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.


Transportation System Planning

Effective transportation systems are essential for maintaining the productivity, health and safety of communities and regions. A transportation plan guides the investment in and timing of, improvements to the transportation network to meet community mobility, accessibility, safety, economic and quality of life needs.

Reasons to Prepare a Transportation Plan

Transportation plans are typically prepared to address the following items in a systematic, coordinated and comprehensive manner.

  • Management of existing systems
  • Maintenance of previous investment
  • Realignment of existing services
  • Introduction of new services
  • Construction of new facilities
  • Identification of ways to finance system maintenance and improvements

The process of preparing various transportation plans gives government agencies or elected officials to assess the adequacy of the existing system and to plan to meet future needs while maintaining local and regional transportation systems in good condition. The outcome of the process should be a transportation plan that defines existing problems and issues, predicts future deficiencies and problems, defines solutions and identifies where to find the resources needed to manage and implement plan recommendations. The goals of a particular transportation plan are usually determined by comparing existing transportation system performance to projected future demands and by considering the social, economic and environmental circumstances of the community. Transportation plans often provide a “blueprint” for future development and redevelopment in support of regional and comprehensive land use plans.

The development of a successful transportation plan requires the insights of those entities responsible for various components of the transportation system, working in concert with those who will use and be affected by the transportation service and improvements. Those responsible for plan development must create an effective forum for evaluating system deficiencies, assessing alternatives, and selecting the most effective course of action. Development of some plans is a highly structured process, complete with formal committees. Others are less structured and rely more heavily on exiting committees or informal communication networks to solicit participation.

Types of Transportation Plans

Transportation plans vary widely in approach, content and scope as determined by geographic coverage, scale and time frame. There are four basic types of transportation plans.

  1. Statewide transportation plans
  2. Metropolitan area long range transportation plans
  3. Local transportation plans
  4. Corridor plans

1) Statewide Transportation Plans

Statewide transportation plans, which are prepared by state DOTs (Department of transportation), provide the basis for coordinating data collection and analyses to support planning, programming and project development decisions. A basic requirement of plan development is coordination with the public and other entities with jurisdiction. The extent of coordination required with other transportation planning entities in developing the plan is based on the scale and complexity of many issues, including transportation problems, safety concerns, and land use, employment, economic, environmental, housing and community development objectives within the state.

The plans typically reference, summarize or contain information about the availability of financial and other resources needed to implement the plan. State plans are evaluated on a regular basis and updated periodically to reflect changing statewide priorities and needs. These are intermodal in nature. They address passenger, goods and freight movement for a minimum 20-year planning horizon. These plans are federally mandated to consider the following issues.

  • Economic vitality
  • Safety and security
  • Accessibility and mobility
  • Environmental quality
  • Quality of life
  • System connectivity
  • System efficiency
  • System preservation

2) Metropolitan Area Long Range Transportation Plans

Metropolitan area long range transportation plans focus on evaluating alternative transportation and land use scenarios to identify major travel corridors, assess potential problems and provide a basis for planning and programming major improvements. These plans cover multiple jurisdictions and are therefore “regional” in emphasis. Prepared under the direction of a federally designated MPO (Metropolitan Planning Organization), they typically cover a 20-year planning horizon. The plan must demonstrate the likely availability of funding sources needed to implement proposed programs and projects.

3) Local Transportation Plans

Local transportation plans are prepared either as stand-alone documents or as an element of a comprehensive plan. Local governments or regional transit providers typically prepare these plans, but they are coordinated closely with MPOs and state DOTs. The plans provide the basis for the programming and implementation of local transportation actions. They address small scale improvements and projects requiring major capital investments. The typical plan consists of an inventory of existing facilities and a description of existing conditions, an assessment of system deficiencies, a projection of future needs, a description of the proposed plan, discussion of cost implications and a summary of actions required for plan implementation. These plans usually address some short-range early action items (1 to 5 years), some midrange actions (5 to 10 years), and longer term activities in a 20-year time horizon.

4) Corridor Plans

Corridor plans that focus on transportation are prepared for high priority areas showing signs of congestion or predicted for significant future travel volume or for transportation facilities of historical or natural significance. The entity responsible for implementing the improvements most frequently prepares these plans. Coordination of corridor plans with the general public as well as with federal, state, and local agencies is required.

Corridor plans usually have a 20-year planning horizon. The degree of federal or state DOT participation is often governed by the proposed funding for the plan’s implementation. Corridor plans involve the definition of the corridor to be studied, along with a clear presentation of the problem to be solved. Consideration of a wide range of alternative will help to solve the identified transportation problem. These alternatives can involve different levels of investment or different types of corridor improvements. They are systematically evaluated using a set of stakeholder developed evaluation criteria. These criteria typically include land use, environmental effects, community concerns, cost, capacity and effectiveness. The analysis results are shared and discussed publicly prior to making a decision on a preferred course of action. The final plan document summarizes both the planning process and the results, explaining how the decision was made and the actions necessary to implement the plan.

Plan Components

Transportation plans should include the following elements.

  • An overview of the planning process
  • A description of existing conditions (transportation network and land use)
  • A forecast of future conditions (transportation network and land use)
  • A summary of transportation needs
  • An assessment of transportation system capacity
  • A series of alternative scenarios for future and proposed improvements
  • A description of cost implications and funding sources
  • Guidelines for implementation and performance monitoring
  • A program for ensuring public involvement


Types of Parks

Contemporary parks and open-space planning focuses on creating systems that respond to local values, needs and circumstances. The region of the country, physical setting, landscape features, demographics and socioeconomic characteristics are all determining factors in the form that a community’s park and open-space system. In each system, parks and open spaces are defined under various classifications that function individually and collectively to create a cohesive and balanced system. Successful parks and open-space systems are often planned around distinguishing landscape features or local themes that exhibit the unique qualities of a community.

Common to all systems is the notion of creating a high-quality living environment through the provision of parks, open spaces and recreational amenities. With such a broad spectrum of potential applications, the classifications for parks and open space are necessarily flexible and adaptable to the unique circumstances to which they are applied. The extent to which one type of park versus another is found within a system is determined by local needs and circumstances. In a metropolitan system, emphasis on neighborhood parks, parkways and large urban parks is common in response to the urban form and distinctiveness of individual neighborhoods.

Table : 1 Classification of Parks

Sl. No.


General Description


Neighborhood Park

Neighborhood parks are the basic units of the park system and serve a recreational and social purpose. Focus is on informal recreation.


Community Park

Serves a broader purpose than neighborhood parks. Focus is on meeting community-based recreational needs, as well as preserving unique landscapes and open spaces.


Large Urban Park

Large urban parks are generally associated with larger urban centers with large populations. Focus is on meeting wide-ranging community needs and preserving unique and sometimes extensive landscapes and open spaces.


Youth Athletic Complex/Facility           

Consolidates programmed youth athletic fields and associated facilities to fewer strategically located sites throughout the community. Also can provide some neighborhood use functions.


Community Athletic Complex/Facility

Consolidates programmed adult and youth athletic fields and associated facilities to a limited number of sites. Tournament-level facilities are appropriate.



Lands set aside for preserving natural resources, remnant landscapes and open space and providing visual aesthetics/buffering. Also provides passive-use opportunities. Ecological resource stewardship and wildlife protection are high priorities. Suitable for ecologically sensitive trail corridors.



Linear park like transportation corridors between public parks, monuments, institutions and sometimes business centers. Can be maintained green space or natural in character.


Special Use

Covers a broad range of parks and recreation facilities oriented toward single-purpose uses, such as a nature center, historic sites, plazas, urban squares, aquatic centers, campgrounds and golf courses.



School sites that are used in concert with or in lieu of, other types of parks to meet community park and recreation needs. School sites often provide the majority of indoor recreational facilities within a community.


Private Park/Recreation Facility

Parks and recreation facilities that are privately owned, yet contribute to the public park and recreation system.


Regional Parks and Park Reserves

Larger-scale, regionally based parks and open spaces that focus on natural resource preservation and stewardship.

1) Neighborhood Park

Neighborhood parks are the basic unit of the park system and serve a recreational and social purpose. Development focuses on informal recreation. Programmed activities are typically limited to youth sports practices and occasionally games.

2) Community and Large Urban Parks

Community and large urban parks are considerably larger in scale and serve a broader purpose than neighborhood parks. The main difference between a community and large urban park is that the latter is often associated with urban settings with large populations. Large urban parks also tend to be larger than community parks in order to provide more park space in a denser populated urban setting. The focus of both types of parks is on meeting wide-ranging community recreation and social needs. The facilities found within these parks are entirely based on community needs. Development focuses on both active and passive recreation, with a wide array of programmed activities often being accommodated. Special-use facilities are routinely located within these parks. This type of park also encompasses unique and extensive landscape features indicative of the region.

3) Youth and Community Athletic Complexes

Youth and community athletic complexes consolidate athletic facilities to strategic locations within a community to take advantage of programming efficiencies and economies of scale. Consolidation of athletic facilities also allows for a closer association between players, parents and coaches at scheduled events. Larger and fewer sites also provide greater conveniences, such as parking, restrooms and concessions and the capacity to generate revenue to offset operational and maintenance costs. Community athletic complexes are most common and serve both youth and adult athletic programs.

Youth athletic complexes are more common in larger metropolitan areas. In most cases, athletic complexes are heavily programmed with facilities to maximize land uses and operational efficiency. The type of facilities found within these parks is entirely based on community athletic program needs. With ever-changing recreational trends, greater emphasis is being placed on designing athletic complexes to be as flexible as possible without unduly compromising specific uses.

4) Greenways

Greenways are lands set aside for preservation of natural resources, remnant landscapes, open space and visual aesthetics. Greenways also provide passive-use opportunities, most often in the form of trails and nature centers. The key focus is on protecting ecological resources and providing wildlife corridors. Greenways can take various forms. In the broadest application, greenways form a network of interconnected natural areas throughout a community. They function as part of a border less system that links together parks, natural open spaces and trail corridors into a latticework of public space.

In this context, the line between greenways, parks, trails and the built environment is purposefully fostering the “city as a park” concept. Establishing an extensive continuous greenway system requires a close collaborative relationship between the city and development community in order to set aside the land for this purpose. Greenways can also take the form of a stand-alone land parcel dedicated to open-space preservation. These are often referred to as nature preserves or nature parks and often serve the same basic function as other forms of greenways.

5) Parkways

Parkways are best characterized as linear parks that also serve as transportation corridors between public parks, historic features, monuments, institutions and business centers. They often follow a notable landscape feature such as a creek or river.

6) Special-Use Parks

The special-use classification covers a broad range of parks and recreation facilities oriented toward single purpose or specialized use.

  • Nature and cultural or performing arts centers
  • Historic sites: downtowns, plazas, cemeteries, historic landscapes, churches and monuments
  • Recreation facilities: aquatic centers, campgrounds, ice arenas, fitness centers, community centers, skateboard parks and stadiums
  • Public gathering areas: amphitheaters, community commons, town centers and urban squares

7) Park-School

The park-school classification pertains to school sites used in concert with or in lieu of, other classes of parks to meet community park and recreation needs. In most cases, these sites are best suited for youth athletic facilities for school, district and community- based recreational programs. Park-school sites also often provide the majority of indoor recreational facilities within a community. To a lesser degree, school sites can also be used to service neighborhood park needs. The limiting factor is that most of these sites are heavily programmed for active uses and school buildings. This often leaves little space to accommodate neighborhood-focused amenities and create an aesthetically appealing setting that would draw families into the site.

8) Private Park/Recreation Facility

The private park/recreation facility classification covers a broad range of nonpublic parks and recreation facilities. This includes facilities such as golf courses, fitness clubs, museums, private courtyards, amphitheaters, horse-riding stables, water parks and miniature golf courses. This classification is provided as a means to acknowledge the contribution that a given private facility has to the public parks and open-space system within a community.

9) Regional Parks

The definition of a regional park varies considerably across the country. The common distinguishing feature is that regional parks typically service multiple cities and cross political jurisdictions. In many cases, a separate regional park authority is established to manage a series of regional parks. In some areas of the country, developers of regional parks focus on setting aside larger tracts of land to preserve natural resources, remnant landscapes and open space. A key objective is protecting ecological resources and providing wildlife habitat. Passive uses, such as hiking, canoeing and nature viewing are most common forms of activities.

The primary distinction between this type of regional parks and greenways is scale and service area. Regional parks are typically at a much larger scale (in land area) than greenways. In other areas of the country, regional parks are an extension of the large urban park classification. In addition to preserving natural resources and open space, these parks also provide active recreational areas, gardens, picnic facilities and other forms of special use. In parts of the country, regional parks include major national monuments and historic landscapes.


Development Control Regulations (DCR)

Development Control Regulations are a set of rules that are planned to ensure the proper and effective development of a city, as well as the general welfare of the public. Regulation is necessary to ensure planned development. It depends on a “plan-led system” whereas development plans are made and the public is consulted. DCR govern the urbanization of a city and ensure efficient growth and the general welfare of the public. These regulations aim to provide basic needs to the public such as health, safety, convenience, economy and amenity. 

It is a mechanism that controls the development and use of land. This involves the construction of new buildings, the extension of the existing ones, reducing the misuse of land and the change of use of the building or land to another use. Developing new houses/industrial buildings/shops are important for supporting economic progress. At the same time, it is also necessary to protect or improve the quality of towns, villages, countryside, etc. 

Objectives of the Development Control Regulations 

  • To stop the unfavorable demand and misuse of land. 
  • To assist private interest along with public interest in all phases of development. 
  • Development control is legal in nature and the planning authority has the power to punish the defaulters. 
  • To control and limit overcrowding on land. 
  • To control the private development as per the required rules in connection to public safety, health, and convenience. 

Types of Development Control Regulation (DCR) 

1. Town and country planning act 

It involves the creation and implementation of strategies to provide better infrastructure for people. 

2. Zoning regulations act 

It deals with the allocation of land for specific purposes and keeping a check on the use of land and the construction norms.

3. Slum clearance act 

The major focus is on reducing the number of slums and ensuring the rehabilitation of inhabitants. 

4. Building bye-laws 

These are a set of regulations imposed on developers, which must be mandatorily met during construction. 

5. Periphery control act 

The purpose is to protect peripheral land that comes under the jurisdiction of a State from all sorts of encroachments and illegal use. 

6. Land acquisition act 

Acquiring land for governmental projects and compensating the landowners appropriately. 

Controllable Factors under DCR 

1. Floor Space Index (FSI) 

It is the ratio of the covered area of a building or the built-up area to the area of the plot on which the building is meant to be built. Floor Space Index is the total area (including all floors) that can be built upon a plot, leaving the remaining as open space. It is authorized by the government for a particular locality. It is sometimes termed as Floor Space Compensation Ratio (FSR), Floor Area Ratio (FAR), site ratio or plot ratio. FSI rules are usually based on the National Building Code. 

As per the new rules, balconies, flower beds, voids and niches are calculated in FSI, and to compensate for the loss, the government has permitted fungible FSI up to 35 percent for residential and 20 percent for commercial developments. 

2. Parking space 

There is a specified space for parking in residential, commercial and educational institutions as per the defined rules in different States. However, as per the norms, parking size should be a minimum of 2.5 m x 5.5 m (motor vehicle), 1.2-3 sq m (two wheeler), 3.75 m x 7.5 m (transport vehicle)

3. Size of plots 

As per the DCR, the size of plots appropriate for residential development ranges according to the income level of occupants. The ideal size requirements under DCR are -

  • Low-Income Group (LIG) – 135 sq m to 180 sq m
  • Mid-Income Group (MIG) - 216 sq m to 360 sq m
  • High-Income Group (HIG) - 486 sq m to 972 sq m 

4. Lifts 

A building with a height of more than 13 m must have a lift from the ground floor. The minimum capacity of the lift should be six persons. 

5. Fire Safety 

Buildings exceeding three floors need a certificate of approval from the Fire Department. Moreover, every floor with more than 150 sq m of floor area and a capacity of over 20 people should have at least two doorways, along with a staircase for the fire exit. 

6. Structural design and services 

The architectural design should be made as per the prescribed norms of the National Building Code (NBC) of India. The building must possess plumbing facilities, protection from lightning, electrical installation and air-conditioning, to name a few. 

Development Control Regulations in India’s Top Cities 

1. Development Control Rules, Mumbai 

In January 2012, the Maharashtra Government had announced amendments to the Development Control Rules for Mumbai with the prime objective of bringing in transparency and reducing temporary and discretional decision-making at different levels. The new rules mean pricing based on maximum available FSI, reducing the risk that was largely accepted earlier with regard to excessive saleable area.

Under the new DCR, areas for balcony, flower-beds, stairs, terraces, corners, voids would be counted in the FSI but these were not considered in FSI calculation earlier. 

With the new rule, plots measuring over 2,125 sq.m.(22,873 sq.ft.) will now be permitted to build more, vertically. As per the new regulation, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) will calculate the development potential of a plot on its gross area, without decreasing the area reserved for recreational purposes. The developers will now be able to build more apartments in a building with a proportionate increase in the open spaces in the building. 

Every plot, where a residential structure is coming up will have to reserve 15% of land for open spaces known as recreational ground. Earlier, according to the 1967 and 1991 DCR, when the BMC calculated the development potential of a plot, the reserved 15% plot was deducted. This resulted in a lesser number of flats being constructed. However, the BMC will determine the development potential including the reserved space now with the new rule. Resulting in permitting builders to develop more in the specified Floor Space Index or FSI. 

2. Development Control Rules, Chennai 

The State government has issued a Government Order, revising the 2nd Master Plan of the Chennai Metropolitan Area and the Development Control Regulations in other parts of the State. This is only for residential buildings that will reduce the cost of housing for low-income groups. 

The Tamil Nadu government has increased the maximum Floor Space Index (FSI) for multistoried residential buildings from 2.5 to 3.25. 

According to the amended terms on ‘premium FSI’, a multistoried residential building will get the maximum FSI of 3.62 on the payment of premium charges. The maximum FSI for specific buildings in the residential category and ordinary residential buildings will be 2. 

The Development Control Regulations 26 of the Chennai Metropolitan Area has been revised to change the FSI for special buildings also from 1.5 to 2 for continuous building areas. 

Likewise, the Development Regulations 27(3)D of the Chennai Metropolitan Area has been revised. 

The Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA) will also allow premium FSI over and above the usually permissible FSI subject to a maximum of 1.62. Now, the maximum FSI for a multistoried building will be 3.62 using premium FSI.

For a road width of 18 meters, the premium FSI permissible will be 50%. For roads with a width of 12-18 meters, the premium FSI permissible will be 40% and for roads with a width of 9-12 meters, it will be 30%. 

Factors contributing to non−compliance of the development control regulations in India 

  1. Failure of planning process to take account of ground realities and reset the planning guidelines, thus resulting in supply side shortages in terms of legitimate spaces for various land uses. 
  2. Weak enforcement machinery is responsible for the non-implementation of building laws and regulations. Implementation of development policies has been characterized by delays and poor execution of projects and programmes by nodal service providing agencies, lack of institutional and inter-sectoral coordination framework for development planning and the inadequate participation by the beneficiary population. 
  3. Unrealistic and cumbersome regulations including complex development control norms and building byelaws along with long drawn approval. 
  4. Absence of proper standing of institutional mechanism for seeking justifiable modifications/ relaxations in the existing building code and land use regulations. In recent years, there has been considerable debate and criticism leveled at the management of local government and legal system as it does not provide for quick and apt resolutions of building violation issues, which result in delays and misuse of the system. 

Ways to improve the enforcement of development regulations 

  • Simplification of development control requirements by simplifying procedures and introducing appropriate policies/ zoning regulations while safeguarding the health and environment and not damaging the economic base of the activities concerned. 
  • Revisiting the principles on which development control is based. As in case of zoning systems, certainty for developers is achieved at the cost of inflexibility for unforeseen demands and needs; while in discretionary systems flexibility to accommodate rapid and unforeseen changes comes at the cost of uncertainty and greater opportunities for corruption. It has been recommended that a system needs to be evolved to achieve a workable compromise between these principles.
  • Strengthening the enforcement capacity to monitor and take action on illegal developments and violations of development controls. In order to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of development controls, it is important that rather than devoting resources to improving the quality of urban spatial plans and development regulations, urban managers should concentrate on governance. It is necessary to make the whole system of plan formulation and implementation more dynamic and responsive to changes. For this, the planning legislation will have to be modified, updated and made more citizens friendly.