Planning for regional sustainability – at every level

Jul 12, 2011
Region Forward

Kaid Benfield has a great piece over at his blog on NRDC today about the importance of “place” in sustainability. Benfield notes that when planning for how to make places sustainable there are three levels – in descending order of scale – that need to be considered: 1) the entire metro region 2) the jurisdiction – be it city county or town and 3) the neighborhood.

It’s important to address sustainability at all three levels because of what each offers to the overall goal. Regional coordination is essential to make sure jurisdictional goals do not conflict with one another and to encourage jurisdictions to work together when possible rather than unnecessarily duplicate their efforts. Jurisdictional planning is also essential to bring sustainability efforts to a manageable level and to align them with each jurisdiction’s unique assets and challenges.

Region Forward acknowledges the importance of multiple levels of sustainability planning by setting targets at the regional level and then allowing for the 21 jurisdictions that have adopted the plan to work together to determine how each can contribute to meeting the targets.

For example the District of Columbia may not be able to do nearly as much to help meet the RF target regarding the preservation of agricultural land (even with the recent peak in interest for urban farming) though Loudoun or Frederick Counties certainly can. Likewise the District and other inner jurisdictions can probably do more than the outer areas when it comes to increasing alternative modes of transport like walking biking and transit. Working together different – sometimes very different – parts of the same region can achieve common goals.

It’s the last level – the neighborhood – however that Benfield posits is generally lacking in terms of planning for sustainability. Noting that many groups including NRDC often hope to tackle larger-scale problems because they can raise more awareness than localized projects (especially when resources are scarce) Benfield argues that this mindset needs to be overcome:

“The argument breaks down when one considers that historically environmental groups have always been involved in place-based test cases such as particular wilderness areas threatened by resource exploitation or ecological habitat threatened by highways or oil spills. The truth is that we have never hesitated to focus on places to protect them from harm; why not also focus on places – particularly urban places – as models for what we can do right?”

Your turn: What do you think are some ideas or methods for strengthening neighborhood-level sustainability planning?

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