Planning Tools

Local governments are increasingly creating plans for their green infrastructure programs and incorporating green infrastructure into other planning documents such as comprehensive plans and general resilience plans. Incorporating green infrastructure goals and practices into those plans can shape local governments’ interventions to be as highly effective and strategic as possible, instead of installing green infrastructure on a more ad-hoc basis.

Green Infrastructure-specific plans

Because green infrastructure can involve so many different agencies, partners, and funding streams, some local governments have created green infrastructure-specific plans to coordinate all of those moving pieces. These green infrastructure plans can accomplish several purposes including prioritizing particular neighborhoods or types of locations (such as streetscapes or parking lots), setting goals for research or monitoring of installations, clarifying relationships among partners, and calling for policy changes to support green infrastructure investments.

Because green infrastructure-specific plans are not regulatory, they can influence behavior for both new and existing development and can affect decision-making on both public and private land. Hoboken, NJ has created a green infrastructure-specific plan that lays out the target neighborhoods and even individual parcels for green infrastructure installation. Because these plans are not regulatory, however, they may need changes in law to implement their recommendations. Hoboken’s plan identifies the zoning changes that would need to happen to generate more green infrastructure on private property.

Comprehensive plans

Local governments use comprehensive plans to set policy and to plan the direction of their communities for years to come. In some localities, a larger jurisdiction such as a county might create the comprehensive plan, which then would guide the zoning codes set by the municipalities in that county. By incorporating requirements for green infrastructure into its comprehensive plan, a local government can thus require or encourage the use of green infrastructure through requirements or incentives in the zoning code for various types of land uses.

Because comprehensive plans shape future changes in zoning codes, they can directly cause green infrastructure to be required for new development and on private property. However, changes to the zoning code generally must happen for the comprehensive plan to be effective in changing construction and development; this can be a long and burdensome process for small local governments, and developers may resist additional requirements.

Different types of planning tools can achieve different goals and will face different challenges in enactment and implementation. The following chart compares green infrastructure-specific plans and comprehensive plans along four sets of criteria, following the discussion of each type of planning tool above.See footnote 1 



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