A Compelling Example of Place-based Planning

“Place shapes us. Place defines us. Place forms our identities, attitudes, and relationships. Place matters.” So concludes the new and compelling comprehensive plan for Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

County comprehensive plans are probably often described as dense, policy-laden, and generally not “a good read.” Lancaster County is upending that perception with its recently completed plan Places2040. As Countywide Planning Director Scott Standish put it “you should be able to read this plan in twenty minutes and fully grasp where we’re trying to go.” And it works.
So what stands out? Well for one thing, over 8,000 people were engaged and involved in developing it. That speaks to a community that cares about the special place Lancaster County is, rich with farmland, cultural heritage and the Susquehanna River.

There is also a directness to the plan, as in these words: “Things are changing, and people are worried that our community will lose its special character. There’s a new sense of urgency, because there seems to be a disconnect between what we say we want and what we’re actually doing. The good news is, trend is not destiny. We can do things differently.”
Beyond the clean and direct style, what about the substance? Places2040 foregoes traditional silos and sets out five big ideas, what needs to be done differently to achieve each, and how progress will be measured. Another fundamental element is the focus on “landscape character zones” — broad categories reflecting different land-use patterns in the county. Check out the presentation of these in this story map.

Conservationists will find a lot to like in the plan, including the elements of “Taking Care of What We Have” like preserving large, contiguous areas of agricultural and natural land.” All the elements feed into a preferred scenario that breaks from current trends and past plans. And that makes a local case for the integrated landscape management needed for maintaining and improving the quality of life in our communities and the watershed.