Chapter 2 | Introduction to Planning


This chapter provides a brief introduction to planning in general and to the comprehensive plan. It describes the process typically used in creating a comprehensive plan and the challenges of creating a cohesive plan in a democratic and participatory society.  The chapter introduces the related concept of systems thinking. It traces planning traditions in the United States. It includes an introduction to the use of maps – including Geographic Information Systems (GIS) – in modern planning practice.

Weblinks from Chapter


  1. Identify two or three different kinds of plans that you have made for yourself or your family during the last year. Where these long-range or short-range plans? What data was involved in making the plans? Were the policy decisions difficult to make, or did the data make it obvious which choice made sense?
  2. Identify at least one group planning effort in which you have been involved, in an organization, a class, or a dorm. Who made the policy decision for that group? Did you vote? How did the group decide who would make the policy decision? What approach to planning did it use?
  3. Identify all of the systems of which you are a part. For at least one of those systems, try to identify all of the systems of which it is a part. Try to draw a schematic diagram showing how the systems relate to one another. How is energy exchanged between each system and its environment?
  4. If you wanted to show your whole community on a map that would fit on one page of the local newspaper, what scale would you use? Can you find a map at about that scale? Is that a realistic scale to show details about land use and other factors in your community?
  5. Gather as many maps as you can find about your community. Compare their currency, scale, apparent accuracy, and other information. How easy would it be to combine the information from all of those maps onto one?

Discussion Question

  1. Should the policy-making body for community plans be an elected body or an appointed one, removed from politics? Why?


Note that these are just a few examples that I know are user-friendly and available. Use the common search terms (key terms) below to find others.

Supplemental Resources

  • For some good resources on systems thinking, see the educational website provided by and resources provided for nonprofit organizations in the “Free Management Library”.
  • For information on strategic planning, see resources provided for nonprofit organizations in the “Free Management Library”.
    For news and information about contemporary community planning practice, go to the websites of the American Planning Association and Planetizen. For similar information from the perspective of planning commission members, try the Planning Commissioners Journal, which makes some of its content available on-line at the Planners Web.
  • Community Planning is a British website that provides extensive resources on the subject.
  • Most of the websites shown under “weblinks from chapter” include resource information on how to use the mapping tools found there.
  • The U.S. Geological Survey provides an excellent educational website about the use of GIS.
  • Commercial providers of GIS Software include:  ESRI (originally called Environmental Systems Resources, Inc.), developer of ArcGIS; Intergraph, maker of the Geomedia software; Pitney Bowes Business Insight, which markets MAPINFO software; Autodesk, maker of AutoCAD, which is widely used by engineering firms; and more than a dozen others – use a search engine to search for “GIS software.”  All of these are reputable providers, but a listing here is not intended as an endorsement of a particular product.
  • Several sites provide information on free, open-source GIS software, including Free GIS, and Geo Community. Note that, in general, the free software will require a higher degree of skill for the user than the proprietary software, most of which has at least some “turnkey” aspects.

Note, also, that if you are a student at a university, your university may have a “site license” for one or more of the commercial GIS programs – just ask.

Common Search Terms

Use these terms in search engines to find additional examples and other resources:

planning maps, interactive maps, GIS, on-line mapping, community planning, urban planning, city planning, town planning