Towards Comprehensive Planning

To advance a collaborative, community-based comprehensive planning framework


Currently, New York City does not have a comprehensive plan–a single document that facilitates future decision-making by specifying a city or town’s long-term development goals concerning land use, infrastructure, housing, open space, transit, and other types of services, in addition to addressing other concerns such as historic preservation, equity, resiliency, and sustainability. In the absence of a framework, the city relies on its zoning code and a series of piecemeal decisions that shape growth, investment, and neighborhood change. Throughout our history, MAS has continuously advocated for comprehensive community-based planning to ensure equitable growth, preserve historic resources, and to increase livability.

In December 2021, MAS released a policy brief, Towards Comprehensive Planning: Moving Beyond Our Comfort Zone, outlining ways New York City can advance a collaborative, community-based comprehensive planning framework. Continue reading to learn more about our research and engagement on comprehensive planning and how we arrived at the following recommendations.



Several steps can be taken immediately to advance comprehensive planning in New York City:

  1. Convene a City Charter Revision Commission focusing on comprehensive planning, equity, ULURP, and civic engagement.
  2. Strengthen partnerships and engagement between new political leaders and Community Boards concerning long-term citywide comprehensive planning to build trust and promote collaboration in the land use process.
  3. Provide increased funding and resources for all Community Boards and Borough President Offices in the next budget process in order to fully engage in community-based planning.
  4. Utilize the Equitable Development Data Tool for proactive community planning purposes to identify and invest in rectifying disparities in historically underrepresented neighborhoods concerning access to affordable housing, parks and open space, schools, and transit.
  5. Implement  Intro. 1620-A in coordination with existing City policies and plans based on robust community outreach to fully address the consequences of climate change.
  6. Identify and prioritize solutions that help facilitate a comprehensive planning framework that creates a shared, action-oriented citywide vision balancing community and citywide needs. 
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Our report, Towards Comprehensive Planning: Moving Beyond Our Comfort Zone, released December 2021, serves as a call to action for New York City to advance a framework for community-based, comprehensive planning. The report offers case studies on the ways that other global cities are engaging their communities, tackling pervasive challenges, and integrating planning efforts across issues. We were guided in this research by a series of programs to ground the conversation with local, national, and international experts in city planning, community development, and real estate who helped us shape an exploration of future policy directives and recommendations for successful implementation in New York City.

The report lays out a series of recommendations for New York City, including opportunities for leadership and coordination from City agencies and elected officials, strategies to give neighborhoods a seat at the table as a partner in planning, and how to transform plans into urgent action to advance equity and livability.

Read the Brief



Planning, comprehensive or otherwise, has proven to be one of the more challenging issues considered under Charter revisions. From 1936 until 1975, the City Charter required a master plan. The requirement was repealed because no master plan had ever been fully implemented. Subsequently, it was replaced by a nebulous provision for “plans for the development, growth, and improvement of the city and of its boroughs and community districts.”

Since 1975, significant change has occurred in New York City through amendments to the City’s Zoning Resolution. Some contend the Zoning Resolution is in itself the embodiment of comprehensive planning. MAS firmly disagrees. Comprehensive planning addresses issues such as infrastructure, schools, open space, transit, historic preservation, resiliency, and sustainability. On the other hand, the Zoning Resolution is limited to issues related to building density, bulk, and height.

Despite limited success, continuing the conversation remains urgent.

City Charter Reform

In 2019, City Council called for the creation of Charter Reform Commission, primarily tasked with tackling issues related to land use, growth, and planning. While many communities presented  critical aspects of comprehensive planning to the Commission, there was limited agreement on what constituted a planning framework and how best to balance local and citywide interests. Ultimately, these changes were not forwarded to voters by the Commission.

Read MAS’s Testimony to the 2018/19 Charter Reform Commission >

Planning Together

In December 2020, Speaker Corey Johnson introduced a report, Planning Together, and a bill for a 10-year comprehensive planning process in New York City.

Read MAS’s Testimony on Planning Together >

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  • The Tower Bridge in London, England. Photo: Flickr, Drew de F Fawkes. Modifications: photo cropped.
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  • Vancouver, Canada. Photo: Flickr, Cliff Hellis. Modifications: photo cropped.
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  • Philadelphia at sunset. Photo: Flickr, Garen M. Modifications: photo cropped.
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MAS believes that New York City can and should learn from other cities’ comprehensive planning frameworks and community engagement efforts. To continue the public conversation after the public hearing held in February 2021, MAS hosted a panel discussion on May 21, 2021 to define and contextualize comprehensive planning in other cities–both nationally and internationally. The panelists included Lisa Fairmaner (Head of the London Plan and Growth Strategies, Greater London Authority), Susan Haid (Deputy Director of Planning, Long Range and Strategic Planning, City of Vancouver), and planner and landscape architect David Rouse (authoring a forthcoming book The Comprehensive Plan: Sustainable, Resilient, and Equitable Communities for the 21st Century). Spencer Williams, Director of Advocacy at MAS, moderated the panel.

Watch “Global Cities in Conversation” >

Using that conversation as a jumping off point, on July 21, 2021t, MAS hosted a subsequent program on comprehensive planning in New York City. The panelists included Tom Angotti (Professor Emeritus, Urban Policy & Planning, Hunter College and the Graduate Center, CUNY), Barika X. Williams (Executive Director, Association for Neighborhood & Housing Development, Inc. (ANHD)), and Jon McMillan (Director of Planning TF Cornerstone). Spencer Williams, Director of Advocacy at MAS, moderated the panel.

Watch “New York City in Conversation” >

On December 7, 2021, MAS hosted a third panel discussion on the intersection of comprehensive planning and historic preservation. The panelists included Ken Bernstein (Principal City Planner, City of Los Angeles Office of Historic Resources), Christopher Cirillo (Executive Director/President, Ascendant Neighborhood Development Corporation), and Dominique Hawkins (Managing Principal/Partner, Preservation Design Partnership, LLC). Elizabeth Goldstein, President of MAS, moderated the panel.

Watch “Preserving Historic and Cultural Resources” >

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