Lessons for Planning Sustainable Communities

About the Author

CED Program Interns & Students

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).

In an previous post I described the new trajectory being plotted by this Administration through its promotion of the Sustainable Communities Initiative.  After months of anticipation, the first effects of this new federal initiative are beginning to set in for two North Carolina Communities.  On October 14th of this year, the Land-of-Sky Regional Council in Asheville and the Piedmont Authority for Regional Transportation in Greensboro were awarded $1.6 million each through the Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant Program.  The City of Asheville, in turn, also received notice on October 20th that it has been awarded$850,000 through the HUD/DOT TIGER II Grant Program to plan for affordable housing, jobs, and a multi-modal transportation network  in its East Riverside Neighborhood.

The implications of these awards are twofold.  First, these events reemphasize that North Carolina communities can be competitive at the national level on issues of planning and economic development.   Second, these two communities (among others) can provide lessons on how to leverage federal resources and develop partnerships around issues of sustainability.

Some of these lessons can be drawn from the Land-of-Sky Region’s approach toward planning for sustainability.  To start, the effort is centered on the desire to leverage existing plans and regulations, rather than adding another layer of planning and regulation to the existing framework.  Thus, one strategy for development of a regional sustainability plan is to weave together the existing plans, identify gaps and commonalities, and provide strategies to create more regional consistency.  Through this process the region can identify the main shortfalls in the regional regulatory structure as it pertains to various elements of sustainability (e.g. transportation and housing, water quality, greenhouse gas emissions, job growth and economic development, etc.).

Even more fundamental to the Land-of-Sky planning effort is an unprecedented community outreach program intended to engage the Region’s diverse, but interrelated rural and urban Appalachian communities.  By ensuring extensive participation from populations that are traditionally left out of regional planning processes (including, but not limited to, rural mountain landowners, farmers, urban minority populations, small business owners, seasonal second homeowners, health care providers), project partners are trying to create buy-in that could overcome the region’s traditional aversion to planning and regulation.  Further, this process helps project partners gather information about their communities and identify the policy gaps described above.

As these three year projects continue, it will be important to keep an eye on the Land-of-Sky Regional Council and Piedmont Authority for Regional Transportation projects to distill ongoing lessons.  For those of us that are interested in promoting long-term sustainability the ways that these communities develop will likely become a model for state, if not national, planning and economic development.

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