*Department of Political Science, Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy. State University of New York at Albany, 135 Western Avenue, Albany NY 12222.


ABSTRACT: Developed in the private sector, strategic planning is rapidly being applied to cities. This article describes public sector strategic planning, places it in the history of urban planning and evaluates its goal orientation and effectiveness. Strategic planning is shown to be closely related to rational-comprehensive planning; as such, it is open to the same types of criticisms that have been leveled at rational planning reforms. At the same time, strategic planning is differentiated from traditional rational planning by its focus on future environmental trends. While external trends are important, the article concludes that they are rarely decisive for local policy making. Claiming to be a technique that can be used to support any goals, in practice, strategic planning often biases the planning agenda in favor of economic growth over other goals, such as redistribution of wealth or democratic participation. Strategic planning focuses on the effects of policies and is not concerned with the process of decision making; the values of democratic participation and checks and balances lie outside of the techniques of strategic planning. The article concludes that strategic planning is not wrong—simply incomplete. Strategic planning has a place, albeit a limited place, in democratic decision making.