Planning occurs within a framework of state legislation, since the municipality as a "creature of the state" has only those powers granted to it by the state. It also bears those responsibilities imposed upon it by the state. The capacity of a municipality to implement plans is also circumscribed by constitutionally guaranteed individual rights.

Zoning, the best known of land-use control devices, is an exercise of the "police power." The contradictions, real or apparent, between the zoning process and constitutional guarantees relative to property and to due process go far to explain why the process of establishing the rights of municipalities to zone took several decades. Even today, the zoning power is still evolving through a process of legislation, litigation, and judicial decision.

Planning-enabling legislation defines the powers of municipalities with regard to planning and, in many cases, also defines the obligations of the community with regard to planning. For example, it may require that the community have a comprehensive plan and that the plan include certain elements.

The federal government exerts a large influence over the local planning process. In some cases it does so by laws and regulations. More often, it does so through requirements attached to funding or simply through the pattern of federal grants. The predominant flow of funds is downward: from the federal government to state and local governments, and from state governments to local governments.

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