San José State University - URBP 178/256 - Spring 2009
Professor Asha Weinstein Agrawal

General Plan Sustainability Analysis (Assignment #3)

Due date:

The assignment is due to Asha, by email, by Monday, May 18.  I will send you an email to confirm that I have received your paper and that it arrived on time.  I recommend you send the paper a little early, so that if there is any problem with the email transmission you find out in time to still submit your paper on time.

Overview and purpose

For this assignment, you will compare the general plans from two cities to see how the cities do—or do not—integrate into their plans policies that promote environmentally sustainable transportation behavior and infrastructure. (For the purposes of this assignment, "environmentally sustainable" refers to the natural environment, not the social environment.)

The assignment is designed to give you an opportunity to think carefully about the different opportunities cities have to shape transportation infrastructure and local travel behavior In more and less environmentally sustainable ways.


Task 1: Pick two cities to compare

One of the cities you evaluate should be chosen from the following three, which are all known for their concern for the natural environment: Berkeley, San Francisco, and Seattle. You can find their plans on the web as follows:

For your second city, choose any other city of roughly comparable size whose general plan you would like to review. (These plans are sometimes called by slightly different names, like "master plans" or, as in Seattle's case, a "comprehensive plan.")  You might want to pick another city known to be "green," to see how different progressive cities approach transportation sustainability—and to see how well they both live up to their green reputations.  Alternatively, you might want to pick a city not known to be particularly progressive, to see if its policies actually differ that much from the supposedly "green" city.

Task 2: Evaluate the two plans

Prepare a strategy to systematically evaluate the two plans and compare how effectively they promote environmentally sustainable transportation. When examining the plans, you will want to look not only at the transportation elements, but also at all other elements that might be relevant (i.e., land use).

For the final essay you are welcome to discuss any aspects of the plans that strike you as relevant to the assignment, but you must evaluate and analyze the following five issues:

  1. The extent to which the plans discuss the interaction between transportation and the environment. For example, do they explicitly discuss this relationship? If so, how prominent are such explanations in the plans? Do the plans describe policies like transit and pedestrian improvements in terms of environmental benefits?

  2. The extent to which the plans include policies that promote environmentally sustainable travel.

  3. The extent to which the plans include policies likely to encourage environmentally unsustainable travel.

  4. Your assessment of the overall strengths and weaknesses of each plan in terms of how well it promotes environmentally sustainable travel. Which plan do you think is more effective at doing so, and why?

You will want to design a system to evaluate the plans.  For example, you may want to put together a checklist of items you look for as you review each plan. Whatever system you use, be sure to describe your method of analysis in the essay. If you end up using a very long and detailed check-list, you may want to include it as an appendix to the essay, which you can add in addition to the maximum page limit for the assignment.

Task 3: Write up your evaluation

Write an essay presenting your evaluation of the two plans. It must discuss the five issues listed above, but you are free to discuss other points that strikes you as relevant, too. Make sure that your paper does not merely describe the content of the plans.  Instead, focus on writing a paper that evaluates and compares the two plans.

As you write, do not assume that your reader understands anything about the connection between travel behavior or transportation infrastructure and the natural environment. Include brief explanations in the paper, as needed, to explain these connections.  For example, if you want to discuss that a city encourages the use of permeable pavement in parking lots, you would need to explain why such pavement is environmental preferable to impermeable pavement types.

The assignment should be 1,200 to 1,500 words in length, excluding footnotes and the bibliography.  Note that I will stop reading papers after I reach the word limit.

Cite your sources using footnotes for any items other than the two plans. When citing specific elements of the two plans, you only need to indicate the relevant page number and section in parentheses. For example, if you are citing page 3 of the Transportation Element of Seattle’s plan, you could use something like the following format: (Seattle, T-3).

The paper must include a bibliography listing the plans you reviewed, plus any other items you cite.


The essays will be graded on (1) the quality of the analysis, (2) the clarity and correctness of the writing, and (3) whether or not the essay covers the topics specified.

This assignment is worth 25% of your course grade.

Special note

If you are not familiar with California's process of General Plans, then you should read about them in William Fulton and Paul Shigley's book Guide to California Planning, 3rd edition (Solano Press Books, 2005). Read "Chapter 6: The Basic Tools Part 1: The General Plan."

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Page last modified: 16 April 2009