State Leadership in Planning for Cities and Counties



By Dom Nozzi


State planning needs to be more directive than to just call for communities to establish a “vision.” Instead of taking a heavy-handed approach in which the state dictates how communities should be developed, there should be a strong statement that calls for communities to:


(a) Create plans and regulations that promote lifestyle choices. All communities must provide ample opportunities for living an urban, suburban, or rural lifestyle. Currently, nearly all communities only allow for the suburban choice. We must be clear that one size does not fit all. We need a tiered regulatory system that applies appropriate regulations for each lifestyle choice, instead of providing only suburban design regulations. We need to make urban and rural lifestyles legal again (in appropriate locations).


(b) Create a transportation system that is rich in transportation choices. Again, this needs to be a tiered approach where one size does not fit all locations. In core (urban, compact) areas, the pedestrian is the design imperative. Streets are modest in size, calm in design speed and no more than 3 lanes in width. Roads get progressively larger and higher in design speed as you move outside of core. State Departments of Transportation, in particular, need to radically change their approach to design so that state roads are context-sensitive when going through communities. DOTs must become a helpful partner with local communities, instead of an adversary only looking out for the needs of the state.


In many communities, being serious about controlling sprawl and protecting or restoring quality of life will require a long-term healing process. Damage wrought in the past by building monster high-speed roads will often need to be incrementally reversed by putting many of these roads on a diet (ie, removing travel lanes).


In the interim, as communities struggle to correct the design of their streets and roads, an urban growth boundary will probably be required. Without a strong boundary, no plans, regulations or strong elected officials can stop the sprawl tidal wave induced largely by big roads in a community.


(c) Many important efforts are necessary to reverse our long-standing pattern of being our own worst enemies. When the state laws require local governments to apply level-of-service standards mandating free-flowing traffic, such laws must be revised so that road LOS is not applied in urban areas. The concurrency rule that obligates LOS for urban roads is a powerful sprawl engine.


In addition, public schools must end the practice of inducing sprawl. In other words, there should be a curtailment of the widespread construction of new schools in outlying areas. An important element in this is to revise school standards that make walkable, in-town, neighborhood-based schools difficult or impossible (such as large ballfield requirements, which requires too much acreage to fit in many older in-town neighborhoods).


Emergency services must not dictate excessive road design standards that promote high and dangerous car speeds.


Similarly, modest, human-scaled streets and building design must be made legal again in the urban portions of a community.


In sum, a strong stand must be taken by planners that we stand for choice, and that one size does not fit all.




Visit my urban design website read more about what I have to say on those topics. You can also schedule me to give a speech in your community about transportation and congestion, land use development and sprawl, and improving quality of life.


Or email me at: dom[AT]

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Filed under Politics, Sprawl, Suburbia, Urban Design

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