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A word on planning terminology

As with any profession, planning has quickly developed a number of terms and acronyms that describe the tools and techniques of the profession. This section provides a short discussion of terms found in most land use plans. An understanding of these terms will greatly assist in reading any municipal planning document.

Most plans now include a broad statement of intent often reflecting a vision for the community. A community’s vision is almost never restricted to land use alone, and often incorporates broader ideas concerning environmental stewardship, social equity and cohesion, economic success, and cultural richness. Though they are determined through a complex and iterative process of engagement and public participation, community visions can be boiled down to two straightforward concepts: the desire to address current issues in a community, and the desire to achieve results above and beyond the current state.  In order to achieve this, planners work to set goals, objectives, and policies that reflect different facets of plan-making.

In the planning context, a goal is an ideal condition or quality that a community wants to achieve. It is a high level idea that fits within the greater community vision and helps to guide objectives and policies that get progressively more detailed and action-oriented. For example, a community with a vision of environmental sustainability may set a goal of ensuring that development has low impact on local wetlands.

An objective is a more direct, actionable target. It takes the goal and forms it into a measurable point that can realistically be achieved. For instance, the community’s goal of ensuring that development has a low impact on wetlands could be translated into an objective of maintaining 90 per cent of sensitive wetlands in greenfield areas. Some plans do not contain objectives but go directly to policy.

The term policy refers to an even more direct course of action that helps to achieve specific objectives. Setting policies can be a complex and often contentious process given that they can involve the use of tools that limit the actions of certain community members. Policies can include various tools ranging from prescriptive requirements such as zoning bylaws, to guidelines such as design standards, to direct action by the municipality such as purchasing land or building infrastructure. For example, in order for a community to maintain 90 per cent of high value wetlands in greenfield areas, a targeted policy might involve completing an inventory of wetlands, ranking the wetlands based on value, and establishing bylaws that prevent development on the most sensitive areas.

Some documents will use the word strategy to mean a plan of action designed to achieve an overall aim. This word is used in the next chapter to describe the specific provincial approaches to land use planning.