Union County Comp Plan Talking Points
How to make Union County more sustainable and more locally self-sufficient. Where to begin...
The Union County Comprehensive Plan is in its fact-gathering stage. That means it needs all of us to speak up and help guide it. So it's time to gather our thoughts. If you want to put in a good word for a sustainable future built on principles of relocalization, here are a few possible angles to take. You don't have to hit them all of course. Just keep them in mind.
OVERVIEW: Sustainability and Relocalization.
Union County should be moving toward sustainability every chance it gets. That means, as a community, we should be looking to optimize our ability to meet our current needs without compromising the ability of future generations to also meet their own needs. This is good for our health, our economic outlook, and our local resources. A strong, liveable, local community will be built on a viable local food system, a truly local business network or economy, and a locally-scaled, locally-determined, locally-controlled arrangement for local power production and use.
ENERGY: Planning Now for Uncertain Times
Fuel uncertainty and the sure knowledge of rising costs suggest careful planning now to take into consideration the community's exposure to risk. Both at the county level and in terms of providing direction and guidance to the municipalities, it's time to implement assessment teams to look at the security of water, food, emergency services and basic municipal functions in light of rising energy costs. These costs will be borne by everyone in multiple ways, both from direct expenses as well as rising tax burdens (for school or municipality expenses) and indirect risks (to the continuing provision of clean water, waste collection and waste water treatment). Beyond these fundamentals, the county should guide the community to think of ways to minimize its dependence on problematic fuel sources to secure its food supply and local business vitality. Along these lines, the I-80 toll issue should be an opportunity to rethink basic business models and market-sheds.
TRANSPORTATION: New Options for the Future.
Transportation in Union County currently means driving, with minor exceptions. It's time for that to change. Can the plan encourage, if not shape, a future with many different viable transportation options for the County, from walking to biking to carpooling to mini-transit? It's time to stop building anything that is only accessible by car and start retrofitting our existing neighborhoods and communities for safe, convenient, practical, and fun walking and biking. A rail trail would be a fantastic showcase feature and recreation/exercise focus, but beyond that we need a secure network that lets daily life be carried on safely without a car. "Transit-Oriented Development" may not be possible at the current or projected density of the county, but multi-modal options, workable alternatives to single-occupant motor vehicles, are. The best, cheapest and most sensible response to the cost of building and maintaining road infrastructure is to increase sustainable transportation and decrease standard traffic.
LAND USE: Stop Sprawl and Build Smart.
We need to maintain the rural character of our county through ag preservation and the promotion of sustainable agriculture. We need to reinforce our core communities and make sure they remain viable and functional places to live, providing a full range of services and functions for residents as well as visitors. Orienting toward highway strip development is a self-fulfilling prophecy with known bad consequences. Let's build on our strengths instead. Don't orient to Route 15 or Route 45, orient to our towns, our farmland and our wilds. Mixed use, mixed income, pedestrian-scaled communities are part of our past and are the key to our future. Rural and wild parts of the landscape are integral to the success of walkable towns. A functional agricultural and ecologically diverse and restorative landscape is not compatible with large-lot, dispersed single-family development. Where additional housing is needed outside the core communties, cluster development, preserving open space, greenways, wildlife corridors and valuable ecologies like forest and wetlands and maintaining non-car connections to the larger community, is essential. Rural farmland should be preserved from development and the feasibility of farming as a full-time pursuit should be bolstered at every opportunity, through the encouragement of sustainable agriculture niche marketing, community supported agriculture (CSA) operations, and support for the creation of local farm/market links.
RESOURCES/ENVIRONMENT: Saving the Environment Means Saving Ourselves.
Our forests, watersheds, and energy resources have been largely misused in the past. We should reorient to understand how the community benefits financially, health-wise and ecologically from healthy environmental systems. We should be looking to husband these resources rather than selling them to the highest bidder or undercutting them through neglect, especially since we end up paying the price with compromised water supplies, ever more flood prone communities, and fuel and food insecurity in the midst of the potential for plenty. Sustainable forest management, aggressive watershed restoration and a sensible policy on renewable agricultural energy sources are all interrelated. Sustainable agriculture and innovative water treatment and bioremediation can also contribute in this area, as can public education on the benefits of conservation, efficiency and waste reduction (solid and otherwise).
ECONOMY: It's the Local Economy, Stupid.
Local business should not mean business at any cost. It should mean a building block of a local, liveable economy. In other words, Union County would be made stronger with more businesses serving local needs, rather than expecting to attract storage/transfer or micro-market opportunism from outside.
KEYS TO IMPLEMENTATION:
Education/outreach, and high-impact, low-effort flagship projects.
GRAB BAG TOPICS:
Green building is good for the local economy (building local expertise and capacity), good for the environment (using resources wisely), and good for residents (both in their physical and fiscal health). Anything the county can do to promote it will also promote historic preservation, town revitalization, and rural character.
Making long-range planning and local self-determination part of the ongoing practice of the community can empower residents and provide answers to tricky problems (like teen disengagement or neighborhood maintenance issues or filling the need for non-commercial public space).
Once you're got your favorite issues lined up, you can send them in by snail mail, or online, or in person at one of the public fora. The public forum may not work for your schedule, but if it does, please also consider that it's a good way to get ideas about sustainability into view for others who may attend. So you'll be saying your piece and doing a bit of education/outreach at the same time.