Planning for Sustaining Places

By Scott Sherrill, UNC MPA Student

In the first of two back to back presentations on January 5, available online here, Dave Godschalk, of the UNC Chapel Hill City and Regional Planning Department, delivered a lecture on sustainable comprehensive planning, and Bill Roper and Brad Wilson, of UNC Healthcare and BlueCross BlueShield of North Carolina, respectively, discussed a recent healthcare collaboration.

Godschalk began his talk by stressing that planning is not just about a process, which has been much of the focus of Chapel Hill 2020 thus far, but also about a final end product.

We have described some of the principles from Dave Godschalk’s talk here, but beyond those basic principles, Godschalk also described best practices and many of the complicating issues facing communities in the 21st century: resource depletion, climate instability, energy scarcity, economic stress, social inequity, and public health. He also described the comprehensive plan as an ideal instrument for sustaining places because of their legal authority, scope to cover functions, and history of practice in the United States. Furthermore, they have a mandate to set community goals, engage citizens, establish responsibility for component parts, and achieve consensus. A good plan serves as a record of community agreement for where a community wants to go and how it wants to get there.

Godschalk posed the question “What can Chapel Hill learn from plans of other places?” A list of plans used can be found at the end of this post. The plans selected represent growing and shrinking areas, large and small, local, county, and regional plans. The plan Godschalk focused on as an apt model for Chapel Hill was that of Fort Collins, CO.

To think about sustaining places, Godschalk suggests breaking out of the traditional community planning assumptions on account of new realities and moving towards an adaptive planning model: continuous monitoring of plan, strategic changes to plan as needed to face unanticipated challenges or issues. The adaptive model combines the technical and participatory tracks of planning; develops contingencies; develops and tracks outcome measures; and has ongoing implementation. The new planning method necessitates a new format and topics to focus on multi-topical systems. The new format stems from an integrative framework that breaks out of traditional silos.

In the best cases, the comprehensive plans shape budget priorities, have clear assignment of responsibility, a metric for measuring the success of the plan, and a timeline in place for the completion of goals and objectives.

Sustaining plans typically:

  • Adopt sustainability principles
  • Integrate policies across programs
  • Consider equity, health, and wellbeing inputs
  • Act on scientific evidence
  • Address demands with limited funds
  • Implement non-traditional goals
  •  Monitor sustainability metrics
  • Link to regional plans
  • Conduct stakeholder engagement
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