The Glossary of Planning Jargon

While we certainly aim to avoid jardon, we want to make sure you have access to our glossary of words that may be used throughout this process. If you come across a new term that is not included on this list, please feel free to contact us and we will define it for you! 

Adaptive Reuse.  Rehabilitation or renovation of an existing building(s) for any use other than the present use. Example: converting a historic home into a restaurant. 


Affordable Housing.   Housing that has a sale price or rental amount that is within the means of a household that may occupy middle-, moderate-, or low-income housing.

Amenity.    Aesthetic or other characteristics of a development (natural or manmade) that increase its desirability to a community or its marketability to the public. Amenities may include things such as a unified building design, recreational facilities, security systems, views, landscaping and tree preservation, attractive site design, permanent open space, public art, etc.


Area Plan.   A plan that covers a specific sub-area of the city and provides a blueprint for future development of the area. The plan also identifies specific catalytic projects that will be undertaken to support that development. The plan provides policies and strategies based on shared values that will shape development for years to come. The plan also outlines an implementation strategy and framework for community partnership.


Auto-Oriented Retail.    Retail with large parking lots and one- or two-story buildings that primarily cater to automobile drivers (strip malls, shopping malls, drive-thrus).


Bike Lane.    A lane expressly reserved for bicycles on a street or roadway in addition to any lanes for use by motorized vehicles.


Block face or block front.    One side of a street or the building facades that make up one side of a street between two consecutive intersections.


Brownfield.    Abandoned or underused industrial and commercial facilities/sites where expansion or redevelopment is complicated by environmental contamination.


Buffer Zone.   Districts established at or adjoining commercial-residential district boundaries to mitigate potential frictions between uses or characteristics of uses. Such district regulations may provide for traditional uses, yards, heights, off-street parking, lighting, signs, buffering, or screening.


Building Bulk.   The total volume of a structure.


Building code.    The set of regulations governing the design and construction of buildings, including but not limited to, electrical, mechanical, structural, and plumbing elements.


Building Envelope.    The volume of space for building as defined by building setbacks.

Building Footprint.   The outline of the total area covered by a building or structure’s perimeter at the ground level.


Building Height.   The verticle distance of the highest point of the roof or any rooftop deck, fence, railing, window's walk, or other rooftop structure or feature above the mean finished grade of the ground adjoining the building.

Building Lot Coverage.   An area within the property boundaries of a lot or tract within which an allowed building or structure may be placed (does not include paved surfaces).

building massThe three-dimensional bulk of a building: height, width, and depth.


Building Massing.   The way that three-dimensional forms are combined to make up the total building bulk.


Built Environment.   The elements of the environment that are generally built or made by people as contrasted with natural processes.

Bus Rapid Transit (BRT).   A broad term given to a variety of transportation systems that, through improvements to vehicles, infrastructure, and scheduling, attempt to use buses to provide a service that is of a higher quality than an ordinary bus line.

Business Improvement District (BID).   A designated geographic area where property owners voluntarily collect annual assessments that are spent on projects that enhance the local business environment. These may include improvements to the streetscape, marketing efforts, business recruitment activity, and security programs.


Catalytic Projects.   Redevelopment projects and programs aimed at increasing economic and community value within areas, districts, or neighborhoods of a municipality. These projects leverage a significant and visible investment in the area, increase the value of surrounding properties, and support comprehensive planning goals.


Character.    Special physical characteristics of a structure or area that set it apart from its surroundings and contribute to its individuality. Examples include architecture, landscaping, natural features, open space, types and styles of housing, number and size of roads and sidewalks. 


Charrette.    An intensive, focused workshop in which designers, property owners, developers, public officials, citizens, environmentalists, and other stakeholders work together to brainstorm and envision potential projects that benefit the community.

Citizen Participation.   The process through which citizens who live, work, invest or spend time in an area are actively involved in the development of plans and recommendations for that area.


City Planning.   The decision-making process in which community goals and objectives are established, existing resources and conditions analyzed, strategies developed, and investments targeted and/or development controls enacted to achieve these goals and objectives. The purpose of city planning is to further the welfare of people and their communities by creating beneficial, equitable, healthful, efficient, and healthy environments for present and future generations.


Commercial Corridor.   A concentration of retail and commercial buildings usually located along a high traffic pedestrian and transportation corridor. Commercial corridors may be as little as two to three blocks in length, or may extend to several miles along a main street or highway.


Commercial District.   A zoning district with designated land uses characterized by commercial office activities, services, and retail sales. Ordinarily these areas have large numbers of pedestrians and a heavy demand for parking space during periods of peak traffic.


Commercial District (Neighborhood).   Small commercial areas providing limited retail goods and services (e.g. groceries and dry cleaning) for nearby residential customers.


Common Open Space.   Land within or related to a development, not individually owned or dedicated for public use that is designed and intended for the common use of the residents of the development.

Community Character.   The image of a community or area as defined by such factors as its built environment, natural features and open space elements, type of housing, architectural style, infrastructure, and the type and quality of public facilities and services.


Community Garden.    A private or public facility or plot of land for cultivation of fruits, flowers, vegetables, or ornamental plants by more than one person or family. Community gardens enhance the character of a community.

Compact Development.   Coordinated and clustered development, resulting in a higher overall number of units built in the same area and possibly reducing the demand for development in other areas. Higher density development does not necessarily mean multifamily development or high-rise buildings. Higher densities can be achieved by building homes on smaller lots, by building attached homes (rowhouses or townhomes) or by building multifamily structures (apartment buildings). 

Complete Streets.    Street rights-of-way designed and operated to enable safe, attractive and comfortable access and travel for all users. Pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders of all ages and abilities are able to safely and comfortably move along and across a complete street system.


Comprehensive Planning.   A plan for development of an area which recognizes the physical, economic, social, political, aesthetic, and related factors of the community involved. The plan usually includes policy statements, goals, objectives, standards, strategies, catalytic projects, maps, and statistical data for the physical, social, and economic development, both public and private, of the community.


Conditional Use.   A use that may locate within a zone only upon taking measures to address issues that may make the use detrimental to the public health, safety and welfare and will not impair the integrity and character of the zoned district. 


Connectivity.    The ease of travel between two points. The degree to which streets or areas are interconnected and easily accessible to one another by direct routes. An example of high connectivity would be a dense grid pattern in a downtown area. 


Corridor, Mixed-use.    An area of land typically along a linear transportation route where a variety of land uses are permitted, including employment, shopping, and residential. These areas are intended to be pedestrian-oriented and accessible by public transit.


Cul-de-sacs (Dead-end Street).   A short street or alley with only a single means of ingress and egress at one end and with a large turnaround at its other end.

Cultural Center.   Services to the public, such as but not limited to museums, art galleries, and libraries by a public or private, nonprofit facility.

Cultural Services.   A library, museum, or similar public or quasi-public use displaying, preserving, and exhibiting objects of community and cultural interest in one or more of the arts or sciences.


Curb Cut.   A curb break, or a place or way provided for vehicular ingress (entrance) or egress (exit) between property and an abutting public street.


Density Bonus.   The granting of the allowance of additional density in a development in exchange for the provision by the developer of other desirable amenities form a public perspective (e.g. public open spaces, plazas, art, landscaping, etc.).


Density.   The number of dwelling units or principal buildings or uses permitted per net acre of land.


Design Review.   The evaluation of development projects against community standards and criteria, typically conducted by a specially established design review board or committee. Projects may be evaluated for their impact on neighboring properties, benefit to the community, architectural, site and landscape design, materials, colors, lighting, and signage.


Destination Retail.   Retail businesses that generate a special purpose trip and that do not necessarily benefit from, or require a high-volume pedestrian location. Typically, destination retail acts as a market draw and/or anchor for other retail that stands to benefi t from proximity to its customers.


Development Impact Fee.   A fee levied on the developer of a project by a city, county, or other public agency as compensation for otherwise-unmitigated impacts the project will produce. This fee is intended as total or partial reimbursement for the cost of providing additional facilities or services needed as a result of the new development (e.g. wider roads, new sewers, etc.).


Development Incentives.   Measures that can be taken, usually by a governing agency, to encourage certain types of developments.


Development Standards.   A set of guidelines or defining parameters to be followed in site or building development.

Displacement.   When long-time or original neighborhood residents move from a gentrified area because of higher rents, mortgages, and property taxes.


Diverse.   Many or varied, may also mean multi-ethnic or multi-cultural.


Diversity (cultural).   Cultural diversity encompasses the cultural differences that exist between people, such as social customs, language, dress and traditions, and may also refer to the way societies organize themselves, their conception of morality and religion, and the way they interact with the environment.

Easement.   A grant by a property owner to the use of land by the public, a corporation, or persons for specific purposes as the construction of utilities, sidewalks, drainage ways, or roadways.


Eminent Domain.   The right of a public entity to acquire private property for public use upon the paymentof just compensation. 


Exurban.   A region lying beyond the suburbs or the "outer ring" of a city, typically inhabited by higher income people within exclusive enclaves, or one experiencing a shift from rural to "leapfrog" low-density urban development.


Facade.    The face of a building. All wall planes of a building which are visible from one side or perspective. The front Facade faces and is most closely parallel to the front lot line.


Facade (Street-active, Street-friendly).   The portions of a Facade which face and are most closely parallel to a street lot line, that engage pedestrians and help to create street activity through features such as storefront windows, welcoming storefront signs, etc.


Floor Area Ratio (FAR).   The total floor area of all buildings or structures on a zoning lot divided by the area of lot.


Frontage.   The frontage, or front, of a lot is usually defined as the side nearest the street.

Gateway.   An entrance corridor that heralds the approach of a new landscape, neighborhood, or area and defines the arrival point as a destination.

Gentrification.   The rehabilitation and resettlement of low- and moderate-income urban neighborhoods by middle- and high-income people.


GIS (Geographic Information System).   Visualization, spatial analysis, and spatial modeling are the most frequently used GIS functions in plan making. GIS can help to store, manipulate, and analyze physical, social, and economic data of a city. Planners can then use the spatial query and mapping functions of GIS to analyze the existing situation in the city. Through map overlay analysis, GIS can help to identify areas of conflict of land development with the environment by overlaying existing land development on land suitability maps.


Green Buildings.   Structures that incorporate the principles of sustainable design - design in which the impact of a building on the environment will be minimal over the lifetime of that building.


Green Infrastructure  A strategically planned and managed network of wilderness, parks, greenways, conservation easements, and working lands with conservation value that supports native species, maintains natural ecological processes, sustains air and water resources, and contributes to the health and quality of life of communities.


Green Space.    An open urban space with plants or a natural landscape that has been preserved; also any natural area, landscaped area, yard, garden or park accessible to the public.


Greenfield.   Farmland and undeveloped areas where there has been no prior industrial or commercial activity, and therefore where the threat of contamination is much lower than in urbanized areas. 


Guidelines.   General statements of policy direction around which specific details may be later established.


High Intensity Land Use.   High density street-oriented development (lively, diverse, engaging) that draws a large amount of foot traffic to an area. Densely developed urban neighborhoods may have a high intensity street layer of development comprised of one or more levels of retail, restaurant or entertainment uses, with quieter residential, office or studio levels above.


Historic Building.   Any building that is historically or architecturally significant.


Historic District.   A district or zone designated by a local authority or state or federal government within which buildings, structures, appurtenances.


Historic Preservation.   The preservation of historically significant structures and neighborhoods until such time as, and in order to facilitate, restoration and rehabilitation of the building(s) to a former condition.


Human Scale.   Human scale refers to a size, texture, and articulation of physical elements that match the size and proportions of humans and, equally important, correspond to the speed at which humans walk.

Impervious Surface.   Any hard-surfaced (e.g. asphalt, concrete, roofing material, brick, paving block, plastic), man-made area that does not readily absorb or retain water, including but not limited to building roofs, parking and driveway areas, graveled areas, sidewalks, and paved recreation areas.

Incompatible Land Use.    The proximity of one or more land uses to another use when the former is not compatible with the latter; for example, an odious factory next to a rose garden.

Infill Development.    The construction of a building on a vacant parcel located in a predominately built-up area.


Infrastructure.    Facilities and services needed to sustain all land-use activities, including water, sewer lines, and other utilities, streets and roads, communications, transmission lines, and public facilities such as fire stations, parks, schools, etc.


Land Banking.   The purchase of land by a local government for use or resale at a later date. Banked lands have been used for development of low- and moderate-income housing, expansion of parks, and development of industrial and commercial centers. 

land use


Landmark.    A building, site, object, structure, or significant tree having historical, architectural, social, or cultural significance and marked for preservation by the local, state, or federal government; b. A visually prominent or outstanding structure or natural feature that functions as a point of orientation or identification.


Live/work Dwelling or Space.    A dwelling unit or space used for both dwelling purposes and any nonresidential use.


Main Street.   A neighborhood shopping area sometimes having a unique character that draws people from outside the area.


Master Plan.    A document/map that describes an overall development concept.


Mixed-use Development.    The development of a building or area with two or more differing uses such as residential, office, retail, service, public, or entertainment, in a compact urban form.


Multimodal Transportation.    The availability of multiple transportation options designed to work safely and efficiently within a system or corridor (ex. streetcar, bus, automobile, bicycle, walking).


National Register of Historic Places.   The listing maintained by the US National Park Service of areas that have been designated as historically significant. The Register includes places of local and state significance, as well as those of value to the nation in general.


National Register Structure or District.   A property or area that has been added to the official list of properties significant in American history, architecture, archeology, engineering, or culture for use in local preservation planning efforts.


Neighborhood Character.   The atmosphere or physical environment which is created by the combination of land use and buildings within an area. Neighborhood character is established and influenced by land-use types and intensity, traffic generation, and also by the location, size, and design of structures as well as the interrelationship of all these features.


Neighborhood Improvement Distrcit (NID).   A designated geographic area where property owners voluntarily collect annual assessments that are spent on projects that will enhance the neighborhood environment. These may include improvements to local parks, landscaping, streetscaping, lighting, identity features or security programs.


New Urbanism.    The process of reintegrating the components of modern life: housing, workplace, shopping, and recreation: into compact, pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use neighborhoods linked by transit and set in a larger regional open space framework.

Objective.   A specific statement of desired future condition toward which the city or county will expend effort in the context of striving to achieve a broader goal. 


Open Space.   An area of land that is valued for natural resources and wildlife habitat, for agricultural and forest production, for active and passive recreation, and/or for providing other public benefits. Open space in urban areas, is also defined as any public space not dedicated to streets or parking.


Overlay District.    Overlay districts or zones are special zoning districts where new developments and redevelopments must follow design guidelines, requirements and/or restrictions established by the City. 


Pedestrian-friendly.   The density, layout, and infrastructure that encourages walking and biking within a subdivision or development, including short setbacks, front porches, sidewalks, and bike paths.


Pervious (permeable) Surface.   A surface that presents an opportunity for precipitation to infiltrate into the ground by virtue of the surface material's porous nature or by large spaces in the material (e.g. gravel, stone, crushed stone, open paving blocks).


Placemaking.    Creating public spaces, (i.e. squares, plazas, parks, streets, and waterfronts), that are designed to capture the unique aspects of the space and environment. If done well they can attract people because they are pleasurable or interesting.


Planned Unit Development (PUD).    A development guided by a total design plan in which one or more zoning or subdivision regulations may be waived or varied to allow flexibility and creativity in site and building design and location, in accordance with general guidelines.


Public Art.   Public art refers to art placed in public settings for the purpose of enriching the community. Public art can take a variety of forms: a. Architectural design elements (carvings, embedded relief sculptures); b. Landscape features; c. Streetscape design (benches, artist gardens); d. Sculptures (site-specifi c monumental works); e. Civic enhancement projects (placed symbols, wayfinding signs and markers); etc.


Public Open Space.   Open space owned and maintained by a public agency for the use and benefit of the general public.


Public Realm.   From a land use standpoint, public realm is all public open space and right-of-way (streets, sidewalks, alleys, hike and bike trails, etc.); also public space that is formed by architecture or landscape features to create commons, courtyards, quadrangles, urban parks, woonerf, etc.


Public Transportation.   Services provided for the public on a regular basis by vehicles such as bus or rail on public ways, using specific routes and schedules, and usually on a fare-paying basis.

Quality of Life.    The attributes or amenities that combine to make an area a good/safe place to live.


Redevelopment.   Any proposed expansion, addition, or major Facade change to an existing building, structure, or parking facility or proposed development on a formerly occupied site.

Regional Planning.   Regional planning is the science of efficient placement of infrastructure and zoning for the sustainable growth of a region. 


Revitalization.   Re-establishing the economic and social vitality of urban areas through infill, legislation, tax incentives, commercial development, etc., within existing urban areas to take advantage of existing investments in infrastructure and reduce the negative impacts of urban sprawl.


Rezoning.   An amendment to the map and/or text of a zoning ordinance to effect a change in the nature, density, or intensity of uses allowed in a zoning district and/or on a designated parcel or land area. 


Right-of-way.    A public or private area that allows for the passage of people or goods. Right-of-way includes freeways, streets, bike paths, alleys, and walkways. A public rightof-way is dedicated or deeded to the public for public use and is under the control of a public agency.


Sense of Place.    The characteristics (constructed and natural landmarks, social and economic surroundings) of a location, place, or community that make it readily recognizable as being unique and different from its surroundings and that provide a feeling of belonging to or being identified with that particular place.


Setback.    The minimum distance by which any building or structure must be separated from a street right-of-way or lot line.



Shared Parking.    A public or private parking area used jointly by two or more businesses, retail shops, etc.

Small-Scale Development.   Development that is small, but can be coordinated to promote incremental reinvestment, often carried out by local community builders.

Street Edge.   The vertical face formed by building facades, street trees, and screening walls that is aligned along a street and forms a comfortable people-scaled space.


Street Grid System.    A street system based upon a standard grid patternwith streets running at right angles to each other; however, offset intersections, loop roads, and cul-de-sacs as well as angled or curved road segments may also be used on a limited basis. 


Street Trees.   Trees strategically planted-usually in parkway strips, medians, or along streets-to enhance the visual quality of a street.


Street Wall.   The wall or part of the building nearest to the street or property line.


Streetcar.   A rail borne vehicle, lighter than a train, designed for the transport of passengers (and/or, very occasionally, freight) within, close to, or between villages, towns and/or cities, primarily on streets.


Streetscape.    The treatment of space between buildings and street. Streetscape elements may include building frontage/facade, public art, outdoor cafes, transit stops or shelters, landscaping (trees, planters, fountains, etc.), sidewalk pavers, special embedded street paving, street furniture (benches, kiosks, etc.), signs, awnings, and street lighting.


Subdivision.   The division of a tract of land into defined lots, either improved or unimproved, which can be separately conveyed by sale or lease, and which can be altered or developed. 


Sustainable Development.    Development that maintains or enhances economic opportunity and community well-being while protecting and restoring the natural environment upon which people and economies depend.


Tax Increment Financing (TIF).   An economic (re)development tool used by municipalities to leverage private development investment. 


TOD (transit oriented develoment).   Moderate- to high-density mixed-use communities within an average 2,000 foot walking distance of a transit stop and core commercial area. TODs mix residential, retail, offi ce, and public uses in a walkable environment, making it convenient for residents and employees to travel by public transit, bicycle, foot, or car.


TOD Node.   Balanced, mixed-use clustering of land uses within a pedestrian-friendly district connected to transit that enables transit riders to purchase goods and services within a quarter-mile or five minute walking radius of a transit station, thus eliminating need for automobile trips.


Traffic Calming.   Measures taken to reduce the adverse impact of motor vehicles on built-up areas. 


Transect.   A path or line used for sampling the characteristics of different areas, such as a transition fromone neighborhood to another. A transect may also be a line dividing two areas for comparison.


Transect Planning (T-Zones).   A place-based planning model for the built environment based on a series of zones that transition from rural farmland to dense urban core.

transit stop

Underutilized Parcel.   A parcel that is not developed to its full zoning potential.


Undevelopable.   Specific areas where topographic, geologic, and/or soil conditions indicate a significant
danger to future occupants and a liability to the city or county are designated as “undevelopable” by the
city or county

Urban Design.   The attempt to impose a rational order or to give form, in terms of both beauty and function, to selected urban areas or to whole cities.Urban design is an effort to make an urban area or whole city comprehensive, functional, and aesthetic through the articulation of its parts.


Urban Design-- Complexity.   Complexity refers to the visual richness of a place. The complexity of a place depends on the variety of the physical environment, specifically the number and kinds of buildings, architectural diversity and ornamentation, landscape elements, street furniture, signage, and human activity.


Urban Design-- Enclosure.   Enclosure refers to the degree to which streets and other public spaces are visually defined by buildings, walls, trees, and other vertical elements. Spaces where the height of vertical elements is proportionally related to the width of the space between them have a room-like quality.


Urban Design--Imageability.   The quality of a place that makes it distinct, recognizable and memorable. A place has high imageability when specific physical elements and their arrangement capture attention, evoke feelings and create a lasting impression.

Urban Design--Transparency.   The degree to which people can see or perceive what lies beyond the edge of a street or other public space and, more specifically, the degree to which people can see or perceive human activity beyond the edge of a street or other public space.

Urban heat island.   Refers to the tendency for urban areas to have warmer air temperatures than the surrounding rural landscape, due to the extensive surface area of streets, sidewalks, parking lots, and buildings. 


Urban Sprawl.   The spreading out of a city and its suburbs over rural land at the fringe of an urban area.


Vacant.   Lands or buildings that are not actively used for any purpose.

View Corridor.    A three-dimensional area extending out from a viewpoint upon which no building may encroach, so that no structures block a city view amenity.


Viewshed.   The area within view from a defined observation point.


Vision.    A qualitative description of a desirable future that explains how the community has benefited after several decades of continuous investment.


Walkability.    The measure of the overall walking conditions in an area, also the extent to which the built environment is friendly to pedestrians.

Wayfinding.    The ways in which people orient themselves in physical space and navigate from place to place.


Woonerf.   A residential street in which the living environment predominates rather than vehicular infrastructure. The main goal of a woonerf is to change the way streets are used and to improve the quality of life in residential streets by designing them for people, not just for traffic.

Zoning.    Legislative regulations by which the city can control the use and characteristics of buildings and land within its boundaries.


Adaptive Reuse (house).


Auto-Oriented Retail.


Building & Impervious Surface Lot Coverage.

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Commercial District (Neighborhood).

Compact Development.


Complete Street.

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Corridor, Mixed-Use.


Destination Retail.

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Exurban (residential).

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Green Infrastructure.

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High Intensity Land Use.

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Live/Work Dwelling.

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Mixed-Use Development.



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Public Open Space.

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Small-Scale Development.


Street Grid System.


TOD Node.


Urban Design - Transparency.

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Urban Sprawl

Blue Line TOD

Regulatory Update