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How much history in a comp plan?

Dan

Dear Leader
Staff member
Moderator
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18,747
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I'm in the process of drafting the County's comprehensive plan.

The history section, which seems to be a standard feature of many comp plans, is in the introductory section. I'm curious about how detailed or relevant a history section should be, though. Should it just focus on major events that affected a place's built environment, do you get into details such as "In 1806, the wife of early settler Jebidiah Springfield, Eunice, sewed the first county flag in her bedroom above her husband's tavern on Old Plank Road," or something in between?
 

SGB

Cyburbian
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3,388
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26
I typically go with the "Cliffs Notes" version for the history, especially if there is a recent book published on the topic.

Keep the history section length relative to its importance when compared with other sections of the plan. For example, if the Economic Development section is 10 pages (assuming this is a top issue for your county), I really wouldn't want the history section to be more than 2-3 pages.

Just my $0.02 worth. As always, your mileage may vary.
 

Mud Princess

Cyburbian
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4,898
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I usually stick to the aspects of history that relate to the community's physical and economic development - e.g., events that served as the impetus for development (mills, factories, major employers, etc.); incorporation of villages/towns/cities; annexation of land; physical features around which the community developed; etc. Stuff like "George Washington slept here" and so on may be interesting, but not necessary for the plan.
 

Gedunker

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Mud Princess said:
I usually stick to the aspects of history that relate to the community's physical and economic development - e.g., events that served as the impetus for development (mills, factories, major employers, etc.); incorporation of villages/towns/cities; annexation of land; physical features around which the community developed; etc. Stuff like "George Washington slept here" and so on may be interesting, but not necessary for the plan.

I agree, but would also add transportation corridors. We have a railroad that runs north/south, mostly at-grade. It was the genesis for the city's second "industrial park" (following the Ohio River frontage as our first). Industrial land uses cheek-by-jowl with single-family residential needs to be clarified to the average joe. This is the time and place to do it.
 

Budgie

Cyburbian
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I echo SGB and Mud's comments. I personally like a history section that relates to the physical development of the community and ties to historic preservation efforts and opportunities, especially when the communities economy is based on cultural tourism. I also think that sprinkling images of historic events, places, pland, plats and buildings in the plan make it visually interesting.

Beware overdoing it though. No one will read the plan from front to back. Policy and decision makers want clear and concise policy guidelines, so don't bury policy in other text.
 

JNA

Cyburbian Plus
Messages
25,856
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61
We got one of the recognized local historians to write the chapter for us.
The History chapter is on our website: http://www.evansvilleapc.com/draftcompplan.htm

It is apparent that we took the approach that MP suggested.
Length - City and County history < 5 pages,
History of local planning was done in a timeline style - 1 page
 

Repo Man

Cyburbian
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2,549
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25
I concur with the others who recommend a condensed history section. I usually try and get some old photos of long-gone buildings. For example we recently did a neighborhood plan and I had some photos of homes and a business that were actually moved to make way for freeway expansion. Some residents were surprised to learn that their homes were actually moved. I think that these types of photos and history help people see how the City has developed and how planning-related things like transportation affect land use patterns.

So I wouldn't detail evey little aspect of the growth of your City but I would hit on the relevant things that helped shaped the City.
 

SGB

Cyburbian
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3,388
Points
26
JNA said:
History of local planning was done in a timeline style - 1 page

A great point by JNA: adding a brief history of the local or regional planning efforts is often a great section for a comprehensive/master plan.
 

Dan

Dear Leader
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Moderator
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18,747
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Thanks for your thoughts.

The issue at hand ... I wrote a history sub-section that deals mainly with human settlement and development of the area. Including graphics, it's about three pages long. The PD is a local history buff, and a couple of years ago he wrote a detailed history section for the comp plan. It's more of a historian's history, with details about early settler families, prominent people with quaint names like Ezra and Ezekiel, old civic organizations, Civil War generals, and so on. It's 11 pages long, excluding graphics. I think he's hurt because I didn't include it in the plan introduction ... to be honest, I don't know how to include something with that level of granulaity in what's supposed to be a general plan. I don't want his work to go to waste, though ... I might break it up, and include parts in the various subsections..
 

mike gurnee

Cyburbian
Messages
3,066
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31
The plan I did for the county several years ago included a large history section (by my standards--five pages). It was their first ever plan, and even with our history, some items were going un-noticed. Paper townsites, township mergers, reminding the reader that at one time half the county was in MEXICO.

My more recent city plan did not have a history section. Under the transportation element, I showed the development of our rail and road systems (OK, stage coach lines). I also ran an analysis of previous plans from an historical angle. Elimination of privies was a priority in 1950. Due to the polio epidemic, public pools were not wanted in the 50s. Angle parking downtown was a hazard and had to be eliminated in the 60s. Interesting stuff--to a planner.
 

JNA

Cyburbian Plus
Messages
25,856
Points
61
Planderella said:
What about breaking the history up to correspond with the different components of the plan?

I did that -
City growth by Annexation and population time line data in the Population Section.
National Register and State Register sites in the Urban Design and Historic Preservation Section.
 

Cardinal

Cyburbian
Messages
10,080
Points
34
As a general rule, I would write about a page for each fifty years of history, maybe a bit more if including several graphics. It should focus on seminal events that shaped the community either physically or culturally. In one community in which I worked, the railroad played a pivotal role, first platting the city, then creating the mill pond, then as a major employer. Here, I might focus more on early industry and its sudden collapse around 1890, after which the population plummeted and did not reach its 1890 level again until 1950. Those are key features shaping these communities even today. It really doesn't matter that the first settler was named Prosper Cravath.
 

Wulf9

Member
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923
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22
The more words and pages you add to a plan, the harder it is to find things and the more possibility that there will be internal inconsistencies.

I would do the stortest intro and history possible.
 

Lee Nellis

Cyburbian
Messages
1,369
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29
I think it is important to have a brief but complete "history of the plan" section so that any reader can learn how the plan was developed. It is also a good thing when you have to show how the adoption process complies with state statutes. I often include a chronology, in tabular form, that shows each event/meeting leading up to the plan's adoption.

As for community history, I think it seldom adds much except to the extent it is directly related to specific policy statements. Of course, I think the same about other factual background. I think the ideal plan is a policy document in which I can quickly learn about the community's vision and direction, with only the most pertinent facts being in the plan itself. All other factual information ought to be in a separate dcoument/s. The traditional plan format really frustrates most members of the public, who want only to know how the plan applies to them and have no desire to read a history, demographic statistics, etc.
 

Dan

Dear Leader
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Lee Nellis said:
I think it is important to have a brief but complete "history of the plan" section so that any reader can learn how the plan was developed. It is also a good thing when you have to show how the adoption process complies with state statutes. I often include a chronology, in tabular form, that shows each event/meeting leading up to the plan's adoption. .

I did do a separate planning history section in the introduction element, which goes over the history of formal urban planning in the county. I also described the old comp plan from 1959, the gestalt of the era when it was crafted, and its implementation. The history of the plan I'm working on is outlined in a planning process section.
 

Wulf9

Member
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923
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22
I agree that a history of the plan is important. In my opinion, a good plan is able to take on 5-10 major initiatives in a planning period. Using that as a background, I would want to go through the major assumptions of the past plan(s) and whether or not they were accomplished, as the intro to main goals of the new plan. I would still summarize rather than making the history a major section. The intro to our current plan is so long, it creates confusion about the plan itself.
 
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