ARC Board Adopts PLAN 2040

July 27 marked the ARC Board’s adoption of PLAN 2040, a 30-year blueprint for sustainable regional growth. To put things in perspective, Land Matters takes a look back at past regional planning efforts and examines the components of PLAN 2040.


Prior to 1989, six plans had been prepared for the Atlanta Region, the first in 1952. Each plan was long-range and general in nature; expressed how the region should grow to achieve future goals; and allowed for local decision-making. Over the years, state legislation evolved, providing a framework for each of these planning efforts. In 1989, the Georgia Planning Act set the stage for our most current planning approach. The Act requires all local governments and regional commissions in the state, including ARC, to prepare comprehensive plans—conforming to standards prepared by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA)—using a “bottom-up” approach, with local plans coming first and regional plans following. This allows regional plans to combine, strengthen and interrelate local planning efforts. Local governments in the Atlanta region prepared their required plans between 1991 and 1995, and in 1997, ARC released a Regional Development Plan called Detailing the Vision – A Development Plan for the Atlanta Region. Adhering to the Georgia Planning Act, it incorporated the local government plans produced between 1991 and 1995. Detailing the Vision was updated in 1999 and identified special target areas for implementation. Examples of these areas included small water supply watersheds, airport noise zones and transit station areas, including those along proposed rapid transit rail extensions and commuter rail lines.

In 2003, ARC published Regional Development Plan Land Use Policies – Livability for People and Places, which refined the planning principles articulated in Detailing the Vision and its 1999 update. In 2006, ARC developed Envision 6, which conformed to the “bottom-up” approach introduced by the Georgia Planning Act and followed a plan development process to better support future updates of the Regional Transportation Plan (RTP) and Regional Development Plan (RDP). The format of Envision 6 included an RTP based on forecasts and policy recommendations from the RDP, thereby setting the stage for PLAN 2040, which more fully integrates the RTP and RDP into one unified policy framework.

A Sustainable Approach

During the first six months of 2010, ARC released the PLAN 2040 Regional Assessment, including specific Findings that were communicated to stakeholders as well as the ARC Board and its committees. Over 100 meetings with elected officials and stakeholders – both in-person and online – took place throughout 2010 and were used to review the Findings and frame the needs of the region.

The theme of “sustainability” was selected as an overarching concept for the development of PLAN 2040. The term was defined through meetings of ARC committees, and a Purpose, Values and Objectives for completing PLAN 2040 were adopted by the Atlanta Regional Commission in July 2010.

The PLAN 2040 Purpose Statement, visionary leadership for sustainable growth by balancing environmental responsibility, economic growth and social needs while maximizing benefits to all, was adopted by the ARC Board and supported by three Values:

  • Value #1: Lead as the Global Gateway to the South
  • Value #2: Encourage Healthy Communities
  • Value #3: Expand Access to Community Resources

PLAN 2040’s five Objectives serve to animate these Values and guide the region toward sustainability:

  • Increase mobility options for people and goods
  • Foster a healthy, educated, well trained, safe, and secure population
  • Promote places to live with easy access to jobs and services
  • Improve energy efficiency while preserving the region’s environment
  • Identify innovative approaches to economic recovery and long-term prosperity

These Objectives—rooted in the Purpose and Values—correlate to specific Findings from the Regional Assessment and provide an organizational framework for a series of PLAN 2040 Principles. The Objectives and Principles, in tandem, serve as ARC’s land use policy to guide the programs, decisions and investments espoused in PLAN 2040. Icons for each Objective carry through all PLAN 2040 documents to show how each component of the Plan embodies the overarching goals of the region.

The PLAN 2040 Regional Agenda

The Regional Agenda is the heart of PLAN 2040. Representing a path toward Plan implementation for local governments, ARC itself, and ARC’s regional partners, the Regional Agenda comprises four key documents:

The Regional Development Guide is a required component of the Regional Agenda and contains the Unified Growth Policy Map (UGPM), comprised of Areas and Places. Areas describe predominant land use patterns throughout the region, and Places reflect concentrated uses that have generally defined boundaries and provide greater detail within Areas. The Regional Development Guide itself elaborates on the UGPM by providing for each Area and Place a defining narrative and issue summary; development guidelines focused on land use, density and height; images representing recommended development types; and Implementation Priorities, which are measures to achieve the desired development patterns and thereby grow the region in a sustainable way. The Regional Development Guide also addresses implementation of DCA’s Quality Community Objectives (QCOs) for the Atlanta region.

The Local Government Plan Implementation document includes another required component of the Regional Agenda through its Performance Standards for Local Governments, which serve to encourage local government implementation of PLAN 2040 and the realization of regional goals. Organized around the five Objectives, the standards are divided into Minimum and Excellence thresholds. Local governments can achieve these thresholds through a wide variety of activities, providing for flexibility and choice across different jurisdictions with different local needs and conditions. Excellence Standards, in particular, represent a valuable way for local planners to implement innovative policies and programs in their communities.

The ARC Implementation Program document is a required component of the Regional Agenda that includes the Regional Sustainable Five-Year Work Program, as well as new regional needs and strategies to implement PLAN 2040. As one part of its work program and in furtherance of Plan Objectives, ARC will maintain its commitment to the Livable Centers Initiative (LCI) program by continuing to fund new LCI studies and implementation activities in existing study areas. ARC staff will also explore the use of Public-Private Partnerships in LCI plan implementation and the establishment of performance measures for LCI communities. The ARC Implementation Program also contains a commitment to Lifelong Communities (LLC) principles through plans for LLC program expansion into additional communities and the development and promulgation of Lifelong Communities tools. These are only two parts of ARC’s extensive Implementation Program.

The Regional Implementation Partners document is a required component of the Regional Agenda that identifies activities to be undertaken by regional partners in support of the PLAN 2040 implementation. Activities of state agencies, quasi-governmental organizations, and non-profit groups are documented through a Five-Year Work Program similar to the ARC Implementation Program. This document demonstrates ARC’s position that collaboration among a wide spectrum of stakeholders is critical to PLAN 2040’s implementation.

PLAN 2040 Evaluation and Monitoring

As a component of PLAN 2040, ARC will monitor the effectiveness of Plan implementation. Methods of monitoring will include:

  • Periodic assessments of communities to measure their progress on meeting the Local Performance Standards
  • Communications that convey the key points of PLAN 2040 implementation through an innovative online dashboard, publications, the ARC website and presentations to governments and citizens
  • Surveys of regional leaders on ways in which the strategies identified in the Plan are being implemented
  • Annual reports on the accomplishments of PLAN 2040 work programs, including changes in development patterns

Based on the results of PLAN 2040 Evaluation and Monitoring, ARC may develop new programs and policies to remove barriers to implementation and produce measurable results.

ARC’s Regional Assessment Findings showed that the Atlanta region is well positioned for greater success, but only if local governments, businesses, and citizens are prepared for changes in the way they live and do business. The PLAN 2040 Regional Agenda brings together a wide range of plans, guidelines and incentives that will spur the changes needed to foster sustainable and healthy communities, and ensure that all citizens have the maximum access possible to advance their lives within the region’s capacity.

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