social or economic development problems and opportunities. The plan gives these varied interests an opportunity to clarify their ideas, better envisioning the community they are trying to create.

6) Build an Informed Constituency

The plan preparation process, with its related workshops, surveys, meetings and public hearings, permits two-way communication between citizens and planners and officials regarding a vision of the community and how that vision is to be achieved. In this respect, the plan is a blueprint reflecting shared community values at specific points in time. This process creates an informed constituency that can be involved in planning initiatives, review of proposals for plan consistency and collaborative implementation of the plan.

Fig. 1 Comprehensive Plan Elements

Plan Elements

The scope and content of state planning legislation varies widely from state to state with respect to its treatment of the comprehensive plan. Required elements include:

  • Land use
  • Transportation
  • Community facilities (includes utilities and parks and open space)
  • Housing
  • Economic development
  • Critical and sensitive areas
  • Natural hazards
  • Agricultural lands

Optional elements addressing urban design, public safety and cultural resources may also be included. Moreover, the suggested functional elements are not intended to be rigid and inflexible. Participants in the plan process should tailor the format and content of the comprehensive plan to the specific needs and characteristics of their community. The level of detail in the implementation program will vary depending on whether such actions will be addressed in specific functional plans. The various plan elements are explained below.

1) Issues and Opportunities Element

The issues and opportunities element articulates the values and needs of citizens and other affected interests about what the community should become. The local government then interprets and uses those values and needs as a basis and foundation for its planning efforts. An issues and opportunities element should contain seven items.

  • A vision or goals and objectives statement
  • A description of existing conditions and characteristics
  • Analysis of internal and external trends and forces
  • A description of opportunities, problems, advantages and disadvantages
  • A narrative describing the public participation process
  • The legal authority or mandate for the plan
  • A narrative describing the connection to all the other plan elements

2) Vision or Goals and Objectives Statement

This statement is a formal description of what the community wants to become. It may consist of broad communitywide goals, may be enhanced by the addition of measurable objectives for each of the goals or may be accompanied by a narrative or illustration that sets a vision of the community at the end of the plan period.

3) Existing Conditions and Characteristics Description

This description creates a profile of the community, including relevant demographic data, pertinent historical information, existing plans, regulatory framework and other information that broadly informs the plan. Existing conditions information specific to a plan element may be included in that elements within the plan.

4) Trends and Forces Description

This description of major trends and forces is what the local government considered when creating the vision statement and considers the effect of changes forecast for the surrounding region during the planning period.

5) Opportunities, Problems, Advantages and Disadvantages

The plan should include a statement of the major opportunities, problems, advantages and disadvantages for growth and decline affecting the local government, including specific areas within its jurisdiction.

6) Public Participation

The summary of the public participation procedures describes how the public was involved in developing the comprehensive plan.

7) Legal Authority or Mandate

This brief statement describes the local government’s legal authority for preparing the plan. It may include a reference to applicable state legislation or a municipal charter.

8) The Land Use Element

The land use element shows the general distribution, location and characteristics of current and future land uses and urban form. In the past, comprehensive plans included colour coded maps showing exclusive land use categories, such as residential, commercial, industrial, institutional, community facilities, open space, recreational and agricultural uses. Many communities today use sophisticated land use and land cover inventories and mapping techniques, employing Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and new land use and land cover classification systems.

These new systems are better able to accommodate the multidimensional realities of urban form, such as mixed use and time-of-day/seasonal-use changes. Form and character are increasingly being used as important components of land use planning, integrating the many separate components into an integrated land use form.

9) Future Land Use Map

Future land uses, their intensity and density are shown on a future land use map. The land use allocations shown on the map must be supported by land use projections linked to population and economic forecasts for the surrounding region and tied to the assumptions in a regional plan, if one exists. Such coordination ensures that the plan is realistic. The assumptions used in the land use forecasts, typically in terms of net density, intensity, other standards or ratios or other spatial requirements or physical determinants are a fundamental part of the land use element. This element must also show lands that have development constraints, such as natural hazards.

10) Land Use Projections

The land use element should envision all land use needs for a 20-year period (or the chosen time frame for the plan) and all these needs should be designated on the future land use plan map. If this is not done, the local government may have problems carrying out the plan. For example, if the local government receives applications for zoning changes to accommodate uses the plan recognizes as needed, the locations where these changes are requested are consistent with what is shown on the land use plan map.

11) The Transportation Element

The modern transportation element commonly addresses traffic circulation, transit, bicycle routes, ports, airports, railways, recreation routes, pedestrian movement and parking. The exact content of a transportation element differs from community to community depending on the transportation context of the community and region. Proposals for transportation facilities occur against a backdrop of federally required transportation planning at the state and regional levels.

The transportation element considers existing and committed facilities and evaluates them against a set of service levels or performance standards to determine whether they will adequately serve future needs. Of the various transportation facilities, the traffic circulation component is the most common and a major thoroughfare plan is an essential part of this. It contains the general locations and extent of existing and proposed streets and highways by type, function and character of improvement.

12) Street Performance

In determining street performance and adequacy, planners are employing other approaches in addition to or instead of level-of-service standards that more fairly measure a street’s performance in moving pedestrians, bikes, buses, trolleys and light rail and for driving retail trade, in addition to moving cars. This is especially true for urban centres, where several modes of travel share the public realm across the entire right-of-way, including adjacent privately owned “public” spaces. Urban design plans for the entire streetscape of key thoroughfares can augment the transportation element. In addition, it is becoming increasingly common for the traffic circulation component of a comprehensive plan to include a street connectivity analysis. The degree to which streets connect with each other affects pedestrian movement and traffic dispersal.

13) Thoroughfare Plan

The thoroughfare plan, which includes a plan map, is used as a framework for roadway rehabilitation, improvement and signalization. It is a way of identifying general alignments for future circulation facilities, either as part of new private development or as new projects undertaken by local government. Other transportation modes should receive comparable review and analysis, with an emphasis on needs and systems of the particular jurisdiction and on meeting environmental standards and objectives for the community and region. Typically, surface and structured parking, bikeways and pedestrian ways should also be covered in the transportation element.

14) Transit

A transit component takes into consideration bus and light rail facilities, water-based transit (if applicable) and intermodal facilities that allow transportation users to transfer from one mode to another. The types and capacities of future transit service should be linked to work commute and non-work commute demands as well as to the applicable policies and regulations of the jurisdiction and its region.

15) The Transportation/Land Use Relationship

The relationship between transportation and land use is better understood today and has become a dominant theme in the transportation element. For instance, where transit exists or is proposed, opportunities for transit oriented development should be included; where increased densities are essential, transit services might need to be improved or introduced. This would also be covered in the land use element.

16) Community Facilities Element

The term “community facilities” includes the physical manifestations of governmental or quasi-governmental services on behalf of the public. These include buildings, equipment, land, interests in land, such as easements and whole systems of activities. The community facilities element requires the local government to inventory and assess the condition and adequacy of existing facilities and to propose a range of facilities that will support the land use element’s development pattern. The element may include facilities operated by public agencies and those owned and operated by for-profit and not-for-profit private enterprises for the benefit of the community, such as privately owned water and gas facilities or museums.

Some community facilities have a direct impact on where development will occur and at what scale water and sewer lines, water supply and wastewater treatment facilities. Other community facilities may address immediate consequences of development. For example, a storm water management system handles changes in the runoff characteristics of land as a consequence of development. Still other facilities are necessary for the public health, safety and welfare, but are more supportive in nature. Examples in this category would include police and fire facilities, general governmental buildings, elementary and secondary schools. A final group includes those facilities that contribute to the cultural life or physical and mental health and personal growth of a local government’s residents. These include hospitals, clinics, libraries and arts centres.

17) Operation by Other Public Agencies

Some community facilities may be operated by public agencies other than the local government. Such agencies may serve areas not coterminous with the local government’s boundaries. Independent school districts, library districts and water utilities are good examples. In some large communities, these agencies may have their own internal planning capabilities. In others, the local planning agency will need to assist or coordinate with the agency or even directly serve as its planner.

18) Parks, Open Space and Cultural Resources

A community facilities element may include a parks and open space component. Alternatively, parks and open space may be addressed in a separate element. The community facilities element will inventory existing parks by type of facility and may evaluate the condition of parks in terms of the population they are expected to serve and the functions they are intended to carry out. To determine whether additional parkland should be purchased, population forecasts are often used in connection with population based needs criteria (such as a requirement of so many acres of a certain type of park within a certain distance from residents).

Other criteria used to determine parkland need may include parkland as a percentage of land cover or a resident’s proximity to a park. Open space preservation may sometimes be addressed alone or in connection with critical and sensitive areas protection and agricultural and forest preservation. Here the emphasis is on the ecological, scenic and economic functions that open space provides. The element may also identify tracts of open land with historic or cultural significance, such as a battlefield. The element will distinguish between publicly held land, land held in private ownership subject to conservation easements or other restrictions and privately owned parcels of land subject to development.

19) The Housing Element

The housing element assesses local housing conditions and projects future housing needs by housing type and price to ensure that a wide variety of housing structure types, occupancy types and prices (for rent or purchase) are available for a community’s existing and future residents. There may currently be a need for rental units for large families or the disabled or a disproportionate amount of income may be paid for rental properties. Because demand for housing does not necessarily correspond with jurisdictional boundaries and the location of employment, a housing element provides for housing needs in the context of the region in which the local government is located.

20) Jobs/Housing Balance

The housing element can examine the relationship between where jobs are or will be located and where housing is or will be available. The jobs/housing balance is the ratio between the expected creation of jobs in a region or local government and the need for housing expressed as the number of housing units. The higher the jobs/housing ratio, the more jobs the region or local government is generating relative to housing. A high ratio may indicate to a community that it is not meeting the housing needs (in terms of either affordability or actual physical units) of people working in the community.

21) Housing Stock

The housing element typically identifies measures used to maintain a good inventory of quality housing stock, such as rehabilitation efforts, code enforcement, technical assistance to homeowners and loan and grant programs. It will also identify barriers to producing and rehabilitating housing, including affordable housing. These barriers may include lack of adequate sites zoned for housing, complicated approval processes for building and other development permits, high permit fees and excessive exactions or public improvement requirements.

22) The Economic Development Element

An economic development element describes the local government’s role in the region’s economy, identifies categories or particular types of commercial, industrial and institutional uses desired by the local government and specifies suitable sites with supporting facilities for business and industry. It has one or more of the following purposes.

  • Job creation and retention
  • Increases in real wages (e.g. economic prosperity)
  • Stabilization or increase of the local tax base
  • Job diversification (making the community less dependent on a few employers)

A number of factors typically prompt a local economic development program. They include loss or attraction of a major employer, competition from surrounding communities or nearby states, the belief that economic development yields a higher quality of life, the desire to provide employment for existing residents who would otherwise leave the area, economic stagnation or decline in a community or part of it, or the need for new tax revenues. An economic development element typically begins with an analysis of job composition and growth or decline by industry sector on a national, state wide or regional basis, including an identification of categories of commercial, industrial and institutional activities that could reasonably be expected to locate within the jurisdiction.

It will also examine existing labour force characteristics and future labour force requirements of existing and potential commercial and industrial enterprises and institutions in the state and the region in which the local government is located. It will include assessments of the jurisdiction’s and the region’s access to transportation to markets for its goods and services and its natural, technological, educational and human resources. Often, an economic development element will have targets for growth, which may be defined as number of jobs or wages or in terms of targeted industries and their land use, transportation and labour force requirements.

The local government may also survey owners or operators of commercial and industrial enterprises and inventory commercial, industrial and institutional lands within the jurisdiction that are vacant or significantly underused. An economic development element may also address organizational issues, including the creation of entities, such as non-profit organizations, that could carry out economic development activities.

23) The Critical and Sensitive Areas Element

Some comprehensive plans address the protection of critical and sensitive areas. These areas include land and water bodies that provide habitat for plants and wildlife, such as wetlands, riparian corridors and floodplains; serve as groundwater recharge areas for aquifers; and areas with steep slopes that are easily eroded or unstable. They also can include visually, culturally and historically sensitive areas. By identifying such areas, the local government can safeguard them through regulation, incentives, purchase of land or interests in land, modification of public and private development projects or other measures.

24) Natural Hazards Element

Natural hazards elements document the physical characteristics, magnitude, severity, frequency, causative factors and geographic extent of all natural hazards. Hazards include flooding, seismic activity, wildfires, wind related hazards such as tornadoes, coastal storms, winter storms and hurricanes and landslides or subsidence resulting from the instability of geological features. A natural hazards element characterizes the hazard, maps its extent, if possible, assesses the community’s vulnerability and develops an appropriate set of mitigation measures, which may include land use policies and building code requirements. The natural hazards element may also determine the adequacy of existing transportation facilities and public buildings to accommodate disaster response and early recovery needs such as evacuation and emergency shelter. Since most communities have more than one type of hazard, planners should consider addressing them jointly through a multi hazards approach.

25) The Agriculture Element

Some comprehensive plans contain agriculture and forest preservation elements. This element focuses on the value of agriculture and forestlands to the local economy, although it can also include open space, habitat and scenic preservation. For such an element, the local government typically inventories agriculture, forestland and ranks the land using a variety of approaches. It then identifies conflicts between the use of such lands and other proposed uses as contained in other comprehensive plan elements.

For example, if an area were to be preserved for agricultural purposes, but the community facilities element proposed a sewer trunk line to the area, that would be a conflict, which if not corrected would result in development pressure to the future agricultural area. Implementation measures might include agricultural use valuation coupled with extremely large lot requirements, transfer of development rights, purchase of development rights, conservation easements, marketing programs to promote the viability of local agricultural land and programs for agricultural based tourism.

Implementation of Comprehensive Plan

A local comprehensive plan must contain an implementation program to ensure that the proposals advanced in the plan are realized. Sometimes referred to as an “action plan,” the implementation program includes a list of specific public or private actions organized by their scheduled execution date such as short term (1 to 3 years), medium term (4 to 10 years) and long term (11 to 20 years) actions. Typical actions include capital projects, changes to land development regulations and incentives, new programs or procedures, financing initiatives and similar measures. Each listed action should assign responsibility for the task and include an estimate of cost and a source of funding. Some communities produce comprehensive plans that are more broadly based and policy driven. These plans will require a less detailed implementation program. The individual functional plans produced as a result of the comprehensive plan address the assignment of costs or specific tasks.


Greenways and Trails

Greenways are corridors of protected open space managed for conservation and recreation purposes. Greenways often follow natural land or water features and link nature reserves, parks, cultural features and historic sites with each other and with populated areas. Greenways can be publicly or privately owned and some are the result of public/private partnerships. Trails are paths used for walking, bicycling, horseback riding or other forms of recreation or transportation. Some greenways include trails, while others do not. Trails and greenways positively impact individuals and improve communities by providing not only recreation and transportation opportunities, but also by influencing economic and community development.

Greenways are “a linear open space established along either a natural corridor, such as a riverfront, stream valley or ridgeline or overland along a railroad right-of-way converted to recreational use, a canal, a scenic road or other route”. Greenways should be thought of as corridors. Some greenways serve as conservation corridors for plants and animals and do not permit human use. Land based greenway systems are normally composed of trails that traverse a variety of terrestrial based landscapes. Water based greenway systems use streams, rivers, lakes and larger bodies of navigable water, including inland seas. Some of the many trails and greenways benefits include,

  • Making communities better places to live by preserving and creating open spaces
  • Encouraging physical fitness and healthy lifestyles
  • Creating new opportunities for outdoor recreation and non-motorized transportation
  • Strengthening local economies
  • Protecting the environment
  • Preserving culturally and historically valuable areas

Types of Greenways

Greenway and trail systems vary in size, scope and function. They can include:

1. Local systems within a neighbourhood

2. Communitywide systems

3. Regional systems covering multiple counties

4. State-wide, multistate and national systems

Greenway systems also vary by location. They can include urban, suburban, rural, regional and state greenways. Greenways and trails have become two of the most popular products of the outdoor conservation movement, largely because they meet the needs of different constituent groups. Successful greenways and trails offer a wide range of benefits, including recreation, health and wellness, transportation, economic and education.

Planning and Design Elements

Several factors go into the development of functional and successful greenways systems.

1) Accommodating the User

Most greenways should serve the interests of a wide range of users, including people who want to walk, bike or view wildlife. Some greenways will be developed to serve conservation needs,

including habitat, floodplain or water quality protection. Greenways with trails should be designed and constructed to be accessible to all persons, regardless of their abilities.

2) Connectivity

The most successful greenways link people to popular destinations. Each segment of a system should have logical and functional endpoints. Greenways with trails that serve as links throughout a community are the most popular for users. Sometimes greenways will end abruptly, especially in urban areas. Greenways should be linked to other trails, conservation areas, parks and to an on-road network of bicycle facilities and sidewalks. Connectivity is especially important for plants and animals. In this manner, greenways serve as “gene-ways,” offering the opportunity for migration. Gene-ways are becoming important to the survival of plant and animal species worldwide due to fluctuations in temperature, rainfall and food source.

3) Multiuser Conflict

Multiuser conflict is regarded as the most serious safety concern for greenways and trails. Conflicts between cyclists and pedestrians are the most prevalent and are usually caused by reckless and unsafe behaviour, incompatible use values or by overcrowding. The most effective remedies begin with design and management. Trails should be designed to reduce conflict by widening the trail tread or by separating the trail tread for different users. The “tread” is the surface area used by trail users. Single tread, multiuse trails can also be managed to reduce conflicts, sometimes by separating users under a time-of-use or zoning policy. Involving user groups in the design of a trail is the best way to both understand local needs and resolve the potential for multiuse conflict. It is also important to post trails with a trail use ordinance and provide educational materials on how to use the trail.

Fig. 1 Multiple Tread Single Use Trial

Fig. 2 Multiple Tread Multiple Use Trial

Fig. 3 Single Tread Multiple Use Trial

4) Fitting Greenways to the Environment

The most enjoyable greenways celebrate the natural landscapes and native environments in which they traverse. Greenways should have rhythm and syncopation and flow within their surroundings so that they captivate users. Greenways should follow the natural contours of the land and take advantage of native landscape features such as water, groupings of vegetation, scenic views and interesting built features.

5) Integrating Greenways into the Built Environment

Greenways should also celebrate the built landscapes they traverse. Planners and designers often try to hide views deemed unpleasant. This may not always be a good idea. For greenways designed to be used by people, it is much better to keep view sheds open. Trails through urban landscapes provide an opportunity to interpret the surrounding environment. Great care must also be taken to successfully fit a new greenway and trail into the urban fabric. For example, the conversion of abandoned railroad corridors has been a growing resource for new urban trails in the past 20 years. But this practice presents challenges for different type of transportation activity. Creating new intersections between roads and converted rail-trails is the greatest challenge for these urban trails. It is important that intersections be designed to clearly determine who has the right-of-way. Intersections should also be very clearly marked for all groups to delineate crossing zones for trail users. Pavement markings, signage, lighting and texture pavement can all be used to make intersections safer.

Greenway Width

Greenways will vary in width depending on the amount of land available to support their intended use. Trail-based greenways may be quite narrow, with the sole purpose to support a hiking or biking trail. For metro or urban systems, urban trail greenway corridors should range in minimum width from 50 to 100 feet (15.2 to 30.5 meters). When urban greenway widths are less than 50 feet (15.2 meters), problems will occur with separation from adjacent land uses, maintenance and operations and enjoyment of use. For suburban greenways and rural greenways where other functions are to be included, such as storm water management, flood abatement, wildlife preservation or historic interpretation, minimum widths should begin at 100 feet (30.5 meters) and may extend beyond 300 feet (91.4 meters).

The width for a specific greenway project can and should vary according to the different requirements encountered. In some areas, extra land may need to be protected to support ecosystem preservation; in other areas of the project, a minimum width may be desirable to support through-passage of trail users.

Trail Width

For multiuse trails within a greenway, the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials (AASHTO) recommends a minimum width of 10 feet (3 meters). This width, required for projects that use federal transportation funds, is necessary to accommodate two-way bicycle and pedestrian traffic on the prepared trail tread. To accommodate heavy traffic in urban areas, it may be necessary to increase the width to 12, 14 or even 20 feet (3.7, 4.3, or 6.1 meters). In some cases, it may be desirable to divide the trail into “wheeled” and “non-wheeled” treads if the right-of-way and landscape can support separate treads.

Wheeled trails support users who bicycle or use other mechanical, human-powered means, including rollerblades to navigate a trail. Wheeled trail treads should be 10 feet (3 meters) wide. Non-wheeled users are pedestrians, and normally include people with disabilities who use a wheelchair to navigate a trail. Non-wheeled trail treads can be 6 or 8 feet (1.8 or 2.4 meters) in width. For greenways not funded by transportation dollars, and that do not intend to accommodate multiple user groups, it may be possible to develop a trail tread that is 6 or 8 feet (1.8 or 2.4 meters) wide. Generally, this is done for single-user groups, such as pedestrians or equestrians. Even in these cases, maintenance and public safety accommodations may require a wider tread.

Public Involvement in Greenway and Trail Design

Incorporating public input into the design of a greenway and trail system or segment, is an important consideration. The manner in which public input is received and used will go a long way toward gaining acceptance and buy in for the project. Finding the most appropriate method for involving the public in the process is important. There are different ways to involve the public, including meeting with individual landowners, forming citizen’s advisory committees, hosting public workshops and conducting a public survey.

Regardless of which techniques are used, all public input should be recorded and made part of a permanent record of the greenway or trail project. Greenways often traverse landscapes that have historically been regarded as the back door or backyard for residential, commercial, office and retail lands. Having a public right-of-way in front of and behind a home or business often raises safety and security concerns for property owners. The best strategy to address these concerns is to collect and disseminate factual information about the greenway project. It may be necessary to provide examples of where successful projects have been developed in nearby communities or neighbourhoods. When facing opposition, it is important to emphasize that masses of greenways and trails have been successfully open to public use over the past 20 years.

Project Development

The actual development of a greenway or trail project depends on the availability of land and money. Adequate right-of-way is required to support the multiple purposes of a greenway. Appropriate land is also required to support the intended trail experience. One of the greatest shortcomings in greenway and trail planning is the inability of local communities to conserve and protect adequate land for a greenway or trail project. Some land corridors are too narrow to achieve intended results.

Factors that affect project costs include grading of terrain, drainage and subsurface construction. These costs can be lowered through the use of volunteer labour, donation of materials and below market services from local contractors and manufacturers. They can also help reduce maintenance costs. Some of the most important issues to address and resolve in developing a greenway or trail include the following.

  • Adequate drainage of water away from the trail surface
  • Public access points, spaced no more than one quarter mile (0.4 kilometers) apart
  • Signage systems
  • Appropriate inspection of greenway and trail landscapes to correct deficiencies
  • Treatment of intersections with roadways and utilities
  • Maintenance and public safety

Emerging Issues

Greenway and trail development has adapted to concerns over adequate recreation, an interconnected transportation network and the protection of floodplains. Currently, the dominant concerns include health and wellness and water quality.

a) Health and Wellness

An active community is a healthy community. Numerous studies affirm that sedentary lives and prolonged periods of inactivity are major deterrents to healthfulness. Communities can help combat sedentary lifestyles by developing and providing better access to landscapes that encourage people to venture outside and enjoy the outdoors, which includes greenways and trails. When these landscapes are incorporated as a system within the fabric of development, they become even more valuable to health and wellness pursuits. The result is an interconnected environment that supports a range of outdoor activities and encourages community residents to incorporate physical activity and exercise into their daily lives.

b) Water Quality

Greenways can serve as filter strips for overland runoff, trapping harmful pollutants before they enter creeks, streams, rivers and lakes. The key is to establish a system of greenways that mirrors the native hydrology of a local landscape. When these greenways are properly sized, they can be very effective in protecting source waters from degradation and may also be used to clean and restore degraded waters.

Complexity of Greenways

Greenway development is often a reflection of community values and the commitment to balancing conservation and land use development. Greenway and trail development is a complex undertaking. It requires understanding the opportunities and constraints of the natural and human made environments and accounting for the interests and needs of diverse user groups. Defining a logical process for planning and designing each and every greenway and trail system or segment, is one way to ensure that all factors influencing development have been appropriately addressed and resolved.