Aim High in Hope and Work: Why We Must Reinvent the General Plan

Aug. 27, 2010, 9:59 p.m.

Daniel Burnham, 1909 Chicago Plan, from

Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood...Make big plans, aim high in hope and work.

Daniel H. Burnham 
US architect & city planner (1846 – 1912)


History teaches us that great visions can be achieved through long-range, comprehensive city and regional planning. Many of our greatest cities, including Chicago, Boston, and Washington, bear witness to the forward-thinking ideas of great planners, architects, and landscape architects like Daniel Burnham and Frederick Law Olmsted. Internationally, Paris, Chandigarh, and Canberra represent the ideals of their time through innovative and bold vision of how cities could function and look.And the tradition of great planning is not a long-ago fantasy; cities like Portland, Boulder, and even New York have led the way in recent decades with wide-ranging visions of livability and sustainability, achieved in part through comprehensive plans.


It was exactly these kinds of possibilities that led California to create the General Plan, as a cornerstone of communities' visions for their future land use, development, and functions of government. The  models on this  site demonstrate where California communities have used the General Plan process to instigate vital public participation in governance, to pursue innovative solutions to pressing problems, and to safeguard the places and features they find most valuable while allowing for economic growth and demographic change. The California Planning Roundtable is pursuing the Reinventing the General Plan project because believe that the General Plan can and must renew such great possibilities for all communities. 


So, where do you come in? We are seeking your input as we develop a set of Principles for Reinvention of the General Plan. This blog is a place to share ideas and start a conversation about the General Plan among all our readers, be they planners, elected officials, residents, businesspeople, or other stakeholders. In the coming weeks, we will use this space to hear your ideas and thoughts about the General Plan: what's working, what's not, and what must be changed to help the Plan adapt to changing challenges, demographics, and economics. 


We want to begin with what is already great about the General Plan. Tell us what you value most about current General Plan law. Call it your “Top 5.” Is it the ubiquity of the document, in that every community must have one? The comprehensiveness of its requirements? The flexibility? What else stands out as worth preserving in a newly reinvented General Plan process? We'd like to hear from our readers—be they planners, elected officials, residents, businesspeople, or other stakeholders—about what you think are the greatest strengths of the General Plan as it is today. In the coming weeks, we will use this space to hear your ideas of what's not working in the General Plan. But for now, keep it positive. What should aspects of the current General Plan process should be retained or emphasized in the future? Where have you seen it work well? Use the comment box below to share your thoughts, and check back often to contribute to the discussion.

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