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What Does Good Planning Look Like?

Posted: March 6, 2017

Planners often ask ‘What should your community look like in 20 years’?
Lynn Betts, 2000 for NRCS

Lynn Betts, 2000 for NRCS

We’ve all seen examples of poor planning, such as a fast food restaurant next to single family home, or a heavy manufacturer next to an elementary school.  But what about good planning: how do we know it when we see it?  It’s hard to answer that question if you don’t know what you like, so planners often use tools like visual preference surveys, which typically show different versions of a streetscape, downtown signs, parking options, or types of housing, and ask citizens to pick the ones they prefer. 

The answer is in part a matter of personal preference. Some people like an urban environment while others prefer wide-open spaces.  Here are some principles borrowed from the smart growth movement that can help you think about what you consider good planning:

  • Is there a mix of housing available for families with different incomes?
  • Can residents walk to recreation? Shopping? Worship? Work?
  • Does the community feel unique or distinctive – what sets it apart?
  • Is there open space? Do you see trees, waterways, farms, meadows, vistas – or any other sort of natural beauty?
  • What about the built environment? Are there historical sites, attractive urban places, inviting spots for walking, biking, or just sitting?

Few existing communities can meet all of these and other smart growth principles. A great deal depends on the specific situation, and some of these factors will be more important to you than others. Yet there’s something about a well-planned community that catches our eye.

Here’s a simple way to get a sense of your own preferences for your community: take lots of pictures. Whenever you see a community and think ‘that would be a nice place to live’, take a few photographs. Whether you’re traveling to the next county or thousands of miles from home, grab some shots. Then take some time to look at what you’ve collected. Do you see a pattern – are there types of development that show up over and over in your photographs? Are there aspects that could be incorporated into your own community?

I originally published this blog more than five years ago, but it’s even more relevant today. Communities across Pennsylvania and across the country are emerging from the economic downturn. They’re seeing a new interest in downtown fueled by young workers looking for an urban vibe. Maybe it’s time to get involved in your community’s planning efforts. These days it’s easier than ever to share your photos and ideas. Start a conversation – in pictures and words – about what good planning looks like to you.

Contact Information

Judy Chambers
  • Educator, Economic and Community Development
Phone: 717-334-6271 x313