CAPE ELIZABETH — Probably most of us have been involved in designing something: a garden, a dress, a car, a room, a home or a building.

We learn that form follows function; space is the essence of architecture and landscape architecture; human scale is critical; good design does not have to cost more; good design adds value; context is important; laws of nature apply, and principles of balance, harmony, color, light and texture are important, too.

Portland and its regional municipalities can be designed. It takes leadership, vision, commitment, cooperation and compromise. If we do it based on a regional comprehensive plan and urban design principles, our quality of place and life will be better, both now and in the future.

This is what city planners do. They work for their clients – you, me and other citizens – to comprehensively understand our physical, social and economic needs and desires. They help us decide on what we want (i.e., policy goals, objectives and standards) for the city’s design and how to achieve it.

Topics include:

 Development growth amount based on population projections; type of development and location, given physical and environmental features and sustainability considerations and timing.

Land uses for housing, commerce, industry, agriculture and natural resource conservation and protection.

Transportation systems and modes (e.g., trains, vehicles, bikes, walking paths) for mobility of people, goods and services and wildlife.

Public facilities for schools, parks, libraries, hospitals, sanitation and security.

Public utilities for water, power, fuel, communication and recycling.

City planners create a design or vision for putting it all together in a development pattern – e.g., centers, villages and neighborhoods, connected by transportation systems and surrounded by green areas – based on planning and design principles:

Scale of human characteristics; e.g., typical walking distance of quarter-mile and half-mile diameter neighborhoods, and separating people from cars – they do not mix, because fast cars kill people.

Balancing health, safety and wellness needs with economic and environmental constraints.

Ensuring harmony with nature, equity, inclusiveness, affordability and sustainability.

Appearance: Style and attractiveness, implemented via (in the current jargon) a form-based code.

Density: The number of homes per acre (i.e., the size of a football field) designed to be safe and beautiful and to preserve open space, reducing municipal operating expenses and, hence, property taxes.

Building heights that can be limited to protect views and balance densities with environmental considerations. The classic example is in Washington, D.C., where residents successfully pressed for the maximum building height to be set at 110 feet so structures do not rise above the U.S. Capitol.

Architectural standards to ensure development is harmonious with the existing or mutually agreed-upon character. Portland has excellent examples: the Marriott Downtown Waterfront Hotel and Gulf of Maine Research Institute on Commercial Street and the CIEE Building on Fore Street. Cities can and should be distinct – it adds value.

Regional context: City planning and development must be within a regional context. What one municipality does affects others. There must be linkage between land use, transportation and services, and more sharing of services, facilities, costs and revenues.

Implementation: How it all gets accomplished, financed, programmed and budgeted over time. Development is about meeting market needs and making money. Development is critical, but development will not happen if it’s not financially feasible. A developer must control the land before it can be developed. But it’s the citizens and their city planning and design process that set the overall development standards within which developers build. It requires considerable citizen participation, listening and decision-making within a reasonable time frame (time is money) about not just a plan, but also implementation.

And when decisions are made, while opportunity for appeal is necessary, it must be within a 90-day time limit. Everyone does not get what they want. Compromise is imperative. Then we must move forward together.

Development projects include everything from repairing a sidewalk, painting the street or crosswalk or planting a tree, to constructing a building or a city block, or making a garden, park or regional environmental conservation greenway. As in design, each project is like a piece of a mosaic. If coordinated by a plan, they can become a glorious picture.