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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.


Urban planning is the process of developing and designing urban areas to meet the needs of a community. The practice draws from a number of disciplines—architecture, engineering, economics, sociology, public health, finance, and more—and strives to prepare cities and towns for the future. It is typically used as part of a larger city plan, and should tie back to your city’s mission and vision statements.

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. In fact, a cohesive urban plan should include many or all of the below areas.

One more thing to note: Urban planning is more effective when you approach it with a strategic lens. That means setting clear goals, measuring progress, and strategically defining and executing projects. This is where strategy software like ClearPoint comes in handy—to ensure that all your projects align with strategy, and help you stay on top of timelines, milestones, and budgets.

To be clear, our software supports the execution of all types of strategic planning, but in this article, we’ll call out some of its specific strengths as related to each of the urban planning concepts below.

7 Types Of Urban Planning

Urban planners direct the development of cities and towns.

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.

The ClearPoint advantage:

Your city likely has a variety of plans across different departments and within different areas (public health, infrastructure, capital improvement, etc.). It can be very difficult to see how all the pieces fit together, and to make sure everyone is working to achieve a unified vision.

ClearPoint was designed to help you see the big picture. You can organize your overall strategy according to themes, and easily view the objectives, initiatives, and measures associated with each (as shown below). You can also link departmental goals, measures, and projects directly to organizational goals and projects, so that everything forms a single, cohesive strategic plan. ClearPoint can then be used to track and report on the progress of your projects, making sure you bring your goals to fruition.

Types of urban planning - ClearPoint Strategy Dashboard

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.

The ClearPoint advantage:

Open and transparent decision-making is a key component of land-use planning; ClearPoint’s robust reporting functionality supports information transparency.

You’ll likely need to share information with lots of different audiences. Once you determine the design and data points necessary for each audience, ClearPoint takes over, automatically generating those various reports in your preferred format—whether it’s Excel, PDF, PPT, or HTML. It also handles report distribution and shares reports on a specified schedule. You can elect to publish the data on your website (as shown below, for the city of Charlottesville’s public works department) or create reports to share via email.

Everyone will always have the information they need, whenever they need it.

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.

The ClearPoint advantage:

Developing new projects, collaborating with others, delivering on the municipality’s larger vision… ClearPoint makes it easier to carry out every aspect of master planning. Use it to:

  • Evaluate and prioritize ideas.
  • Tie projects to high-level strategic objectives.
  • Create a detailed breakdown of the required tasks, building in milestones, due dates, and collaborators.
  • Gather quantitative and qualitative data on progress.
  • Visualize project performance in auto-generated reports.

Shown below are a project detail page with milestones, and a project proposal template, in ClearPoint.

Types of urban planning - Master Planning Milestones

Types of urban planning - Master Planning Project Proposal Document

Master your urban planning efforts with ClearPoint—strategy execution software that helps you track KPIs and achieve your goals. See it live.

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 involve environmental planning (see concept #6) to assess or clean up certain locations.

The ClearPoint advantage:

Again, having that big-picture view is important here. To improve areas in a state of decline, it’s helpful to have a thorough understanding of factors that have contributed to that decline. ClearPoint’s ability to link measures and initiatives gives you greater, more visible insight into steps being taken to improve any given measure. So once you complete a project—for example, repairing the sidewalks in a certain area or cleaning up a public space—you can tell if the changes are having a direct impact on the use of those spaces.

ClearPoint’s measure dashboard, shown below, brings all your different measure charts together in one place, so you can see at a glance how things are changing from one reporting period to another.

Types of urban planning - Urban Revitalization Dashboard

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 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.

The ClearPoint advantage:

To correctly pull all the necessary levers that support economic growth—some being more crucial than others—you need collaboration among departments. Rather than having data silos that limit collaboration, ClearPoint allows users to selectively share information internally across departments, so everyone can see and understand their department’s (and even their individual) role in it. Having that open access makes it easier to identify areas of growth and coordinate activities. For instance, if you’re trying to attract more people to work in your city, you might consider joining forces with the transportation department to improve public transportation, or the infrastructure department to implement internet of things (IoT) technology. In ClearPoint you can view collaborating departments’ progress on goals, ascertain their capacity to take on additional projects, and understand how their strategy converges with yours.

The image below shows a portion of a departmental scorecard in ClearPoint with links to “parent” measures and initiatives.

Types of urban planning - Economic Development Transportation & Mobility Dashboard

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.

The ClearPoint advantage:

ClearPoint has the features you need to manage both your larger environmental program and the numerous projects entailed in accomplishing those larger objectives. You can:

  • Prioritize projects according to organizational goals.
  • Ensure environmental programs and projects are linked to the city’s overall strategy.
  • Allocate resources effectively.
  • Generate realistic project timelines and proper sequencing of projects.
  • Track progress on hundreds of projects simultaneously.
  • Evaluate the program’s real-time status automatically, based on the status of linked goals, KPIs, or projects.

Gantt charts, like the one below created in ClearPoint, are useful for mapping project timelines, start/end dates, and milestones.

Types of urban planning - Environmental Planning

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

The ClearPoint advantage:

Like environmental planning, infrastructure planning covers a lot of ground. ClearPoint offers you a way to manage everything—all the plans, projects, objectives, measures, etc.—with a single tool. That reduces the work involved because it uses a single data set for reporting and analysis; it also makes it easy to see the linkage between programs, projects, and organizational goals, and track progress on it all.

It also promotes consistency in your reporting—you can design multiple reports and detail pages using the same format, making it easier for you (and your audiences) to digest the information.

Types of urban planning - Infrastructure Planning

Urban Planning Examples

Good planning takes a lot of work, but it’s worth the effort. As the following examples show, planning at the city, county, and state levels can have a positive, lasting impact on your community.

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 managed to meet the ambitious goal it had been working toward for a decade: it became carbon neutral in 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 Software To The Urban Planning Table

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.

ClearPoint strategy execution software can help your local government develop that plan and reach your urban planning goals. It can also provide the transparency your citizens are looking for, giving you a simple way to share your plans and desired outcomes. Want to see ClearPoint in action? Get in touch with our team and we’ll show you around!

7 Types Of Urban Planning Concepts Explained