Community Planning


Promoting Smart Growth & Regional Planning

MAPC's charge is to use planning to help cities and towns prepare various plans and programs to solve a range of land use and zoning issues.

MAPC partners with municipalities in our region to improve Metro Boston’s livability, its prosperity, safety, health, equity, and distinctive character.  Listed below are various land use planning projects that MAPC frequently undertakes with communities, using a variety of funding sources (e.g., municipal funds, MAPC Technical Assistance funds, state grants). Learn more about how MAPC can assist with land-use planning projects under the Technical Assistance Program here.


For more information about Community Planning or the Land Use Divison, contact Land Use Division Manager Mark Racicot at 617-933-0752 or

Master Plans

A master plan is a strategic framework that guides the future physical and economic development of a town or city based on the community’s vision and goals. Developing a master plan is more than just researching and writing a report. Read more about creating a Master Plan for your community here.

It is an open, public process through which the people of the community decide future priorities to guide growth and development over the next decade. It is a process through which town residents and business owners, and Town boards and committees, talk to each other, listen to each other, and bring their visions for the town into alignment to achieve a set of shared goals.

Learn more about our most recent Master Plan with Swampscott, Boxborough, and Melrose!

Downtown Plans

Many MAPC communities were formed around a town or village center, a location for the town hall, houses of worship, commerce, etc. As these communities expanded so did the downtown area, to offer retail choices, and public resources like the library, transportation via rail or streetcar lines. A big characteristic of these downtowns, particularly pre-20th century, are residences, including multi-family, with the advent of auto ownership and commercial strips. Housing are now located predominantly in subdivisions.

MAPC has worked with many communities to go “back to the future” to create plans that help revitalize town and city centers focusing on walkable mixed use developments.  These developments include housing of a scale suitable to the various downtown.  Planning, including robust community engagement, is important because it provides the foundation for changing downtown zoning.  Zoning is tied directly to a community's economic development strategy because it provides the regulatory framework for what can be developed or redeveloped on every parcel of land.  The downtown zoning is often coupled with design guidelines to ensure contextual and compatible development.

MAPC has assisted communities with visioning, strategic planning and zoning to strengthen historic town and city centers.  These projects have included North Reading Short Term Economic Development Strategic Plan and Market Analysis; a Vision for Downtown Foxborough and Downtown Rezoning; Marlborough Village District Zoning and Design Guidelines; Stoneham Economic Development Strategy; the Albion Street Arts project, focusing on encouraging the arts in downtown Wakefield; and Winthrop Town Centre visioning.

Reading bike line
21 Piedmont St. Boston

Neighborhood Plans

Neighborhood planning, in the context of the community and urban planning professional practice (and in addition to master planning), is planning for smaller neighborhoods and districts within municipal boundaries.

Neighborhood planning typically involves defining a study area, examining its existing conditions, determining its strengths and weaknesses, and working with its stakeholders (residents, business owners and leaders) in order to determine how to influence future change toward a common goal or vision.

This can involve a wide array of topics covering physical improvements (streetscape improvements, residential and retail/office development projects, new parks/roads) as well as intangible quality-of-life community development goals (workforce development, youth recreation/development, housing security/stability). The neighborhood plans typically result in a plan document that provides recommendations for infrastructure investment, the identification of public and private implementation partners, zoning and regulatory changes to shape change, and an action plan with a roadmap of sequenced actions to set the right conditions to make the area attractive for private investment.

Examples of neighborhood planning at MAPC include the recently completed Southeast Framingham Neighborood Plan (SEFNAP) and the Vision for the Chelsea Waterfront, which respectively focused on streetscape and housing recommendations as well as balancing community needs to access its waterfront with protecting an important regional maritime industrial working port.

Open Space & Recreation Plans

An Open Space and Recreation Plan (OSRP) serves as a road map of the municipality’s decisions on open space budget and recreation activities for the next seven years to ensure that the needs of the community are met. Through a public process, the community’s needs are identified, and goals and action steps to address those needs are developed.

An OSRP is compiled in accordance with the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EOEEA), Division of Conservation Services (DCS) requirements and guidelines. Once completed and approved by DCS, an Open Space and Recreation Plan makes a community eligible for state and federal grant aid offered through the EOAA.  These grant programs have been extremely helpful in assisting the cities and towns to upgrade and improve parks and recreation facilities.

Learn more about the Saugus Open Space and Recreation Plan here!

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Housing Production Plans

The Housing Production Plan (HPP) is a municipality’s proactive strategy for planning and developing affordable housing to meet Chapter 40B statute and regulations. HPPs give communities that are under the 10% threshold of Chapter 40B more control over the comprehensive permit application for a specified period of time. The Massachusetts of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) provides guidelines for Housing Production Plan, including affirmatively furthering fair housing.

The municipalities must show progress in producing affordable housing on an annual basis. To affirmatively further fair housing, the HPP can assess the housing needs of protected classes and set goals to meet those needs. The HPP is an important consideration for the housing element of the Master Plan.

MAPC is currently working on Swampscott, Arlington and Quincy Housing Production Plans


MAPC helps municipalities with zoning and land use regulation to protect and enhance the environmental, economic and social quality of life in our 101 cities and towns. Zoning is a critical tool used at the local level to shape a municipality through requirements and incentives for land use. Zoning provides the legal framework for what can and cannot be developed on every parcel of land in the community. This includes the types of uses that are or are not allowed, the massing and siting of structures, the amount of required parking, and environmental and open space considerations.

Learn about our recent zoning work in Marlborough Downtown, mixed use zoning in Weymouth Landing and Winthrop Town Center, and inclusionary zoning in Maynard and Medway.

Mixed Use Zoning

Traditional zoning was developed during a time when factories were abundant. To protect public health and residential property values, early zoning focused on separating factories and residential areas. Today, much commercial development is environmentally benign, and there are often advantages to locating different uses in close proximity. Mixed use concentrated development, preferably near transit, is seen as a key “smart growth” tool to reduce auto dependence and preserve green space and natural resources. MAPC used data from five suburban municipalities and investigated the mixed use experiences of other municipalities in the region and elsewhere in the state to compile a Mixed Use Zoning Guide.

Inclusionary Zoning

Inclusionary zoning uses mandatory requirements and development incentives to help create affordable housing. Inclusionary zoning bylaws may only apply to certain types of development, such as new construction or substantial rehabilitation, requiring a minimum percentage of low and moderate income housing. DHCD has created a model inclusionary zoning bylaw. Inclusionary Zoning Guidelines for Cities and Towns by the Massachusetts Housing Partnership Fund outlines legal considerations and choices for zoning programs.