In this paper, we explore how master planning promotes and implements particular urban development patterns and, more generally, contributes to sustainability. Our goal is to understand the link between urban growth intentions articulated through the master planning process and realisation of its specific forms, e.g., monocentric or polycentric, compact or dispersed. As a case study, we examine the current General Urban Development Plan (GUDP) of the Bulgarian capital Sofia against the city’s actual development pattern. We observe that the primary goals of the GUDP are to promote a polycentric urban structure and low-density expansion, as well as preserve green edges. While the question of whether and how these goals reflect the sustainability ideal requires further consideration, there are some indications that Sofia’s GUDP may not be effective in encouraging sustainable forms of growth. Substantial inconsistencies exist between the plan’s overall goals and some of its measures and implementation tools. The results on the ground suggest that, despite the plan’s low-density aspirations, Sofia is becoming more compact and densified, while losing its green edges and failing to redirect growth to its northern territories where ample space and opportunities exist. We conclude that employing the achievements of research on sustainability and developing relevant implementation tools such as more effective zoning regulations and viable suburban transportation infrastructure are necessary for realising both the patterns proposed through master planning and achieving sustainable urban growth.
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