Livable Frederick: A New and Dynamic Approach to Comprehensive Planning

“If you don’t know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else.” ~ Yogi Berra

By now you’ve probably heard that Livable Frederick is a new way of planning for the future. But many people don’t know what planning was like in the past. Here’s a brief history of how communities approach comprehensive planning has evolved.


In past decades, comprehensive plans focused on land use and zoning as tools for local governments in rapidly growing areas. In the 20th century, the comprehensive plan became an effective growth management tool for counties and cities in the United States. Detailed and sophisticated methods were developed and highlighted by national organizations, such as the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) and the American Planning Association (APA).These groups offered guidelines for drafting ordinances on zoning, subdivision and the like, to carry out the goals and recommendations of adopted comprehensive plans.

ICMA’s and APA’s comprehensive plan and zoning guidelines were primarily driven by land use. They were written and used to address issues related to growth and development. Related topical areas, such as housing, transportation, the environment, and public facilities, were included as elements to meet the needs of development or address public safety.

Essentially, the overall goal of older comprehensive plans was to develop land use maps, zoning and infrastructure in order to efficiently locate areas for new growth and the necessary roads, highways, water, sewer, schools, parks, public facilities etc. to accommodate predicted growth for an area.


In retrospect, these 20th century comprehensive planning methodologies provided orderly ways to manage growth, and to fund adequate facilities. They redirected random, leapfrog and scattered low-density development and business activity to communities and locations that could accommodate development. They did this by providing necessary infrastructure, roads and public facilities. These planning methodologies were adopted and used, with refinements, in high, moderate and low-growth communities throughout the United States for a half century or more.

One of several drawbacks of traditional land-use driven comprehensive plans is that they followed a linear growth process. Often, they produced similar results, along with an increasingly limited range of development types and transportation choices. Over time, these practices became more structured and less innovative. Yes, communities grew in designated areas, but these communities were often isolated from schools, shopping, employment and public places because of zoning, subdivision and transportation decisions tied to the plan. They also often lacked livability features that were found in older, pre-comprehensive plan communities, such as a mix of land uses in close proximity to one another or sidewalks that linked various neighborhoods or separate areas of communities.

Traditional plans are not well suited to respond to these broader challenges. This resulted in rethinking the role of the comprehensive plan, and of land use and other tools and mechanisms used to achieve the plan.

In recent years, ICMA and APA have endorsed newer approaches and methods to guide comprehensive plans and land use in general. In addition to managing growth, current best practices examine the systems, networks and outcomes for communities. There is an increasing focus on how newer and older communities can develop and redevelop to become more livable, healthy and sustainable for the people who live and work there. They address how a community can incorporate sustainable practices from climate and energy to resilient economic choices to housing equity and affordability in the framework of a comprehensive plan.

These dynamic comprehensive plans have land use components, but are not solely focused on where to place housing, roads and facilities. Instead they are also oriented to how communities grow, redevelop, become resilient to changing conditions, enhance overall quality of life and provide sustainable choices for residents and businesses and local governments. That is what we want for Livable Frederick.

Frederick County Press Release about Livable Frederick (October 29, 2015):
Executive Gardner Launches Dynamic Approach to Long-Range Planning Called “Livable Frederick”

Public Information Briefing with County Executive, Jan Gardner: Livable Frederick (VIDEO)


Livable Frederick on the web

Livable Frederick on Facebook

Livable Frederick on Twitter

More to come…

APA Sustaining Places Recommended Best Practices for Comprehensive Plans

Livable Built Environment
Ensure that all elements of the environment, including land use, transportation, housing, energy, and infrastructure, work together to provide sustainable green places for living, working, recreation, with a high quality of life.

Harmony with Nature
Ensure that the contributions of natural resources to human well-being are explicitly recognized and valued and maintaining their health is a primary objective.

Resilient Economy
Ensure that the community is prepared to deal with both positive and negative changes in its economic health and to initiate sustainable urban development and redevelopment strategies that foster green business growth and build reliance on local assets.

Interwoven Equity
Ensure fairness and equity in providing for the housing, services, health, safety and livelihood needs of all citizens and groups.

Health Community
Ensure that public health needs are recognized and addressed through provisions for healthy foods, physical activity, access to recreation, health care, environmental justice, and safe neighborhoods.

Responsible Regionalism
Ensure that all local governments account for, connect with, and support the plans of adjacent jurisdictions and the surrounding region.

For Additional Information:

Local Governments and Their Sustainable Land Use Policies
International City/County Management Association/ ICMA Publications

Local Planning: Contemporary Principles and Practice
ICMA Publications