A Primer on the Phoenix General Plan Update and Why it Matters

By: Taz Loomans

Did you know that the General Plan Update is underway in Phoenix? This is exciting because it is an opportunity to have voice in the way that Phoenix is going to grow, feel, and be like to live in the future. It’s a very special time to get engaged because this only happens once every ten years. It’s also a very worthwhile time to get engaged because this General Plan Update is actually addressing a wider range of issues that will impact Phoenix residents in all sorts of ways. This includes health and the environment, both concepts that haven’t shown up on the radar in any major way for Phoenix before.

Read more about the General Plan Update below and get engaged!

What is it?

A General Plan Update is mandated by the State of Arizona every ten years for every incorporated city in the state. It is time for Phoenix’s General Plan Update, which is spanning about three years starting in 2012. The process includes community input, the writing of the plan and then in August of 2015, the updated General Plan going to a citywide vote.

In the past, General Plans have essentially acted as zoning maps in Phoenix. The last one was a 600-page document that hardly anyone has cracked open in 10 years. This time around, Phoenix is doing it differently. The city wants to come up with a General Plan that is a living document and a vision that serves to inform everything from codes and regulations to the actual financing of projects. Officially, the city is calling the General Plan, “a comprehensive policy document for growth, development, operations and capital investment.”

How is the new General Plan Update Shaping Up?

So far, the document is shaping up as a pyramid in concept, with the overarching vision as “a blueprint for a connected oasis,” which taps into the theme behind the Downtown Phoenix Plan.

General Plan Update pyramid

Image courtesy of the City of Phoenix

The plan revolves around three community benefits – prosperity, health and the environment. While prosperity and environment show up on many cities’ General Plans, health is a refreshing one as it is normally not associated with planning documents. But the built environment and the way the city is laid out can have tremendous impacts on public health so it is great to see this as a major theme on the plan.

The 5 core values or the “big ideas” that came out of the extensive community engagement process, which included over 150 meetings, 1,300 engaged website participants and over 13,000 responses on the MyPlanPHX site, are Build a Sustainable Desert City, Create an Even More Vibrant Downtown, Connect People and Places, Celebrate our Diverse Neighborhoods and Communities, and Strengthen our Local Economy.

And finally, lest this become yet another planning document sitting on a shelf, certain tools for implementation are also part of the plan. The seven tools include plans, codes, operations, financing, partnerships, knowledge and “I PlanPHX”. The last tool is a way for residents to take action in the present moment, instead of waiting for long-term plans to come to fruition, to implement the overall vision and particular goals in small ways. New plans that are in the process of getting adopted that fit in with the vision of the General Plan Update are the Complete Streets Plan and the Bicycle Master Plan. The already adopted Tree and Shade Masterplan is also a good example of something that fits in well with the new General Plan.

Will the new General Plan Actually Have an Impact?

The question remains though, even with the tools in place, will the new General Plan become a forgotten and irrelevant document over the next 10 years? The way the General Plan Steering Committee is tackling this potential problem is by empowering the existing Village Planning Committees to take on the General Plan Update, to customize the overall vision to their own Villages, and then to act as the enforcers of the General Plan vision over time, so that it’s part of the long-term conversation on the ground. The idea is to ask the Villages to identify their own priorities while still working within the pyramid framework illustrated above. “There’s only one South Mountain, there’s only one Steel Indian School Park, and there’s only one North Mountain Park. We are asking the Villages to hone the individual characteristics and identity of the villages so codes and regulations respond to local and neighborhood needs,” says Teresa Brice, the Executive Director of LISC Phoenix and member of the General Plan Update Steering Committee.

Another way that the City is thinking of making it a living document, instead of an unreadable tome, is by breaking it into several accessible and easy-to-read documents that would be available not only online, but at various physical venues like the library, in the mail, or a public gathering. There is currently a Request for Qualifications out for firms or individuals that can provide design and publishing services to help the City create collateral materials for the General Plan Update to help tell the story. Plus, a huge summit is planned for the fall to get the word out about the General Plan Update.

The General Plan Update Schedule

Here is the schedule for the General Plan Update to give you an idea of how the process will go:

March – May 2014: PlanPHX VPC Activities

June – August 2014: Writing / design of updated General Plan Circulation

September – October 2014: Draft Updated General Plan. Summit for public input.

December 2014 – January 2015: Planning Commission Public Hearings

February – March 2015: City Council Action on Updated General Plan

April 2015: City Council Action on Ballot Language

August 2015: Citywide Election

Photo Credit: Photo from Wikimedia Commons


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