Sustainable Communities Initiative Provides Rural Regions a Unique Opportunity to Plan for a Sustainable Future

About the Author

CED Program Interns & Students

Kendra Jensen is a UNC-Chapel Hill graduate student pursuing a master’s degree in Public Administration. She is currently working with the Kerr-Tar Council of Governments through the Carolina Economic Revitalization Corps (CERC).

Of the $98,000,000 available for the Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant (SCRPG), at least $25,000,000 will be awarded to regions with populations of fewer than 500,000. HUD also created a special funding category for regions with populations of fewer than 200,000. Bonus points are given to any applicants that qualify as an “area of severe economic distress.” All of these elements allow rural regions and regions suffering from economic distress to compete effectively for grant awards. Funding from the grant program supports the development and implementation of a Regional Plan for Sustainable Development (RPSD).

An earlier post provides background information on the Partnership for Sustainable Communities between HUD, EPA and DOT, which made the grant possible. The partnership created six livability principles serving as a foundation for coordination and guidance in creating a regional plan. Planning efforts should integrate housing, land use, economic and workforce development, and transportation and infrastructure investments. A recent ICMA publication, “Putting Smart Growth to Work in Rural Communities” reiterates the importance of long-term planning and the integration of sustainable development, especially for rural communities.

The SCRPG offers a tremendous opportunity for the Kerr-Tar region and other rural areas to create long-term plans for sustainability, and to shape their own destiny. Resources including staff, funding and overall capacity are difficult to come by or dedicate to long-term planning, especially during tough economic times. Person County, one of the Kerr-Tar COG’s five member counties, recently released the Person County Futures Project, which serves as a long-term strategic tool and whose goals embrace many of the Partnership for Sustainable Communities’ livability principles. The plan fits the unique needs and assets of the region, while considering and complementing its neighboring counties, including the Triangle Region.

Answering questions of how to best develop and prepare for the future is an important topic in the Kerr-Tar Region. Each of the five counties is within a one hour drive of the Triangle area, creating unique opportunities for development and also posing interesting challenges when attempting to retain each county’s unique identity. Although all are within close proximity to the Triangle Region, each of the Kerr-Tar’s five counties varies in terms of its needs, assets and goals. A planning/strategic tool, similar to the Person County Futures Project, but with regional impact, could provide direction for the Kerr-Tar Region in pursuing opportunities that complement the Triangle Region’s  plans, but also fit the needs of the residents and businesses in the Kerr-Tar Region. Such a plan could help the region target and prioritize funding opportunities in the future.

Mobilizing a primarily rural region to meet the requirements of the Sustainable Communities Planning Grant is difficult in that it requires a significant amount of collaboration, personnel and resources to organize and complete. However, that investment will pay off, because it leads to a uniquely-tailored, comprehensive, and long-term strategic plan.  Such a plan is a tremendous opportunity, and many in the region are hoping to gain from it.

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