Best Practice

Step 3 Recognition Best Practice for Category A, B and C cities

Category A and B cities: implement this best practice by completing actions 1 and 2.

Category C cities: implement this best practice by completing action 1.


Land uses delineated in comprehensive plans provide the foundation for city government and private actions that have a substantial long-term effect on whether our cities move toward carbon neutrality and energy efficiency or accelerate climate change and increase energy costs. And zoning districts defined in comp plans have substantial equity impacts and can, for example, inadvertently suppress housing choices. Land development decisions are infrastructural - once made, they are extremely difficult, expensive and slow to undo. Consequently, land use plans either enable other best practices and city goals, or hinder their effectiveness. In order to have public support and legal validity, land use strategies, zoning and regulatory ordinances must be grounded in a comprehensive plan. The process of developing and adopting a comp plan with embedded visions and goals is an essential community-building opportunity to engage community members in the clarification of community values and long-term aspirations. Some comp plans include energy and/or climate goals, and some cities produce separate energy plans and climate plans. 

Greenstep Advisor

Best Practice Advisor Photo

Suzanne Rhees, AICP, Special Projects Coordinator, MN Board of Water and Soil Resources: 651/875-1345,

Connection to State Policy

  • Comprehensive plans are required every 10 years for cities within the seven-county Twin Cities Metropolitan Area.
  • Comprehensive plans are a foundational document for meeting Environmental Impact Statement and Environmental Assessment Worksheet review.
  • All cities are empowered to complete comprehensive plans under Minnesota State Statutes and directed to implement the plans through zoning and other means.


Major Benefit

  • A comprehensive plan provides a legal foundation for a variety of local government actions, including regulatory tools such as zoning, fiscal tools including capital improvement plans, and programmatic efforts including economic development initiatives.
  • Comprehensive plans are both a document and a process - comprehensive planning provides local governments an opportunity to engage the entire community in a discussion about what long-term goals are important, how residents want to see development and preservation in the city, and what fiscal priorities should be set.
  • A comprehensive plan allows the city to formally integrate health, sustainability, climate protection, future mobility and resiliency goals within a statutorily-recognized policy document. For example, the four active living domains of transportation, community design and land use, parks and recreation, and schools influence opportunities for physical activity and can be shaped with the comprehensive plan. And in the mobility realm, evidence is growing that some level of autonomous vehicle use (self-driving trucks, cars, minibuses) and shared autonomous vehicles (SAVs) will be on our roads by the end of the 2020s, a time frame that argues for consideration of such vehicles in a city's next comp plan. SAVs will be a mobility service offered by both car and technology companies, and this transportation revolution will have a profound effect on our infrastructure and land use as well as on employment, the environment, and the economy. 
  • Growing Wealthier: Smart Growth, Climate Change and Prosperity  (Center for Clean Air Policy: 2011) shows, through case studies, how application of smart growth principles can improve the bottom line for businesses, households and governments by increasing property values, cutting fuel and infrastructure costs, creating jobs, enhancing public health and strengthening communities.
  • Recent climate change research (C40's Deadline 2020 ) shows that, based on current global trends of consumption and infrastructure development, by 2022 the world will have “locked-in” sufficient future greenhouse gas emissions to exceed the 2 degrees C. limit set by the Paris Climate Agreement. Fully one-third of these emissions will be determined by and occur within cities. Cities therefore are pivotal actors in cutting GHG emissions -- see high-impact low-carbon policy options for cities -- to prevent the worst-case climate disruption scenarios. Thus cities are critical to delivering a climate-safe future.
  • An increasing number of GreenStep cities are able to use the Regional Indicators Initiative's climate action wedge tool that allows cities to select, from a menu, climate mitigation actions feasible for their city, and then view the projected impact of those actions versus their customized city goals for GHG reductions.