Re: What is a PUG?

A few posts ago, I asked some questions for readers of this blog about Timisoara’s PUG and what it means in the great scheme of urban planning in Timisoara.  Thanks very much to all those who replied and shared their thoughts; all the responses were constructive and, in my opinion, on target.  The activity on this blog is a great reminder that there are people all over the world who care about development in Timisoara and the establishment of top-quality urban planning in Romania.  That said, I want to reply to the questions I asked in my previous post with my opinions on these subjects:

What is a PUG?

A PUG is the legal framework for all the physical development that will happen in the jurisdiction for which it is adopted.  It represents a vision for how a community wants to develop itself over a certain timeframe.

Why is a PUG important?

A PUG is important because it can, and should, influence every aspect of development that affects the quality of life for all the people who live in its jurisdiction.  A good PUG deals with land use, economics, transportation, infrastructure, housing, parks and recreation, the environment, safety, and noise issues.  These are the issues that can make or break a city’s “livability”.  Because these issues are so interconnected, the PUG is the perfect opportunity for a city or town to ensure that it plans for them in a comprehensive, visionary way.

Bonus answer:  A PUG is also important because it sets a plan for such a long time frame.  Even in Romania, which has a short PUG time horizon of 10 years, the goals and policies set out in each plan will affect at least a decade worth of development.  In the United States and Canada (where circumstances usually change more slowly than in Romania), general plans routinely use time horizons of 25 to 30 years.

What should a PUG do for a city in general and for Timisoara in particular?

This question, in my mind, hits the most central difficulty of how urban planners use documents like a PUG.  This difficulty stems from the fact that a PUG must be both a technical legal framework to control development but also a vision for what a community wants to be at a certain point in the future.  Because this vision must be developed by the community at-large, it should be as free as possible from technical concepts that might be difficult for some community members to understand.  How can a PUG fulfill both of these roles, maintaining community understanding while not sacrificing legal and technical details?  To give my answer to this question, I’ll skip ahead to the issue of:

What information should a PUG contain, and what information is best left to other plans and strategies?

In the United States, general plans solve the problem of being both a community vision and legal framework by not trying to do all of the work by themselves, especially on the legal side.  A general plan usually sets specific goals, objectives, and policies for how a community should develop.  Goals are general statements of what a community wants to achieve through development.  Objectives are (usually) quantitative measures of whether a community is achieving these goals, and policies are the practices and general guidelines that a community will follow to achieve its objectives.  While the general plan sets the vision for what development in a community should look like and how a community should develop, it is other planning documents, which exist under the general plan in the urban planning framework, that set out the legal regulations that control development.  These documents must conform to the goals, objectives, and policies set out in the general plan in every way.

In the American model, the general plan is analogous to the “master plan” described before on this blog (in Romanian), and documents such as zoning codes set out the legal framework that is covered by a Romanian PUG.  In the United States, documents such as architectural design guidelines often supplement the requirements set out by the zoning code.  Every city should decide for itself what information should be contained in the “umbrella planning document”, such as an American general plan or a European master plan, and what information is best left to the more legal, technical documents.  The most important thing is to be precise when discussing these documents, and to make every effort to ensure that all stakeholders, including the general public, have a clear understanding of how all the relevant documents work.

Who is responsible for producing a PUG and what process should be used to do so?

The responsibility for producing all the documents that govern urban planning in a city, including the PUG, belongs to the urban planning department of the city hall.  The planning department can and should cooperate with other departments in the city hall, but it must take the lead in coordinating the process.  Because the PUG represents a community vision for development, the general public must also be intimately involved in its production.  Almost all cities in the United States hire outside consultants to help produce their general plans, because they have specialists in that type of activity and planning departments often do not have the staff to handle such a large project.

Each city must decide on its own process for producing a general plan.  For some interesting examples and strategies on this issue from the United States, stay tuned to this blog for my next post.