Comprehensive plans of the top 10 cities in Alabama.

Hoover is the only top 10 city in Alabama with no comprehensive plan, and no plans to start one.

So why does Hoover need a comprehensive plan?

We’ll have some specifics in a subsequent post.  However in a nutshell, Hoover needs a plan because we are moving forward tactically, but not strategically.  We are masters in creating incremental improvements that are, on their own, very well planned and intelligently conceived steps.  But when you put them together they are creating uncertainty and chaos because there is no plan for the whole.

As I’ve spoken with more people, I see they have a gut feeling about this situation.  They see the symptoms but they are uncertain about the solution or how to move forward.  When I bring up the topic of a comprehensive plan, many people ask what that is and what it’s about.  So here it is at the proverbial high level.

There is no set format to a comprehensive plan. It can be as simple as a documented set of values that guide future development, or it can be an extensive set of documentation going into great detail.  Also, a plan is not necessarily just a growth plan. It can also include plans for redevelopment and revitalization of existing areas.  It ties future activity to the values and goals of a city and community. Lastly, it should be noted that a plan is usually periodically updated every few years or so, or there may be smaller plans that are the spiritual successor to the main plan.  It is the process and discipline of overall planning that is important.

So a comprehensive plan is really just that.  A plan for the city.  So how do they come about?

Step one:  Determining where we are and what’s important to our community.

A third party is usually hired to facilitate the process.  Even large cities do this since only a 3rd party has repetitive experience.  They have knowledge of what techniques are successful and situations to avoid.  This presence also helps maintain objectivity in the process.

The third party will often create an extensive analysis of the city. This step is intended to determine where we are, who we are, and how things are trending.  Demographics, maps, history, and other types of analysis are produced.  Existing plan documents, PUD information, regional studies, and other documents are consulted and results woven into the analysis.   Working with city staff, community leaders, and other resources, a thorough profile of the city is produced.

Prima facie observations may at this point be documented, such as economic strengths, certain traffic problems, fiscal soundness, geographic peculiarities, etc.  However, the ultimate goal is provide a high definition snap shot of the city.

The City/community gets together to determine what’s important. Town halls, smaller committees, polls, and other techniques are used to engage as many people in the community as possible.  This is where we determine what’s good, what’s important, and what’s precious.

Mobile planning

A planning session for Mobile’s “Map for Mobile”

huntsville

Huntsville’s 2014 kickoff meeting for their comprehensive plan “The Big Picture” (Steve Doyle | sdoyle@al.com))

visual preference survey

Polling and opinion gathering happens on many scales and in many ways, such as this visual preference survey in Madison, AL.

Step Two: Making an Action Plan

This is where activities can vary significantly.  Depending on the goals and needs of a city, this could go in several directions.

In general, the hard work of planning out specific recommendations to achieve the goals is defined and scoped.  Issues like the following are outlined.

  • future land use
  • mobility and transportation
  • historic preservation
  • revitalization
  • resource requirements
  • zoning needs
  • needs projections (public safety, schools, etc)

In my opinion, this step is where the resources in Hoover would really shine.  We have a high level of expertise in planning and scoping smaller projects, and we have many people who have a thorough knowledge of the details and history of our city.  The effort to plan and implement a larger vision would result in a world class plan of action.

Of particular interest to our city would be some of the growth predictions.  Imagine if we had a good estimate and prediction of growth of the city.  What would the impact be on the school system?  Public safety?  Parks and recreation?  It is essential to have real numbers that, while still predictions, are based on documented and established plans for growth.

auburnpopulation

A basic population analysis based on current boundaries vs additional “in-fill” annexation in Auburn AL.

land use

A land use plan in Tuscaloosa’s greater downtown plan

bike use

A bicycle route map from Birmingham’s “The Plan”

There are two more key steps (Implementing the Plan, and Review and Revision.)  We’ll cover those in the next couple weeks.

But first I’ll address specifically how Hoover’s current limited planning process differs from a comprehensive process.  And why that is resulting in some of the problems we’re seeing.  Stay tuned.