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August 19, 2020  

“This Makes No Sense”: An Ill-Fated Comprehensive Plan in Texas (and Why It Matters Where You Live)

August 19, 2020

Someone on the Strong Towns staff wanted to name this episode of the Upzoned podcast:

Plan? “No,” says Plano.

The dad jokes—and, yes, the staff member is a father—are plentiful with this story out of Plano, Texas. So too are the head-scratching details. You see, Plano (population 288,000) worked for years to create a new comprehensive plan. The Plano Tomorrow Comprehensive Plan wasn’t perfect, but it contained good faith efforts to address the city’s looming financial crisis—a crisis brought on by the rapid outward expansion and mounting maintenance obligations of Plano’s Suburban Experiment. But now the city has abruptly scrapped the Plano Tomorrow plan and is defaulting instead to the older master plan that should be called “Plano Yesterday,” because it dates back to 1986 (when the city’s population was one-third of what it was). And it was this plan that helped guide so much of the city’s fragile-making decisions over the last 30-plus years.

Strong Towns senior editor Daniel Herriges wrote about the situation in the Dallas-Fort Worth suburb last week, saying:

It’s no small task to tell someone who’s used to getting something on the cheap—in this case, a big house with a big yard, smooth roads, ample parking, and uncrowded, high-quality schools and parks—that it never really was that cheap and it’s going to cost a lot more going forward.

The time for Strong Towns advocates to start insisting on that tough conversation in your own places is yesterday. But barring that, it’s now. Plano’s problems aren’t going away, but the can has now been kicked years further down the road.

In this week’s episode of Upzoned, Daniel is back to talk more about Plano with host Abby Kinney, a planner with Gould Evans in Kansas City. Abby and Daniel discuss the bizarre fate of the Plano Tomorrow plan. ("This makes no sense.") They also discuss how the situation in the Dallas-Fort Worth suburb reveals common misunderstandings about comprehensive plans, why it could stifle good planning in Texas, and why towns and cities must be allowed to evolve if they are to stay solvent.

Plano, Texas is the unfortunate object lesson: We can’t solve the Suburban Experiment using the same kind of thinking we used when we created the Suburban Experiment.

Then in the Downzone, Abby talks about the throwback music and movies she’s been consuming lately, and Daniel discusses the Murphy’s Law of air conditioner repair in Florida: If your A/C is going to break down, it’s going to break down in August.

Additional Show Notes