Plan-A-City was developed by a local chapter of the American Institute of Architects as an interactive exercise promoting discussion of issues of city planning and urban design. A board is presented to participants indicating an undeveloped landscape with a river, small lake and wooded areas. Participants are divided into four groups, each representing primary land uses of residential (houses), commercial (stores), industry (jobs), and public improvements (roads). As each group in turn adds magnetic pieces to the board representing their land use, a small city is formed, and through one or two additional iterations becomes a larger city that illustrates the group’s relationships of land uses to each other. Other land uses (e.g., airport, landfill, hospital, school) can be added as appropriate.

The Plan-A-City exercise typically takes less than one-half hour. The debriefing at the end is the exercise’s key ingredient, since discussion by participants can indicate some of the problems inherent in city planning. Topics typically include: Did the various groups talk with each other before laying out their land uses? Why is housing located where it is, and will it lead to wealthy versus moderate housing patterns? How many road sections and bridges needed to be built by the public improvements group, at what relative cost, to accommodate the locations of various land uses? Would zoning have resulted in a better plan? What could be done differently if the exercise was repeated?

Plan-A-City is an exercise in city planning that has been used for many age groups, from third grade to adult. It quickly points out some of the primary concerns in the way planning is conducted in American cities, and argues for better and smarter control of the process by local government.