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May 23, 2012

A New Look at Metropolitan Chicago’s Existing Local Plans

Northeastern Illinois is made up of a network of unique, identifiable communities, each with their own histories and characters. Each has its own "sense of place," and that diversity within the region is reflected in the way local governments plan for their development and future. A comprehensive plan outlines the vision of a community and the policies that will allow it to achieve that vision. In addition to providing a well-defined framework for the preservation and enhancement of community assets, a comprehensive plan guides development and investment decisions with input from residents. Typically, comprehensive plans are written for a 10 to 20 year period. Although the plan is a long-term document, it should be used daily by the community to assist in land use and development decisions. A comprehensive plan should also be flexible and adaptable to changes in and around the community. At any time, a municipality can update its comprehensive plan to match local needs, interests, or opportunities.

In September 2009, CMAP concluded an update to its inventory, or compendium, of comprehensive plans, highlights of which were documented in a Policy Updates blog in March 2011. In 2012, CMAP updated its inventory to determine how many municipalities had either written plans for the first time or had updated comprehensive plans since the 2009 compendium was completed. Requests were made to all 284 municipalities in the region for dates of their most recent comprehensive plan. Requests and research concluded after receiving responses from more than 80 percent of communities with populations of 20,000 or more residents within CMAP's seven-county planning region. The 2012 compendium does not include analyses of subject areas included in municipal comprehensive plans.

Following the 2012 compendium of comprehensive plans, CMAP will focus future efforts on our on our biennial Municipal Plans, Programs, and Operations Survey in order to track progress toward implementation of the GO TO 2040 comprehensive regional plan and to shape CMAP's work supporting municipal efforts, such as through the Local Technical Assistance program and development of model plans, ordinances, and codes. The next Municipal Survey will be distributed during the summer of 2012, with analyses available in winter 2013.

For the purpose of this compendium, comprehensive plan updates refer to a plan for an entire municipality written as a single document. Updates or special studies for other plan components, such as parks and recreation or corridor plans, are not counted as comprehensive plans or comprehensive plan updates. Draft plans are not included in the compendium.

The previous 2009 compendium includes plans written through year 2008, while the current compendium includes all plans written through 2012.

The map below highlights the decade in which municipal plans were adopted. While each county contains municipalities with plans written or updated between 2000-10, the vast majority of existing plans within the region were written in the past 12 years. The majority of municipalities with plans written or last updated in 1990s are generally located in the inner ring of suburbs, adjacent to the City of Chicago, the core urban area of the region. Many excellent plans have been written for neighborhood and community areas, although the City of Chicago as a whole does not have a comprehensive plan. Aside from a few exceptions, suburban municipalities without a plan are located almost exclusively within southwest, south, or northwest Cook County.


Dates were compared when plans were written as reported in the 2009 compendium and the 2012 compendium. The categories and years are the same except that the 2012 compendium includes plans written from 2010–12. Highlights of the analyses appear below.

In comparing the 2009 and 2012 compendium of plans, findings include:

  • Plans written since 2010 represent 11 percent of current plans observed in this analysis.
  • Consistent with the previous compendium study, the largest percentage of current plans were written between the years of 2000 and 2009.

Click on images for larger versions.

CMAP also used the 2009 and 2012 compendiums to compare the status of comprehensive plans to see if they are current or outdated. While opinions vary on how often a comprehensive plan should be updated, the Handbook of Planning Law Principles and Practices for Northeastern Illinoisrecommends that "a new comprehensive plan should be prepared about every 15 years for a community that is growing or changing slowly and every 8 to 10 years for a community that is changing or growing rapidly." The handbook also recommends that communities engage in periodic informal reviews of their comprehensive plans, the frequency of which should be determined by how rapidly the community is changing. For the purpose of this analysis, plans written within the last ten years are considered current.

According to the 2012 compendium, 50 percent of plans were written between 2003-12 and are considered current. Our 2009 compendium yielded almost the same results, with 49 percent of plans designated as current. Of municipalities with plans written in the 1980s or before, only seven have been updated since the 2009 compendium was completed.

Click on images for larger versions.