National Park Service
Heritage Preservation Services   —   Historic Preservation Planning Program
Phoenix, Arizona Bird's Eye View, 1885

Planning Companion

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A Typical Planning Process

Is It Still "Comprehensive"?

The word comprehensive in association with the phrase historic preservation planning appears at least twice in the National Historic Preservation Act. But comprehensive does not appear in the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards and Guidelines for Preservation Planning, and it has not been used in a number of years in NPS guidance on historic preservation planning.

Is there a shift in preservation planning philosophy going on? Not really.

Explanations of preservation planning in the late 1970s implicitly defined comprehensive historic preservation planning as a process that deals with all types of historic and cultural resources, considers non-resource factors and the larger context of preservation, and is integrated through a broad planning framework. This view of comprehensive remains a core concept in NPS preservation planning policy and guidance.

Webster’s dictionary defines comprehensive as “broad in scope or content,” and “marked by or showing extensive understanding.”

These concepts of comprehensiveness, when used as adjectives to describe the preferred approach to historic preservation planning, are still very valid, and should not be discarded, even though the phrase comprehensive historic preservation planning is no longer being used.

In fact, as we increasingly seek to integrate historic preservation planning into “mainstream” planning, it becomes imperative that the use of the word comprehensive not be so closely linked to historic preservation planning as if it were a particular kind of historic preservation planning (as opposed to another kind of planning).

It is important that we understand that, for professional planners, especially at the local level, the term comprehensive planning has a very precise meaning. In this setting, comprehensive planning is a policy-oriented process that entails an extensive assessment of alternative strategies; coordinates a variety of jurisdiction-wide plans, programs, and procedures; and relates these to the local budget.

The local comprehensive plan, sometimes called a master plan or a general plan, is a

document (in multiple volumes for very large jurisdictions) that is the result of lengthy and intensive study and analysis. The geographic scope is the entire community and its regional environment. The time scale is long range or indefinite. Such a plan is comprehensive in that it tries to link long-range objectives to a number of interdependent elements, including population growth, economic development, land use, transportation, and community facilities.1

Also discussed in the local comprehensive plan are “the principal issues and problems of growth and decline facing the community” and “the main trends that…need the attention of public and public-private programs.”1

This concept of comprehensive is entirely compatible with the way that comprehensive has been, and continues to be, interpreted for historic preservation planning.

As we increase the level of communication and interaction with state and local planners in order to enhance historic preservation planning activities, it is essential that we not be misunderstood. Therefore, to avoid any misunderstanding, the phrase comprehensive historic preservation planning is not being used, although the concept of comprehensiveness, as defined above, should most assuredly play a key role of any historic preservation planning effort.

Additional guidance on can be found in Sources of Additional Information — just click on the menu link to the left.

1  The Practice of Local Government Planning, Second Edition, edited by Frank So and Judith Getzels, p. 13, International City Management Association, Washington, DC, 1988

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