A Roadmap to a Sustainable Community: CONNECT and The Keene Comprehensive Master Plan

Originally posted in the Monadnock Shopper News

A sustainable community is one that is economically, environmentally and socially healthy and resilient.  It meets challenges through integrated solutions rather than through fragmented approaches that meet one of those goals at the expense of others.  And it takes a long-term perspective — one that’s focused on both the present and future, well beyond the next budget or election cycle. – The Institute for Sustainable Communities

The City of Keene’s Comprehensive Master Plan reflects this call for a long-term perspective — and sets its sight on a vision for Keene in the year 2028.  This plan, based on a shared community vision, is now in its fifth year.  It’s time to collectively assess our progress around implementing this roadmap to a more sustainable community.

One opportunity to come together and reflect on our progress is at the Hannah Grimes Center for Entrepreneurship’s CONNECT2015 event on Wednesday, October 28 from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m. at Alyson’s Orchard in Walpole.  The event includes an interactive session with six visionary community leaders speaking about the importance of the Comprehensive Master Plan while focusing on six focus areas:

  • A Quality Built Environment: Tedd Benson, Bensonwood Homes;
  • A Unique Natural Environment: Ryan Owens, Monadnock Conservancy;
  • A Vibrant Economy: Taylor Caswell, NH Community Development Finance Authority;
  • A Strong Citizenship and Proactive Leadership: Jim Rousmaniere, author and former newspaper editor;
  • A Creative, Learning Culture: Jeff Miller, board chair of Impact Monadnock and formerly President of Markem-Imaje;
  • A Healthy Community: Linda Rubin, Healthy Monadnock.

“As a part of the community, you contribute to the growth and development of this region,” states Mary Ann Kristiansen, Hannah Grimes Center’s Executive Director.  “Our goal this year at CONNECT is to have you leave feeling inspired by the collective impact that you and the 150 people around you can have when you find creative ways to support a well-thought-out vision. It’s a night to be inspired by what is possible when you mix together great vision and visionaries with creativity and collaboration.” Learn more about CONNECT2015.

In addition to coming together and acknowledging our progress, we can also look outside our region for inspiration.  How are others manifesting their vision for a sustainable community?  Here are examples of cities that focus on two of the six Comprehensive Master Plan areas — stay tuned for future articles highlighting the four others.

A Quality Built Environment
This focus area includes our homes, businesses, roads, sidewalks and everything we have built around us.  It considers how this infrastructure looks, how we use it and how it impacts our economy and health.  Before highlighting an example outside of Keene, we wanted to acknowledge the great work of many to bring a Complete Streets Policy to our community (which we’ve written about before).  Read Complete Streets Policy updates.

Another tool communities use to better their built environment is called Adaptive Reuse, the practice of reusing old buildings rather than demolishing them and building new. Local First Arizona, a statewide Buy Local group, helped Phoenix, AZ adopt an Adaptive Reuse Program that saved over 100 buildings.  The program streamlines the permitting process, offers financial incentives to developers and provides a city team to support the process. “It’s transformed the landscape and the entrepreneurial energy for our city,” says Kimber Lanning, Director of Local First Arizona.

Adaptive Reuse offers many environmental benefits such as reducing demolition waste and curbing urban sprawl.  Most notable, however, is its positive impact on carbon emissions and climate change.  One study notes that in Portland, OR retrofitting just one percent of the city’s office buildings and single-family homes currently destined for demolition would save 231,000 metric tons of carbon. This amount represents 15 percent of the carbon reduction target for their entire county.  See more at www.preservationnation.org/greenlab. In a future article, we’d love to highlight Pocket Neighborhoods as another great tool to bolster our built environment.

A Unique Natural Environment
Our built environment is nested in our natural environment, including green spaces, waterways, parks, farms, forests and gardens.  The focus of this area is how these features influence our food system, greenhouse gas emissions and ability to adapt to climate change.

One inspirational example is the reLeaf Program in Seattle, WA.  According to the American Forests website: Seattle’s 4.35 million trees reduce the city’s building energy use by $5.9 million annually.  To protect and enhance this resource, the city adopted an Urban Forest Stewardship Plan to increase their forest canopy (the amount of the city covered by trees) by 30 percent by 2037.  They’re working to achieve this by taking better care of their existing trees, planting new ones and conserving forested areas. The city has an Urban Forestry Commission which advises the Mayor and City Council on policy to manage and preserve trees and vegetation and Urban Orchard Stewards program that trains volunteers to care for exiting fruit trees in public parks.   If you’re interested in this topic, be sure to check out the Beacon Food Forest Permaculture Project.

Woven into all this work is the need for strong citizen participation and proactive leadership.  We all need to find ways to contribute to our shared vision for Keene and the Monadnock Region.  Attend CONNECT2015 and watch for future opportunities to connect with the Keene Comprehensive Master Plan.

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