New master plans will need to be very different from traditional ones

Many traditional master plans were based on a continuing growth assumption. Populations were increasing and the goal was to accommodate coordinate that new growth.

Traditionally, communities created plans based on a growing and expanding population. Master plans served as growth-management plans for many cities, villages and townships. With a growing population, the plans identified locations for new subdivisions, expanding commercial centers and industrial park development. The good plans identified and protected natural areas, preserved park lands and protected fragile wetlands and other natural ecosystems.

For some communities, their plans were focused on limiting growth to protect their small town character. The famous Euclid v. Amber realty case, that U.S. Supreme Court Case of 1926 that upheld the legitimacy of communities to zone property is a good example. The Village of Euclid was seeking to control the expanding industrial development from its adjacent central City of Cleveland, Ohio. It was seeking to protect its community character. However, 1926 was a long time ago and the industrial revolution that drove the development of businesses, factories and other facilities does not exert the development pressures it once did.

Today, the times have changed and the assumption of continued growth, especially for suburban communities is no longer a given. For some communities, especially central cities like Detroit that experienced the first signs of a declining population did not make significant changes in their land use patterns. Neighborhood commercial areas that were no longer viable were still identified as future sites for commercial development. For such communities, the assumption was that these areas could be redeveloped and that patterns could be sustained. The problem was that the volume of commercial demand for many such neighborhood commercial areas was significantly less than the amount of land allocated for such uses. In many instances, current land use patterns were simply projected to continue into the future.

In many cases, Michigan State University Extension suggests that the new plans will be based a shrinking population that is aging in place. In southeast Michigan, there are numerous examples with the most obvious being the city of Detroit. Now communities must find ways to repurpose vacant commercial sites, undeveloped subdivisions, and empty industrial parks. They must now focus on targeted growth at appropriate nodes in the community. They must find alternative uses for unused commercial lands along major corridors in their communities. Their plans must be able to attract families as they must place a greater focus on the softer issues of quality of life. The goal of successful future master plans will be to create walkable, interesting, desirable places to live. The effective plans will not simply project current land use patterns into the future, but will seek to realistically plan for changing demand for residential, commercial and industrial development. Proposed land use patterns will be more strategic in their allocation and location. Effective plans will create greater integration and coordination of districts and activities. Good master plans will help to create communities that may be significantly different from those of the past.

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