Putting place into planning: Placemaking and the master plan

A focus on placemaking in master plans allows communities to attract talent and improve quality of life.

Very few local master plans focus on placemaking as essential to effectively competing for talent workers in the new economy. Attracting talented workers is an important economic development strategy. Research on housing markets and demographics has demonstrated the demand for quality of life and places is what attracts talented workers. Those workers are very mobile, and can choose to live anywhere, and they do. Only those communities that measure up to what they want will be successful in the new economy. Placemaking in a master plan is the tool to transform a community into one that can attract talented workers.

The contents of local placemaking elements to include in the master plan will vary tremendously depending on where a local jurisdiction is located. Placemaking efforts also vary by size of the community. A small rural village will rely more on regional efforts than extensive placemaking efforts on its own where a city would focus extensively on being the anchor place within the region. The four main categories to concentrate placemaking efforts are:

  1.  Coordination with one’s region plans.
  2. Integrate placemaking principles into the local master plan.
  3. Include new master plan elements.
  4. Focus on place, form and character.


This requires local strategy development that is consistent with and complements the regional strategic growth plan. Pick and choose according to your role and assets ensuring to not duplicate efforts unnecessarily. Competing with neighboring communities wastes resources and creates unnecessary conflicts.

Planning principles and best practices

All local master plans should be rooted in a set of planning principles and best practices that are appropriate for the community in question. These set the broad guidelines for policies in communities. Examples include: smart growth and new urbanism. These two examples are the most commonly adopted by communities, however communities should be encouraged to create their own based on sound planning principles.

Include new master plan elements

Most plans contain the following typical master plan elements: future land use map and policies, infrastructure maps and policies, redevelopment maps and policies, relationship to zoning also known as a zoning plan, recommendations for implementation and some contain master street plans and subarea plans. These elements need to be expanded to contain new economy elements. Communities can supplement the section on planning principles and best practices to reflect those used to guide development and implementation of the master plan consistent with the regional strategic growth plan.

Expand the introduction and vision chapters to integrate appropriate elements from the regional strategic growth plan and the regional Comprehensive Economic Development (CEDs) plan, and explain the relationship of the regional plans to the local master plan (include relationship to any other local economic development plan as well. Also, include a physical vision of what the community wants to become.

Expand the section on special and unique areas, or green infrastructure, description with discussion of strategies to better integrate and link green infrastructure throughout the community. Supplement the infrastructure chapter with treatment of broadband communications (in those communities without high speed internet access) and any other key missing gray infrastructure. The transportation chapter should include a sidewalk inventory and sidewalk completion strategy as well as a bicycle path and trail strategy. A transit stop and expansion strategy is also needed (in those communities large enough for transit).

Add a new section or chapter on placemaking and place-based strategies as they relate to population retention, and talent attraction. A new section or chapter on regionalism/intergovernmental cooperation/issues of greater than local concern could be added as well.

Place form and character

Communities can move from a land use based plan to a community character based plan which focuses on community elements. Instead of focusing on the traditional separation of land uses and growth outward communities should focus on enhancing areas that need improvement, enact policies to preserve the areas that are functioning well, and put strategies into place to transform those areas that are not functioning. Character driven policies allow communities to create centers, neighborhoods, and corridors based on place and the local vernacular.

Communities do not have to do all of these in order to move toward placemaking and not all communities need to focus so intently on place. But at a minimum, communities should, as a part of the master plan review process, look at how they can improve their community by putting placemaking into the master plan.

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