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

Planning Companion

Typical Planning Process
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Comprehensive? »

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Step 1.
Planning for Planning »

Step 2.
Creating a Vision »

Step 3.
Understanding the Resources »

Step 4.
Other Planning Factors »

Step 5.
Issues and Opportunities »

Step 6.
Goals and Objectives »

Step 7.
Implementation Strategies »

Step 8.
Producing the Plan

Step 9.
Implementating the Plan »

Step 10.
Revising the Plan »

Sources of
Information »

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A Typical Planning Process

Step 8. What Will Our Plan Look Like? Producing the Plan

The plan is a physical document that records the findings and consensus reached on the future of resource preservation in the planning area.

Just as there are many different types of planning situations, there are many different types of plan formats. The content of your preservation plan will depend upon a number of factors, such as the plan’s purpose and audiences, any legal requirements for certain format and content, as well as the plan's scope, scale, and planning cycle.

Typical Plan Elements

Despite the great variation in plans, most tend to contain the following sections or elements:

  1. A vision statement.
  2. This would describe the desired future for the historic and cultural resources in the planning area.

  3. A brief summary of how the plan was developed, including public participation.
  4. This section lets the public know that the process was fair, that they had a role in shaping the plan, and that the plan’s findings and goals represent the opinions and concerns of a broad-based public in the planning area.

    The summary does not need to be an exhaustive, detailed description of the entire process; a summary of the main points is usually sufficient. It can be effective to acknowledge the contributions of particular project partners and others who put forth extra effort throughout the planning process.

  5. A description of the historic and cultural resources in the planning area.
  6. This is intended to be a summary discussion, rather than a comprehensive encyclopedia of all that is known about resources in the planning area. This summary could include information on:

    • resource types,
    • approximate ages,
    • approximate numbers,
    • general locations,
    • the extent to which the resources are protected, a listing of properties included in the National Register and state or local registers, often in an appendix.

    It is important, however, to keep confidential information about some resources, such as Native American sacred sites and archaeological sites, to limit potential for vandalism and looting.

  7. A brief discussion of critical issues, threats, and opportunities.
  8. This section briefly discusses the critical issues, threats, and opportunities related to the identification and preservation of historic and cultural resources.

    This summary could include a discussion of social, political, economic, and legal factors, as well as the results of any special planning studies that may have been conducted.

    For example, the discussion could address such topics as:

    • the way the community’s growth and development affect historic properties;
    • social attitudes and customs that may enhance or detract from preservation;
    • changes in the community’s economic base and repercussions on historic properties;
    • political factors such as the extent to which local elected officials or even the state legislature support historic preservation initiatives; and
    • legal issues, such as the extent to which zoning and subdivision ordinances, taxation, and financial incentives may support or hinder preservation.

    This section could also discuss those critical issues that the public and stakeholders in the planning area agree should be the focus of concerted action over the next several years. Examples include:

    • growing interest in heritage tourism opportunities,
    • an increasing concern about the effects of rapid growth and development, or
    • the loss of historic maritime resources.

  9. Goals and objectives.
  10. This section should not contain a “laundry list” of all possible goals and objectives. A balance should be sought between generality and specificity. Goals and objectives should:

    • Be reasonable and achievable.
    • Address the needs of the planning area’s historic and cultural resources, including identification, significance evaluation, designation, protection, research, interpretation, and public education.
    • Address the issues and threats, and take advantage of the opportunities that have been identified.
      • For example, if weak enabling legislation for local historic preservation is a critical issue, a goal could target strengthening the enabling legislation, and an objective could be to document the need for stronger enabling legislation.

    It may also be important to establish priorities for achieving the goals and objectives.

  11. Other sections could be included, such as:
    • An Executive or Management Summary that highlights the major findings and goals gives the reader the “big picture.” Sometimes an executive summary is designed to stand on its own so that it can be published separately and in greater numbers than the plan itself, to allow for broader distribution.
    • An Introduction can contain general introductory information that lays the groundwork for the rest of the document, such as:
      • a discussion of the benefits of historic preservation,
      • an overview of the plan contents, identification of the intended audience(s),
      • the plan’s legal authority, and the legal basis for historic preservation in the state and in the community,
      • local and state government preservation policies,
      • brief overview of the community’s prehistory and history, and
      • the discussion of how the plan was developed could be placed here.
    • A brief discussion of past and current efforts to preserve the community’s heritage and character.
    • A section on Implementation, which could include:

      • options for action, alternative strategies, available tools and incentives, and potential actors for achieving plan goals;
      • statement about agency and/or organization responsibilities toward the historic resources it owns or controls, such as public buildings, parks, etc.;
      • a description of how plan implementation activities will be monitored; and
      • information on the planning cycle and the plan revision process.

    • Appendices, which could include a variety of information helpful to the user (but no encyclopedia of preservation information), such as:
      • a bibliography of those materials used to support, and generated during, the development of the plan;
      • a glossary of terms; list of preservation group contacts;
      • a list of funding sources for preservation; and
      • contact information for the local community preservation program.

Tips for Writing the Preservation Plan

Although it’s been said many times before, it remains true – too much time and effort go into creating plans that end up on a shelf collecting dust. How can this be avoided?

If you want your plan to be really used, you will want to consider the following points. As obvious as some of these may be, many plans ignore them just the same and turn out badly as a result.

  • Develop a vision or main message for your plan.
  • The best plans are those that lay out an exciting vision for the future that stimulates the reader enough to make him or her want to be a part of it and help make it happen. If your plan is perceived as uninspiring, it won’t go very far.

  • Know the purpose of your plan and target data collection to support that purpose.
  • Plans can serve a variety of purposes. Decide exactly what you expect your plan to achieve. Do you want specific legislative changes to result, or are you more concerned with educating the community?

    Once you’ve decided what role the plan will play, gather information that will help you make your case. Don’t waste time and effort collecting information that isn’t directly relevant.

  • Know the audience for your plan.
  • This point relates to the previous one; plans can be written for a variety of different groups – a particular constituency, a limited technical audience, the political leadership, the general public.

    Once the plan’s purpose has been decided, it is relatively easy to identify the audience. Still, it is important to clearly identify the audience in the plan and throughout the planning process.

  • Include a table of contents and an executive summary.
  • This seems pretty basic, but amazingly some plans don’t have these features. People are very busy and organization is important. If you don’t give the readers a condensed version of your findings and your goals and objectives, they may never find out what they are.

  • Make major findings and recommendations prominent.
  • Again, most people are extremely busy. Don’t make it hard for them to capture the plan’s main points by burying major findings and recommendations in the text. Put them in large, bold print, or highlight them in framed boxes.

  • Use graphics to summarize findings.
  • In this age of slick advertising and high tech media, people are more and more used to getting information through visual displays and short sound bites.

    Use charts, diagrams, maps, and drawings wherever possible to convey your message. Photos and captions can also be effective.

  • Organize and present the plan’s information so it can be easily understood.
  • The preservation plan should be well-organized so that users and readers can easily find the information they are looking for.

    Write the plan so that anyone can understand it – its intended users and audiences, as well as the public, planners, property owners, other preservationists, etc.

    Minimize technical jargon; where it is necessary, give clear definitions.

    Present the information in a clear, logical way that supports statements of findings, issues, goals, and objectives, so that the plan can be used effectively.

  • Do not overwhelm the reader and obscure the message with too much data.
  • Just as you wouldn’t put every site survey form in the plan, don’t include all the other types of data you may have compiled either.

    If you’ve gone to a lot of trouble to collect information, you may be tempted to do that. Nevertheless, be judicious. Your readers don’t want to wade through a great amount of data.

  • Data should reinforce your plan’s goals and objectives.
  • Provide data to support the plan’s goals and objectives.

    For example, if the problem is lack of money (it always is), You may want to show how much more other jurisdictions are spending on the same problem.

    If the information in your plan doesn’t help you make your case, it shouldn’t be there.

  • Limit the goals and objective statements to those that are definable, concrete, and achievable.
  • Although many plans attempt to be “comprehensive” by including goals and objectives on every possible issue, it is unrealistic to expect action to be taken on such a wide range of concerns.

    Plans that focus on a limited number of definable, concrete issues are more likely to achieve consensus and generate action that those with a laundry list of items to be addressed.

Appearance of the Preservation Plan

The appearance of the preservation plan will vary depending on the planning area. Decisions about the form of the plan – its length, organization, structure, graphics, etc. – are guided by the extent to which the plan will:

  • Serve its intended purpose(s),
  • Meet the historic preservation needs and circumstances in the planning area,
  • Document the public and stakeholder consensus reached during plan development,
  • Serve as a guide for decision-making,
  • Help communicate historic preservation policy, goals, and values, and
  • Help coordinate preservation activities in the planning area.

Ideally, the preservation plan should be a single document, or, for a local community, an element in the community’s comprehensive plan. Plan elements located in many separate documents make it difficult to carry out a unified preservation policy and program, and achieve plan goals.

The length of the preservation plan can vary, depending upon the purposes to be served, needs of its intended users, and issues in the planning area.

  • For example, a plan under 50-75 illustrated pages may be too general to convey helpful information, but a plan with more than 100-150 illustrated pages may be too long and detailed for widespread, easy use.
  • For a glossy promotional booklet designed to catch the reader’s interest and communicate the vision and major goals, 15-25 pages may be appropriate. Fewer pages than this may be inadequate to communicate the message well, and more pages may contain too much detail for this format to communicate effectively.
  • No one will read a 500-page encyclopedia; but they will read a 50-page document that is concisely written and richly illustrated.

Appropriate Level of Detail in a Plan

The…plan should be as detailed as it needs to be and can be: the greater the level of detail, the easier it is to implement. But if the plan is too specific, the result is gridlock and loss of flexibility; and if it is too general, the result is inaction.1

The appropriate level of detail in the preservation is related to the size of the planning area. For example, a community-wide preservation plan may have less detail than a preservation plan for a neighborhood historic district.

The appropriate level of detail also depends upon the quantity and quality of information available. Information on specific preservation recommendations for individual historic properties would be appropriate, perhaps, for a historic district preservation plan. A community-wide plan that contained this much detail might be too cumbersome to use easily.

An appropriate level of detail is also related to the purpose(s) of the plan. A plan prepared to protect and manage a specific historic property will, of necessity, contain more detail than a plan whose purpose is to guide a wide range of preservation activities for a number of historic resources.

Whatever the appropriate level of detail, the preservation plan should not be an encyclopedia of all the information available about historic and cultural resources and historic preservation in the community. The plan’s appendices can refer the reader to sources of more detailed or more technical documents for guidance in making decisions in individual situations.

Getting Comments on the Draft Preservation Plan

Once the draft preservation plan has been written, it should be circulated for comment to all those who participated in creating it and to those who might not have participated in the process but who might be affected by the plan’s goals and objectives.

Presenting the draft plan for public review gives the public an opportunity to see how their ideas are incorporated into the draft. It would be unrealistic to expect the preservation plan to incorporate all comments into the plan, but it is advisable to carefully consider the consequences of ignoring comments from some groups. For example, disregarding suggestions from a politically powerful organization could alienate the group, and their support for preservation might be lost.

Producing and Distributing the Preservation Plan

After the plan has been produced in final form – whether as a stand-alone document, or as an element in a broader plan, such as the local comprehensive plan – it should be widely distributed, or its availability be widely announced. Posting the plan on a web site is an excellent way to increase access and reach a large number of people. Because the plan is a statement of public policy on historic preservation, it is also a public document, and should be available to any and all who want to make use of it.

Consider including the following in your distribution list:

  • All those who participated in developing the preservation plan,

  • Local government agencies, including the planning department,

  • Local preservation and planning commission members,

  • Other government agencies, such as the State Historic Preservation Office and regional planning commissions,

  • Major stakeholders and those who are expected to use the plan,

  • Neighborhood and civic associations,

  • Public libraries,

  • College and university libraries and departments of planning, historic preservation, history, anthropology, etc.,

  • Developers and development attorneys,

  • Architectural firms and other firms in the historic preservation business, and

  • Tourism agencies, organizations, and businesses


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

Go to Step 9»

1The Practice of State and Regional Planning edited by Frank So, Irving Hand, and Bruce D. McDowell, p.10. Municipal Management Series, International City Management Association and the American Planning Association, Chicago, 1986.

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