Aaron Nousaine is a UNC-Chapel Hill graduate student pursuing a master’s degree in City and Regional Planning. He is currently working with the Land-of-Sky Regional Council in Asheville through the Carolina Economic Revitalization Corps (CERC).
Over the past two years, the Land-of-Sky Regional Council and project partners have been pursuing an ambitious effort to develop what has been called a Regional Conservation and Development Network. At the core of this effort has been the creation of an extensive and sophisticated geographically referenced database of the regions existing land uses. Funded by the Community Foundation of Western North Carolina, the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area, the Federal Highway Administration, and RENCI at UNC Asheville, the project has identified lands ideal for a variety of ecological, economic, and recreational uses; including urban development.
Much of the emphasis, however, has been on the identification of an existing network of “green infrastructure” in the western North Carolina mountains region. Although, this green infrastructure may not be quite what you think. In this context it has little to do with clean energy, or eco-friendly manufacturing. Here it refers to an interconnected network of land and water that provides valuable ecological services to its surrounding communities. It is a recognition that often fail to acknowledge the role that local ecology plays in providing use with clean water, valuable recreational spaces, and tourist resources. Despite this, some have argue that while valuable, this “green” focus has ignored the one thing the region needs most, jobs.
Recognizing this shortcoming, the Land-of-Sky Regional Council and other project partners, including a certain Carolina Economic Revitalization Corp. intern, are working to leverage the vast data resources of the Linking Lands project for economic development purposes. For example, there are three projects currently under consideration that aim to estimate the economic feasibility and value of utilizing non-timber woody materials to create everything from household consumer products to large scale heat and power generation. The first step in estimating the potential value of these various economic activities will be to identify total quantity of input resources, such as wood pulp, that could be available for economic uses. Thus, one unintended benefit of the Linking Lands effort has been the creation of a uniquely valuable data set that may now allow the region to gain a better sense of its true economic potential.
Please stay tuned for additional information regarding these projects as the Land-of-Sky and project partners begin to step beyond Linking Land and Communities. For more information about Linking Lands, please refer to http://www.landofsky.org/planning/p_linking_lands.html.