Smart Growth and Natural & Cultural Features

Friday, July 24, 2009

Please see the following information from Mary Gutierrez with the West Florida Regional Planning Council:

Paving over our ecological and heritage resources is not smart growth.

Natural and cultural diversity is the basis of healthy communities. Protecting natural ecosystems provides clean air, water and soil and healthier people, wildlife, plants, and food. Protecting cultural features can provide the long-term memory of a region that enables communities to be healthy.

The principles of smart growth promote the conservation, restoration and protection of natural and cultural features by removing development pressure from these lands through the infill and densification of existing communities.

Unfortunately most planning and development decisions are based on short-term economic decisions based on political boundaries, when what is needed are decisions based on a long-term ecosystem and watershed approach.

In many communities, new developments on previous greenfield sites (forests, farms, wetlands, 'vacant' land) are being touted as 'smart growth' if they offer certain attributes such as affordable housing, proximity to shopping, or transit. In order for developments to be considered 'smart growth' they must adhere to all 10 Smart Growth Principles, including the protection and enhancement of our natural and cultural features.

The conservation of our natural and cultural features provides benefits to the community and to the larger region. Critical areas that need attention include:
  • Streams, rivers, lakes, bogs, and wetlands
  • Farmland (whether currently cultivated or not)
  • Old growth forests, grasslands, and other environmentally sensitive areas
  • Wildlife habitat, especially for species at risk
  • Historic cultural features (for example: First Nation archaeological sites, pictographs, lighthouses, historical fishing and logging camp sites, shipwrecks, spiritual and/or religious ceremonial sites)

Benefits of Protecting Our Green Spaces

The ecological footprint of a human settlement is much larger than what we see. Healthy communities are dependent on the creation and protection of green space because they provide:

  • Essential ecosystem services (air and water)
  • Climate moderation (temperature and wind control, noise and other pollutant filtration)
  • Movement and absorption of rain through unpaved areas
  • Support of our eco-tourism industry
  • Increases in local property values

Strategies for Protecting Natural and Cultural Features

  • Identify green infrastructure corridors and amenities
  • Identify key historic sites and buildings
  • Create a framework for protecting ecosystem connectivity through corridors for both recreation and animal migration, and buffers between town centers
  • Incorporate natural landscaping principles on public and private property
  • Promote the use of heritage covenants or conservation easements on private land
  • Create and support land trusts by community stewardship organizations
  • Promoting “Planned Giving” programs that directs donors to conservation organizations.

Governments Can

  • Use urban or rural containment boundaries and greenbelts to connect and protect green spaces
  • Provide incentives to developers to encourage higher densities to preserve green spaces.
  • Promote the "re-greening" open areas in urban settings such as street medians and rooftops
  • Start a Heritage Designation for significant sites and buildings
  • Incorporate Development Permit Area zoning for critical buffer areas between urban and rural areas
  • Relax zoning restrictions to allow use of natural features such as wetlands and ponds to control stormwater

Citizens Can

  • Identify, map, and protect environmentally sensitive areas during planning and visioning exercises
  • Support containment boundaries and greenbelts around your community
  • Use tools such as conservation or heritage covenants and land trusts on your property
  • Visit and celebrate greenways, parks and public open spaces
  • Support environmental regulations and by-laws that protect green spaces, natural systems, fish, habitat and wildlife

For other Smart Growth practices and ideas visit the THINK GREEN segment at


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