Chapter 3 | Introduction to the Comprehensive Plan


This chapter introduces the concept of the comprehensive plan. It provides a brief history of comprehensive planning. It outlines the elements of a comprehensive plan and it explains the three essential characteristics of a comprehensive plan: it must be long-range; it must include the entire geographical area of the planning body; and it should include plans for all physical elements within that geographical area. Finally, the chapter discusses the important role of the planning commission in creating a plan and the equally important role of the governing body in making it work.

Weblinks from Chapter


  1. Does your community have a comprehensive plan? When was it adopted? When was it last reviewed? When was it last updated?
  2. If your community has a plan that is five or more years old, with a “future land-use” map in it, take that map and drive, walk, bike, or bus through newer parts of the community—how closely has new development followed that map?
  3. Make a table of contents for a new plan for your community; use the laws and examples quoted in this chapter as starting points, but make it to fit your community.
  4. Make a list of agencies that you would contact for data to be used in an existing conditions analysis. Even if you do not actually gather the data, at least identify the actual name of the agencies (not just “schools,” but the name of the school district, for example) and give a phone number for each. Is any of the data that you would need available in the university library? The public library?

Discussion Question

  1. What body is best suited to prepare a comprehensive plan for your community—the governing body, the planning commission, or some other group? Why? You may not be able to answer this question now, but you should be able to answer it by the time you finish the book. You will need to read the local newspaper regularly, watching for planning-related stories, and you will need to attend at least one meeting of the governing body and one meeting of the planning commission to help you answer it.


  • There is an extensive list of examples of comprehensive plans at the end of the web materials for Chapter 9.
  • Professor John Reps assembled hundreds of copies of historic urban plans. Many can be viewed at this website, which also contains information on ordering prints suitable for copies and obtaining permission to reproduce the maps.
  • Historic Urban Plans.
  • Lower Merion Township, Pennsylvania, provides links to four previous comprehensive plans on the website for its current plan, offering an opportunity to see the evolution of planning for a particular community.
  • The National Park Service provides information on the historic L’Enfant and MacMillan plans for Washington, D.C. The Library of Congress also provides information on the L’Enfant plan.
  • The Burnham Plan Centennial celebrates the anniversary of the Burnham plan for Chicago and provides information and resources on the plan

Common Search Terms

Use these terms in search engines to find additional examples and other resources: comprehensive plan, general plan, master plan