The Language of Nature in Comprehensive Plans

How is urban nature discussed in city comprehensive plans? In what contexts and from what perspectives? For example, does a city plan focus more on parks and open space or on habitat conservation? The introductory map shows one quick answer: green indicates content related to parks and open space; red indicates content related to habitat, size indicates the relative quantity of both in the city's comprehensive plans.

Beyond that, we ask where discussion of parks, open space and habitat occurs in plans: In vision statements? In sections about economic development? This application provides a window into how cities think differently about nature in relation to other elements of their plans.

For discussion of preliminary observations and our methods, please see this short essay: Visions and Plans for City Nature


How much do cities discuss nature in their comprehensive plans, and in what contexts?

We looked at the plans of 37 large U.S. cities and used topic modeling techniques to locate and measure the discussion of parks and open space in relation to other elements of comprehensive plans.

Plan elements by city

[select a city]

Distribution of topic text in plans

Each plan has sections corresponding to the American Planning Association's required elements. Where a topic is most discussed can reveal a city's priorities and perspectives on how different elements of plans relate to each other. Change the topic on the tab to the left to explore these relationships in each city.


Integrative statement of goals for a city's planning process.

Land Use

"Distribution, location and characteristics of current and future land uses and land form."

Economic Development

Including commercial and industrial activity; job creation, retention and diversification; etc.

Community Facilities

Buildings and land for governmental services, incl. parks, schools, museums, police & fire.


Assessing housing conditions, variety, and projected needs, by type and price.


Issues regarding roads, transit, bike routes, traffic & parking, rail, ports, airports, etc.


Arts facilities and services; cultural heritage preservation and attractions.

Critical and Sensitive Areas

"Land and water bodies providing habitat for plants and wildlife"

Topic Modeling with LDA

We used the Latent Dirichlet Allocation (LDA) topic modeling algorithm to "discover" 100 topics ‑ that is, groups of associated words ‑ in the 37 comprehensive plans in our study, and to measure their strength in plan sections. For example, of the 100 topics associated with all plans, numbers 8, 12, and 87 are most relevant to parks and open space. Topics 41, 64, and 97 most concern natural habitat and sensitive areas. Other topic groupings we have made include: neighborhoods, downtowns, energy, health and food.

Questions, comments, suggestions, problems?
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