Master Planning

A master plan is a dynamic long-term planning document that provides a conceptual layout to guide future growth and development. Master planning is about making the connection between buildings, social settings, and their surrounding environments. A master plan includes analysis, recommendations, and proposals for a site’s population, economy, housing, transportation, community facilities, and land use. It is based on public input, surveys, planning initiatives, existing development, physical characteristics, and social and economic conditions.

Master planning can assume some or all of these roles:

    • Develop a phasing and implementation schedule and identify priorities for action
    • Act as a framework for regeneration and attract private sector investment.
    • Conceptualize and shape the three-dimensional urban environment.
    • Define public, semiprivate, and private spaces and public amenities.
    • Determine the mix of uses and their physical relationship.
    • Engage the local community and act as builder of consensus.

As city regeneration initiatives are generally long-term propositions, it is important to consider the master plan as a dynamic document that can be altered based on changing project conditions over time. For example, in the case of the Santiago repopulation program detailed in this volume, the municipal master plan was modified 29 times during the implementation phase. These changes sought to either allow for more density and height in some areas, or to restrict and lower the height of the buildings—including the definition of areas under patrimonial protection (Arraigada, Moreno, and Rovirosa 2007). This flexibility has been beneficial to the real estate sector, enabling increases in the number of floors and housing units per building.

Master plans can have an important role in determining the shape of the urban environment. If not well conceived, they can lead to problems in the future. For instance, one of the criticisms of Santiago’s master plan was that it was too flexible in setting standards for beautification and building volume design. Hence, the quality of these buildings in terms of architectural design and construction materials was considered one of the weaknesses of the repopulation program (see photograph). The residents also criticized the unpleasant contrast of the high tower buildings with the existing historic urban fabric, as well as the fact that the new towers are not well integrated within the traditional neighborhoods. All of these issues could have been addressed well in advance as part of the master plan.

Photograph: Lack of attention to urban design, building heights, and massing brought on criticism of the Santiago Repopulation Program.

The Process of Developing a Master Plan
Depending on the role of the master plan, it could have various sections and be developed in several ways. However, some common denominators for a good master plan are explained in this section (see figure).

Feasibility Study: The feasibility study is an objective review of available options for development. It includes findings, analysis, and conclusions from the visioning and scoping exercises for a given site or inner-city area. It indicates whether the chosen site is suitable for the intended function, taking into account the financial, social, and environmental aspects of each proposal. Many comprehensive master plans start with a feasibility study in order to understand the site’s geographic, environmental, and historic context. This process builds on the information collected and analysis developed during the scoping phase. Any background reports that are deemed necessary (that is, hydrology, environment, cultural heritage, transport, and so on) should also be commissioned at this stage to inform the master planning process (Blackmore 1990).

Figure: Master planning process

Feasibility study for Sabarmati Riverfront development project

Strategic Framework. The strategic framework accompanies the master plan and sets the scene in establishing baseline information related to the physical, social, and economic context of the site and surroundings. This background information should outline the site location and dimensions, topography, and existing uses. It should highlight the current zoning regulations and relevant/applicable planning policies, as well as any particularly important opportunities and constraints relevant to the site (CABE 2008; Growth Areas Authority 2009). In summary, the strategic framework includes:

    • Physical aspects of the regeneration project
    • Vision and scope prepared during the scoping phase
    • Various elements or functions that could act as catalysts for change
    • The business case for development
    • Strategic delivery issues and options
    • Guidelines about how the strategic framework will inform and impact design (CABE 2008)

The strategic framework is critical for developing a sound spatial master plan in the next stage. It includes all of the studies and analysis that are needed before entering the design phase, especially urban design analysis, which provides options for various urban form scenarios.

In the strategic planning phase, the team also determines which core competencies are required to develop the master plan. These could include urban design and planning, landscape design, transportation planning, economic development, cost planning/surveying, cultural heritage, specific industry sector analysis, and urban sociology and crime statistics (CABE 2008).

Physical and Spatial Elements of a Master Plan. Once the feasibility study and strategic framework have been undertaken, the physical master planning process continues. Based on the first two phases, master plans establish and develop options for land use, which will later be translated into three-dimensional models to identify the resulting development needs, as well as costs and values. In summary, the spatial master plan should include elements such as massing, height, densities, orientation, grids and blocks (without architectural or style details) transportation systems, and open spaces (CABE 2008). The master plan should also cover some or all of the following elements to ensure an overall holistic and successful design and use outcome:

    • Image, neighborhood character, and heritage. The plan should show the integration of contextual features. Local surrounding topography, water, and distinctive landscape and heritage features should be incorporated into the design of the plan where possible. These elements have an immense impact on the character of the urban area. For instance, the master plan for the two blocks of Xintiandi within the Taipingqiao neighborhood of Shanghai preserved the original shikumen buildings—despite opposition from the government and the perceived lack of a business case. The project was successful in generating much economic value through preservation efforts, resulting in a rise in land prices of adjacent areas. These areas were later developed into high-density office and residential buildings. The important point in this case is that high-density allowance in adjacent areas was used as a cross-subsidization tool in preserving these two blocks. Indeed, the developer admits that without high returns from the adjacent developments, the preservation project would have been financially unfeasible. This is further detailed in chapter 6, which describes the preservation of the two blocks of Xintiandi in Shanghai.
    • Various uses including housing and commercial areas. The plan should show the location of various types of uses, densities, yields, and lot sizes. When developing housing, a variety of housing types, sizes, and tenures must be considered. In this context, the plan should also ensure appropriate housing density and diversity. The master plan should also be flexible enough to allow for change over time in housing diversity as communities mature (Growth Areas Authority 2009). Similarly, commercial areas should be planned within other areas to promote mixed-use neighborhoods, which are vibrant at all hours of the day. Entertainment and retail land uses should also be integrated in the master plan. Finally, the master plan should contain a strategy for the layout of streets that will best fit the character of the site.
    • Open space and the public realm.Jurisdictions around the world will require different open space prescriptions. Plans should show the location of open spaces including function, size, and scale. However, both qualitative and quantitative measures, as well as the ratio of active and passive uses, should be taken into account in the design and layout. The broader connection to the larger open space network as a whole should also be considered. For example, the New York City Planning Department works on the basis that “the open space ratio is the amount of open space required in a residential zoning lot in noncontextual districts, expressed as a percentage of the total floor area on the zoning lot.” For example, if a building with 20,000 square feet of floor space has an open space requirement of 20, this would mean that 4,000 square feet of open space would be required in the zoning lot (0.20 × 20,000 square feet) (City of New York 2014b). Another example is the case of Shanghai, where in 2003 the municipal government introduced the policy of “double increase and double decrease,” which was applied to the central city. The “double increase” required an increase in green space and open space in new developments, whereas the “double decrease” required a decrease in the building floor area and the floor area ratio (FAR) of these developments to improve the living quality of the central city. This resulted in contract renegotiations between the private and public sectors and ensured a more balanced urban environment in the center of the city.
    • Biodiversity. The plan should show the location of significant biodiversity values, as well as whether and how these are to be incorporated into the development of the site. Biodiversity and environmental factors should also be planned for at the beginning of regeneration projects in order to protect, enhance, manage, and strike a balance between development uses and flora and fauna sustainability. Doing so will help to avoid any policy issues at a later stage. For example, a site may be home to an endangered species, which may require the redesign of the site or relocation of the species. Therefore, it is particularly important to survey the land and assess biodiversity early in the process (Growth Areas Authority 2009).
    • Integrated water management and utilities. The plan’s design should be based on the site waterways, making careful decisions to preserve the wetlands and catchment areas. At the same time, there is a need to protect the waterfront from being fully privatized and to preserve the public use of the waterways. Consideration needs to be given to existing and new waterways and catchments, as well as to utility infrastructure in the design of the site. This will help to ensure the supply of water, electricity, gas, sewage, and telecommunications infrastructure to all site lots. The capacity of the waterways will also need to be taken into account. Allowances should be made for expansion where required to prevent flooding. Further allowances should also be made for the development of new retarding basins or preservation of existing wetlands—while ensuring efficiencies have been achieved by incorporating a water-sensitive urban design (Growth Areas Authority 2009). An example occurred in Ahmedabad, India, where a series of retaining walls were used along the waterfront redevelopment to prevent flooding and erosion. Underground sewer lines, which had been affecting local informal development along the river’s edge were also integrated (see chapter 7). In this regard, the size of utility easements also needs to be considered to ensure minimal impact on development.
    • Transport. The plan should show the hierarchy of streets, pedestrian and cycle paths, and public transport and freight routes. It should also outline how arterial roads, connector streets, and local access streets will be designed to cater to multiple transport modes, land uses, and trees. Priority should be given to public transport, and walking and cycling should be encouraged through the layout of paths (CABE 2008; Growth Areas Authority 2009). For example, in Washington, DC, the government was successful in integrating existing transport and land use planning into the Anacostia Master Plan. It then built a complete system, including a new waterfront metro station as a centerpiece. This in turn enabled the reopening of a number of streets and reestablishment of a grid network. It also allowed for a walking trail along the length of the waterfront (see chapter 9).

What determines the character of an urban area?