A Planning Terms
Question and Answer Session

Franklin D. Roosevelt quote about extending planning to a wider field

Photo: No one quibbled about city planning terms on a rainy day a couple of years ago at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial in Washington. This quote from the Tennessee Valley Authority reads: "It is time to extend planning to a wider field, in this instance comprehending in one great project many states directly concerned with the basin of one of our greatest rivers."  It makes us planners smile.

Last Updated: September 26, 2022

This is the place for asking about the meaning of certain city planning terms you may have heard, but don't fully understand.  We hope many planning commission members and others who serve on the volunteer boards of villages, towns, cities, and counties will find their way here and ask what they don't know in quiet anonymity.  You can omit your name and your town too.

To be sure, we just started asking people to submit their community development-related questions in the early days of the site.  We didn't sort them.  Now that question-and-answer page had grown much too long for anyone but its writers to enjoy.

One of the categories that we saw developing is a request for definitions, or more often the story behind the story of the definitions, of certain terms.  These days anyone online can pick up the direct meaning, but the nuances of things not repeated in the internet echo chamber about the everyday reality of certain concepts leaves us scratching our heads.

Part of the reason that the language of city planning and related fields has become so complex is the regulatory aspect, whether that is through zoning, other development regulation such as subdivision regulation and environmental requirements, or form-based code and design review.

So in the form below, please fill in your question about the jargon, and we will do our best not only to tell you today's popular definition, but also to talk about our personal experience with the idea or technique, and possibly any emerging research we think you might find interesting.

But in our experience, sometimes planning terms are just copied from neighboring towns who used the same consultant, and often they haven't been changed in many years, so we should be so lucky as to have research on whether some of these language conventions are effective or not!

Another issue is whether the increasing complexity of planning regulations is really necessary or helpful. For instance, on this website, we recently answered a question about what we think the person asking it perceived as a conflict between performance standards and design standards. Each planning term has a distinctive meaning, but regulations under the two banners seemed to overlap in one city. Since we did not have the text in front of us, we four planners could not tell if there was a real conflict between the two or not.

If we answer your question, we can make you look like you know what you're doing, whether you are a student, elected official, appointed board or commission member, or a citizen trying to be influential in the land use or comprehensive planning debates in your community.  Thanks for your participation.

Have A Question About a Term You Heard?

Would you like to ask the other visitors and/or the editors a question? This is a place to ask; you do not have to give your name if that makes you uncomfortable. Your question and an answer will appear together initially; visitors can add different answers and comments.

Other Questions and Answers

Click below to see contributions from other visitors, and answers.

What does blue infrastructure mean? 
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What is a water trail? 
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What does polycentric region mean? 
Visitor Question: I have become interested in what our regional planning council is doing because I am concerned about the need for expanding highway …

What is a capital improvements plan? 
Visitor Question: What exactly is a capital improvements plan? I was just elected to a city council and am now trying to catch up on understanding what …

What Is a Digital Twin in City Planning 
Visitor Question: I am on our city's planning commission. I don't understand exactly what a digital twin is, but I know that our planning staff is very …

What is a successor developer 
Visitor Question: What exactly is a successor developer? We heard that the developer of our subdivision is looking for one. Our subdivision layout already …

Difference between open space and preserve 
Visitor Question: What is the difference between open space and a nature preserve? We have what the neighbors call a preserve behind our house. It is …

Buffer requirements 
Visitor Question: My question is how to interpret the term "abuts" in a zoning ordinance. Our ordinance says this. Where a commercial business or …

What does planning term ETJ mean 
Visitor Question: Our medium-sized city is updating our comprehensive plan. I went to a hearing and a work session and jotted down some of the terms …

Significance of Community Edges 
Visitor Question: I wonder about whether the term edge or community edge is really important. I hear this discussed sometimes when I attend various citizen …

What Are Consistency Requirements in Planning 
Visitor Question: I attended the meeting of my city's planning commission the other night. I am trying to get appointed to the commission. At one …

What Is a Flag Lot 
Last Updated: August 8, 2020 Visitor Asked: Like some other people said on here, I'm new to the zoning board in the last six months. Last night …

What Is Tactical Urbanism 
Visitor Question: I understand tactical, and as a newer resident of a large city, I hope I am beginning to understand urbanism. Recently I started hearing …

What is Resiliency Planning 
Visitor Question: What does resiliency planning mean? I am a plan commission member, and I was sitting in my second meeting when a lively discussion …

What is BRT? 
Visitor Question: I'm a new planning commission member. At my very first meeting last week, the commission was talking about BRT, and I was too embarrassed …

Definition of a live-work unit 
Visitor Question: I was listening to planning and zoning the other night. One of the board members was arguing that live-work units would be a good thing …

What are livable communities? 
Visitor question: I'm new to the planning commission. One member keeps talking about making our community more livable, and I'm embarrassed to say I …

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