What Is a Comprehensive Plan?

In 2021 Columbia Valley Parks and Recreation District released a completed Comprehensive Park Plan for the community. CVPRD’s comprehensive park plan is a 43-page document that was driven by public input and designed to guide the park planning process. The comprehensive park plan is filled with valuable information that will help fulfill the specific needs and goals of the community. However, a 43-page document can be intimidating, and we want the comprehensive park plan to reach its full potential usefulness! Therefore, CVPRD will be releasing this series of blog posts breaking down (1) what a comprehensive plan is in general and (2) different sections of our very own comprehensive park plan. Today we will be covering the basics, of what is a comprehensive plan. Stay tuned for more detailed posts about each section of CVPRD’s comprehensive park plan!

Local governments (e.g., cities) are required by the state to produce a comprehensive plan for zoning regulations. Although it is a state requirement, comprehensive plans are often treated as an opportunity to identify shared goals in a community and come up with a long-term strategy for achieving them. General comprehensive plans cover many topics, some common ones are projected growth, preservation/conservation of nature, economic development, equity, and accessibility needs of citizens, neighborhood development, and much more. 

An example might be helpful, let’s use Bellingham. Imagine a map of the city and zoom out to the full extent (photos below for reference), it would be difficult to see detailed relationships from this scale. However, you would be able to see the city boundaries and the relationship of the city to the water. A comprehensive plan might cover preserving the coastline for its natural beauty, or perhaps the plan would rather plan on developing along the water since it’s so desirable. 

On the left, City of Bellingham Topographic Map. On the right, Bellingham’s Parks, Trails, and Natural Areas Map. Source: City of Bellingham

Imagine zooming into the map to where you can see the distinction of neighborhoods (photo below for reference). Which neighborhoods have the highest number of residents (density)? Is there too much traffic in one area? Look at the projected growth, which places need to grow denser or where will we start developing? 

A cropped image of Bellingham’s Neighborhoods Map. Source: City of Bellingham

Now, you can even go a step further and zoom into the neighborhoods themselves (photo below for reference). How are people commuting to work? Are the public transportation systems in place underutilized or do we need more? Do there need to be more bike lanes? In places where people prefer to walk are the sidewalks adequate? Are the speed limits in place maintaining a safe and comfortable pedestrian environment? So many different relationships and moving parts it can become overwhelming. The comprehensive plan is designed to make things less overwhelming and more manageable by taking a step back, surveying what’s currently happening, considering what is projected to happen in the future, taking community input and needs, and transforming it into a digestible, meaningful, and guiding plan. 

Neighborhoods Near Downtown. Source: Google Maps

At the end of the day, the most important part of the comprehensive plan is that the community is involved. The community’s needs and input are vital to creating a successful comprehensive plan. For example, if a city was planned solely around its projected growth, it could potentially be a disaster. Perhaps the land use planners would plan to create pockets of high density to fit as many people into one space as possible without adequate utilities, infrastructure, or public space – the community would not be satisfied with this living situation. That is why it’s so important for planners to assess what is and is not working for the community and plan for a better city for all. After all, without the community, there is no city. 

Setting goals is important to achieve growth, and creating a comprehensive plan based on the community’s needs and goals is important to achieve a happy growing city. In the next post, we’ll take a closer look at CVPRD’s comprehensive park plan and examine the goals and objectives created for the specific community profile. Stay tuned!

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