Residents Deliberate Lancaster City’s Future at Forum hosted by Franklin & Marshall College

In July, the City of Lancaster’s comprehensive plan team partnered with Franklin & Marshall College’s Floyd Institute for Public Policy to host a forum on the comprehensive plan. The forum focused specifically on land use - how should we use what little land remains in the City? How can we accommodate all the needs of our residents, businesses, and visitors? Should our City grow, and how can we do so in a sustainable and responsible way?


The deliberative forum created a unique opportunity for community education and conversation around land use issues. Often, land use issues are decided at public meetings when the deciding vote is imminent. Public meetings can be intimidating, inaccessible, and inconvenient for many residents. Decisions also tend to pit groups with the most at stake against each other. It is then critically important for staff and elected officials to understand and advocate for the perspective of the typical citizen, and the common good.


Thirty-three City of Lancaster residents were randomly selected to participate in the all-day event. Residents were provided with meals for the day and stipends to minimize financial barriers to participation, and were offered transportation and language access services. Even with these accommodations, nine of the thirty three ultimately were not able to attend. This demonstrates how high barriers to public participation are for many in our community.


Participants were divided into six groups, each of which was assigned to a site around the City. The residents were provided with some background materials, and were also given a brief presentation by six experts on the topics of regional planning, environment, housing, transportation, economic development, and equity. They were asked to apply each of these lenses to their assigned site, and ultimately to the City as a whole.


Overarching themes and group priorities of forum participants were largely consistent with the planning team’s direction for the comprehensive plan:

  • More trees, parks, and green spaces

  • Build up, not out

  • Connect the City by bike path and lanes - specifically housing to recreation

  • Provide more affordable housing

  • Mixed use buildings - commercial on the bottom, residential on top

  • Demand for more - and more frequent - transportation options

  • Put parking underground

  • Need for grocery stores in walking distance

  • Access to affordable retail stores, health care, and child care

  • No more luxury housing and gentrification

  • Maintain roads and sidewalks

While a cohesive community vision emerged, so did several challenges and barriers to attaining it. For example, participants recognized that street trees provide a host of benefits, but also come with potential costs related to maintenance, removal, and damage to water, sewer, and sidewalk infrastructure.


Planning is a balancing act, one that requires constant evaluation and negotiation between competing priorities, interests, costs and benefits. Our comprehensive plan will lay out a collective vision for us to work towards, and a map for how we might get there - but as a community, we will always need to communicate and work together to make sure we’ve got the balance right.



The City of Lancaster is in the process of creating a comprehensive plan, the first since 1993. The plan will identify what is important to the Lancaster community in areas like housing, parks, and transportation. The plan will also guide our city's development and help leaders make decisions on issues that impact residents and prioritize resources. Learn more about the comprehensive plan at ourfuturelancaster.com. Add your feedback at engage.cityoflancasterpa.com.

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