Defining the Planning Framework

Each city government will adopt a different approach to planning their urban regeneration projects. In general, governments must first examine the planning frameworks that either exist or need to be created to guide and govern the regeneration initiative. There are three basic elements of the planning framework that need to be in place to guide and ensure successful urban regeneration:

    • Framework plan. Often called a “strategic plan” or a “vision plan,” this document articulates a clear vision for the regeneration project based on the findings of the scoping phase. It has a long-term horizon, explicates the context and rationale for why the regeneration project is important to the city and region, and provides comprehensive goals for the area. It also addresses the interrelationship between the economic, physical, social, and institutional dimensions of the regeneration program. It is necessarily general in nature as it is intended more to articulate the big picture ideas, goals, and principles that will guide the project. This type of plan is to be differentiated from a traditional “comprehensive plan” that attempts to address in depth and in detail all of the elements required to govern the long-range growth of the city. In essence, the planning framework is conceptual. While providing a powerful long-term vision, it does not attempt to define each and every policy and detail necessary to achieve that vision. The data included in these plans are usually only of sufficient detail to support the vision, promote consensus, and motivate action.
    • Planning process. The planning process should be inclusive, clear and objective. Establishing a clear process and mechanisms by which the public, private, and community sectors will interact in the development and implementation of the regeneration project is critical to building confidence. Deciding on a process is important to setting the “terms of engagement” and the ways in which these sectors will formally and informally interact, such as through formal planning commissions (if any exist), advisory groups, local boards, and so on. The level of authority of the participation mechanisms must be carefully defined so there are not excessive layers of decision-making or entities with conflicting mandates and powers. Clear structures are necessary for project approvals. Care must be taken to ensure that land use processes—which are often subjected to political influence—are structured to promote professionalism and independent judgment whereby decisions are made on the basis of sound planning principles.
    • Planning regulations. The legal regime establishes the rules of the game, specifically the regulations that will frame the planning process. The vision and goals of the planning framework are translated into land use and building regulations that will govern what is built in the regeneration area. Social goals for regeneration projects are also incorporated into the planning process and regulations and can include a mandatory minimum level of affordable housing, environmental and design requirements, the treatment of historic structures, and so on. The planning regulations, which traditionally encompass zoning, site planning and subdivision, building regulations, environmental regulations, and health and safety codes are fundamental to establishing the predictability and certainty that are a prerequisite to attracting private investment. The more discretionary and unclear the regulations are, the more uncertainty will be created for investors and developers. This in turn will deter investment and the willingness of the private sector to take risks. Likewise for the community, the lack of clear regulations will increase the level of concern and anxiety over how projects are approved and what will ultimately be built in their community. Often in regeneration areas where investment is being actively promoted, special regulations or “zones” are created. These involve the creation of streamlined approval processes and the adoption of new regulations specific to the goals of the regeneration area. These measures can be a powerful tool to overcome the higher barriers to entry often associated with particularly rundown areas slated for regeneration.

Local governments differ in the way they arrive at their planning framework. Some may not conduct the kind of granular-level planning that is typically needed for urban regeneration. Some may outsource the planning activities to other entities, including the private sector. However the planning process and regulations agreed to will be essential to establishing the long-term vision and context for the regeneration project. Indeed, the planning framework will be vital to sustaining the regeneration vision through the inevitable changes and unforeseen challenges of market and political cycles. On a cautionary note, governments should not create overly strict planning regimes that are inflexible and deter investment by trying to dictate and rigidly regulate outcomes.

The aim of an effective planning framework is to balance a clear vision with planning principles and a dynamic process, that allows for engagement and negotiation among the public, private and community sectors. To be successful, the planning framework must promulgate an inspiring vision matched with a predictable and clear regulatory process that instills in the private sector the confidence to invest and take risks. Likewise, it should also instill the necessary confidence in communities and governments that public goals will be achieved and will not be subordinated purely to the dictates of the market. Regardless of the planning framework of the city, in most cases a master plan will be necessary to guide urban regeneration.