Elected officials, municipal leaders learn comprehensive planning can be as easy as 1-2-3 with new workbook - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Elected officials, municipal leaders learn comprehensive planning can be as easy as 1-2-3 with new workbook

At a Batavia event, attendees learn how a free new guidebook, Planning 1-2-3, can be a handy tool for communities creating or updating their comprehensive plans. Similar events this week in Des Plaines and Oak Forest reach Chicagoland audience

(Batavia , Ill.) … When the City of Batavia recently set out to update its Comprehensive Plan – originally written in 1987 and augmented in 2002 with a Downtown Master Plan – local officials invited residents and business leaders to join one of nine “element teams.” Each team was assigned to discuss Batavia’s strengths and opportunities in basic elements of a healthy community, such as housing, transportation, economic development, and open space. Not surprisingly in a place like Batavia – where many residents have roots that extend for generations – the teams haven’t been shy about sharing their concerns: for instance, aging parents hope their children will be able to afford homes in Batavia’s increasingly expensive housing market, while residents and business owners alike worry that growth in neighboring towns is exacerbating time-consuming traffic congestion in their city. Thanks to their direction – and the guidance of an expert planning staff – by spring of 2007, Batavia should have a plan in place that addresses the needs of longtime businesses and residents while allowing the city to evolve with the growing region.

Batavia is fortunate to have a professional planning staff, active citizens, and a solid plan to build upon; not every community is so lucky. To help all municipalities – no matter what their stage of development or level of resources – realize their visions through the comprehensive planning process, the Campaign for Sensible Growth, Metropolitan Mayors Caucus, and Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) introduced the Planning 1-2-3 workbook with a hands-on exercise at the Batavia Municipal Center on Wednesday, Sept. 20. This new and important tool provides a step-by-step guide for communities, like Batavia, that are creating or updating their comprehensive plans to proactively meet the changing needs of local residents and businesses.

“Batavia is a community blessed with continuity: many families have lived here for generations and want to continue to do so. Like many communities in the region, Batavia has no shortage of homes to meet the needs of our more financially established families. Yet we’re struggling to provide housing options for residents, like their kids, who are just starting out,” said Jerry Swanson, community development director for Batavia. “Planning 1-2-3 explains how the comprehensive planning process can help communities get a handle on housing and other community development challenges, by setting a course for future growth or redevelopment.”

The Sept. 20 event featured an interactive game in which participants – most of them community leaders and municipal leaders from the western suburbs – used Planning 1-2-3 as a guide to help them through a hypothetical but realistically complex community planning scenario. Through the game, attendees familiarized themselves with the 79-page workbook, which explains the comprehensive planning process and provides valuable information on the elements of a comprehensive plan. The workbook also offers checklists for monitoring and evaluating the planning process; examples of successful planning practices from around the region, state, and nation; and detailed steps to implementing a vision.

Planning 1-2-3 contains many examples of actual plans implemented by communities in northeastern Illinois, making the workbook a great resource not only for local municipal planners, but also for elected officials,” said Gayle Smolinski, president of the northwest suburban Village of Roselle, and chair of the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus. “Mayors, planning commissioners, and village board members can skim through this book and learn what other municipalities are doing to overcome growth challenges facing communities across the region, and planners can incorporate these tested ideas into their own comprehensive plans.”

Indeed, since 2002 when the Local Planning Technical Assistance Act went into effect in Illinois, communities have been clamoring for assistance in creating or updating comprehensive plans to meet state guidelines spelled out by the legislation. The act defines what a comprehensive plan should include, providing a statewide framework. However, the state has not earmarked funding to provide promised aid for comprehensive community planning. The Campaign for Sensible Growth, Metropolitan Mayors Caucus, and MPC – with the help of a Technical Advisory Committee consisting of planning experts from the public, private and nonprofit sectors – conceived Planning 1-2-3 as a tool communities can consult as they work on their comprehensive plans. The group recruited two former researchers with the American Planning Association (APA) to author the workbook: Stuart Meck, former senior research fellow with the APA, and current director and faculty fellow of the Center for Government Services in the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University in New Jersey; and Rebecca Retzlaff, former research associate with the APA, and current assistant professor of planning in the Community Planning Program at Auburn University in Alabama.

“Comprehensive planning can be overwhelming because it seeks to answer big questions, including, ‘What does our community want to be and how do we get there?’” said Michael Davidson, manager of the Campaign for Sensible Growth. "Planning 1-2-3 was written by two highly accomplished practitioners with a breadth of real-world experience, and at the advice of the many municipal planners who were part of the Technical Advisory Committee, they packed it full of sound advice, case studies, and benchmarks to reduce the guesswork in this process.”

Indeed, as the game got underway, it became clear that participants had different levels of experience and comfort with comprehensive planning. As small groups worked to update a hypothetical community’s comprehensive plan, they looked to the workbook to provide them with the information and examples they needed to guide them.

“Some communities can afford to hire staff planners and consultants to draft first-rate comprehensive plans. Others lack the means to pay for such expertise, putting them at a competitive disadvantage with their neighbors – and contributing to regional problems such as traffic congestion and a lack of workforce housing” said MarySue Barrett, MPC president. “Planning 1-2-3 helps level the playing field by offering a step-by-step, how-to guide for comprehensive planning that addresses housing, economic development, transportation, and natural resources.”

Planning 1-2-3 will be available for download soon on the Campaign for Sensible Growth’s Web site, www.growingsensibly.org.

Planning 1-2-3 would not have been possible without the support of lead sponsor National City, major sponsor LandVision, and sponsor McGuire Engineers, Inc. MPC undertook work on this project as part of its Regional Action Agenda, of which the Campaign for Sensible Growth is a component. Funders include The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, The Chicago Community Trust, McCormick Tribune Foundation, and Aon Corporation. Funders of the Campaign for Sensible Growth include the Grand Victoria Foundation, The Joyce Foundation, Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelly Foundation, and The Allstate Foundation. The Metropolitan Mayors Caucus is funded by The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

The Campaign for Sensible Growth is an action-oriented coalition of government, civic, and business leaders in northeastern Illinois’ six counties (Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry, and Will) working to promote economic development while preserving open space, minimizing the need for costly new infrastructure, and improving the livability of our communities.

The Metropolitan Mayors Caucus provides a forum through which the chief elected officials of the region cooperatively develop consensus and act on common public policy issues and multi-jurisdictional challenges. With a foundation of collaboration and consensus-based decision making, it serves a number of functions for its partner organizations and local governments.

Founded in 1934, the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan group of business and civic leaders committed to serving the public interest through the promotion and implementation of sensible planning and development policies necessary for an economically competitive Chicago region. MPC researches and develops policy recommendations and conducts outreach and advocacy in partnership with public officials and community leaders to enhance equity of opportunity and quality of life throughout metropolitan Chicago .

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