7 Types Of Urban Planning Concepts Explained

We break down several types of urban planning concepts to help you understand what it takes to breathe life into a city.

As a ClearPoint Senior Consultant, Rachel works with ClearPoint customers to improve their performance management and strategy execution.

Urban planning is the process of developing and designing urban areas. Encompassed in that process is the use of open land, air, water, and the built environment, including buildings, transportation, economic and social functions. Typically used as part of a larger city plan, an urban plan should tie back to an organization’s mission and vision statements.

Urban planners direct the development of cities and towns. A well-developed, effective urban plan requires thorough research and input from numerous stakeholders, including citizens, landowners, and government staff. Urban planners should think about their plans from the perspectives of all who will be impacted by their efforts. And since implementing the plan uses taxpayer dollars, the plan should be as practical and cost-effective as possible.

From a local government perspective, urban planning touches on numerous city-life elements—new and pre-existing land, buildings, roads, communal spaces, transportation, economic development, infrastructure, and the environment, among others. We’ve broadly categorized these aspects into different conceptual areas below. These areas are commonly referred to as types of urban planning, but it’s important to understand that they are not mutually exclusive—for an urban plan to be cohesive, it should include many or all of the below areas.

7 Types of Urban Planning

1. Strategic Urban Planning

Strategic urban planning focuses on setting high-level goals and determining desired areas of growth for a city or metropolitan area. The result of the planning process is a strategic plan—also called the development plan, core strategy, or comprehensive plan. The strategic plan’s goals may include easing transportation throughout the city, creating more community spaces, improving citizens’ quality of life, or encouraging people to visit or move to the city.

Strategic urban planning focuses on setting high-level goals and determining desired areas of growth for a city or metropolitan area. Click To Tweet

This is generally the highest level of the planning process and other components of planning typically will fit into this type of plan.

2. Land-Use Planning

Land-use planning largely concerns legislation and policy, adopting planning instruments like governmental statutes, regulations, rules, codes, and policies to influence land use.

On a broad level, these planning instruments deal with the type, location, and amount of land needed to carry out different functions of the city. They also serve to zone or reserve land for certain purposes such as:

  • Residential, for buildings like apartment homes, single-family residences, and condominiums
  • Commercial, for buildings like retail shops and office buildings
  • Industrial, for structures like manufacturing plants and warehouses
  • Municipal, for structures like police stations and courthouses

As with subsequent types of urban planning, consulting with the community and relevant stakeholders is an important part of land-use planning to ensure transparency, and incorporate a wide range of interests into the overall plan. If you communicate your strategic plan well, then transportation, commercial and industrial planning should flow right into your plans.

3. Master Planning

Master planning is typically used for greenfield development projects, or building on undeveloped land—instead of modifying pre-existing structures or spaces, you’re starting from scratch.

This type of urban planning envisions a future state for a given space, and what it will take to achieve that vision. Urban planners must consider the required zoning (from your land-use plan) and infrastructure (see concept 7 below) to make the project possible, such as residential and commercial land, transportation considerations, road locations, etc. They must also plan the location of urban amenities such as community facilities, schools, parks, and the like.

Again, consulting with landowners and government agencies impacted by the plan is an essential task here. Additionally, you may need to bring in professional consultants to gather important expertise and insights, ensure the plan considers all potential angles, and set the completed space up for success for years to come.

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4. Urban Revitalization

In contrast to master planning, urban revitalization focuses on improving areas that are in a state of decline. The exact definition of a declining area will differ from city to city—for example, areas that have a troubling number of failing businesses or a stagnant or decreasing population growth. The improvement tactics city leaders use for revitalization will depend on the root cause of decline, and may include things like repairing roads, developing infrastructure, cleaning up pollution, and adding to parks and other public spaces, etc.

Community interaction is especially important with this urban planning concept, as local residents and business owners often have insights that can help inform and tailor planning efforts. You may need to change land use (see concept #2) from industrial to residential to get the loft apartments you want, or you may need to involve environmental planning (see concept #6) to clean up any messes from previous use cases.

5. Economic Development

Economic development is about identifying areas of growth to foster greater financial prosperity within the city, specifically by enticing companies to build or move offices there. Subsequently, those companies then hire local talent and drive commuter traffic to the new office. More workers dining at local restaurants for lunch, getting gas at nearby gas stations, and stopping by local grocery stores on the way home will boost visibility and spend in the area.

Sometimes an economic development department lives outside of the planning department of a municipality, so it is important to help that group navigate Land Use Plans, Master Plans, and Infrastructure Plans to ensure that any development projects are workable. Of course it will be important to coordinate with environmental plans as well (see below).

6. Environmental Planning

Environmental planning is a type of strategic development that emphasizes sustainability. Considerations for this type of urban planning include air pollution, noise pollution, wetlands, habitats of endangered species, flood zone susceptibility, and coastal zone erosion, along with a host of other environmental factors dealing with the relationship between natural and human systems.

Environmental plans need to be filed alongside master, revitalization, and infrastructure plans. If it seems like there are a lot of steps and a lot of requirements, don’t get discouraged. While it seems complicated, it will be best in the long run if your plans all interact well.

7. Infrastructure Planning

Infrastructure planning deals with the fundamental facilities and systems that serve a city and its people, and how those facilities can support goals laid out in the strategic plan. This type of urban planning covers:

  • Public works infrastructure such as water supply, sewage, electricity, and telecommunications
  • Community infrastructure such as schools, hospitals, and parks
  • Safety and transportation such as roads, police, and fire facilities

As you can see from the above urban planning concepts, good planning takes a lot of work. But when done correctly, planning at the city, county, and state levels can have a positive, lasting impact on your community.

Urban Planning Examples

Raleigh, North Carolina aims to improve quality of life

Raleigh’s city planning department has a lofty goal: Create a city where the quality of life is second to none. This goal ties directly to the city’s overall strategic plan, making strategic urban planning a priority.

To achieve this goal and prepare for likely changes across the city, Raleigh leadership is planning a number of different tactics, including conducting studies to evaluate the impact of population growth. These studies inform future strategic planning, helping the city to prioritize initiatives and allocate resources appropriately.

Many of the key focus areas of the city’s strategic plan rely on urban planning, but there are three that stand out over the others:

  • Growth & Natural Resources
  • Safe, Vibrant & Healthy Community
  • Transportation & Transit

The city planning department is a key player in the success of these focus areas and the initiatives that support them. Having a clear urban plan has allowed the city to make improvements and be able to spread the message that Raleigh is a “great place to live, work, and play.”

New York, New York elevates nature (and pedestrians)

New York’s High Line experiment transformed a 1930s elevated railroad into gardens that stretch a mile and a half. Instead of tearing down the tracks, city leadership gave it new life through careful urban planning efforts. This experiment was so successful that it’s now a top visitor attraction—with popularity that’s been said to dwarf the famed Statue of Liberty. Its success has also inspired other cities to recreate a similar experience for their own citizens.

New York has included green space in all of its planning going forward, and there are many other examples of great outdoor spaces that are giving the city a feeling of openness in one of the most densely populated areas in the country. Waterfront parks, the Downtown Boathouse, and Fort Tryon Park are just a few of the many spaces available to enjoy the outdoors.

Eugene, Oregon goes green

Urban planning tends to be environmentally focused in Eugene, which was once named the fifth greenest city in America and the best city for urban farming. What makes the city so green? For one, it boasts an innovative public power grid that draws 85% of its energy from renewables. In addition, the city is very accessible by bike and hybrid transport. Eugene also has an ambitious goal it’s been working toward for the past decade: being carbon neutral by the end of 2020.

This isn’t Eugene just being trendy. It was known as the Emerald City since before Earth Day was created, and part of its brand is to be green all year round. Thus, to live and execute on that strategy, it has put in place some ambitious goals and modeled its planning process around these goals.

Are you working within a municipality? This article on developing a municipal development plan includes several specific planning examples for municipalities.

Bring Strategy To The Urban Planning Table

For urban planning to be effective, it’s best to approach it with a strategic lens—clearly set goals, measure progress, and define and execute projects. Your projects should remain aligned with your strategy and include trackable aspects like timelines, milestones, and budgets.

ClearPoint strategy execution software can help your local government reach desired urban planning goals, whether you’re seeking to better utilize current land and infrastructure, or master plan entirely new spaces within your city. Plus, provide the transparency your citizens are looking for—inform them on what the city is working on, who is involved, and what the desired outcomes are, all from ClearPoint.

7 Types Of Urban Planning Concepts Explained