Downtown Orlando, FL. Photo by Mandi Roberts of Otak, Inc.
Last month, a coalition of local leaders in Florida met with smart growth experts to confront a global concern: climate change.
On September 10, thanks to a grant-funded technical assistance workshop, East Central Florida officials and residents sat down with representatives from Smart Growth America and Otak, Inc. on to focus on the topic of “cool planning.” The workshop complemented the East Central Florida Regional Planning Council’s efforts to develop and implement a Regional Resiliency Initiative (RRI) by providing the community with tools and techniques to achieve the RRI’s vision of resilient communities and economies.
In particular, the workshop examined the environmental footprint of various land-use and building practices to help Brevard, Lake, Orange, Osceola, Seminole and Volusia counties find ways to engage in development without accelerating climate change.
After presentations on smart growth and cool planning strategies, a group of workshop participants brainstormed about the challenges and opportunities posed by various land use and planning issues—aided by a slide show of photographs showing existing conditions throughout the region. Together, they discussed topics like recycling urban land and buildings, changing local travel habits, utilizing traffic demand management strategies, greening buildings, and planting trees.
The workshop also featured an introductory presentation and interactive discussion open to the general public about the impact of local planning and building practices on climate change. Proceedings concluded with strategic guidance on how to develop a climate action plan.
One of the most important outcomes of the workshop was building awareness and dialogue around the economic, health, and quality-of-life benefits of regional planning and development efforts—and how to use those benefits to increase community buy-in. Another focus was the importance of using infill development to attract activity and investment to the region’s town and activity centers, rather than along highway corridors.
“[The workshop] will help local governments incorporate smart growth strategies and implement the Regional Planning Council’s 2060 Plan,” said Hugh Harling, Executive Director of the East Central Florida Regional Planning Council. “It may also help to protect local communities and state infrastructure from sea level rise and flooding, which is already occurring and is projected to continue.”
The East Central Florida Regional Planning Council was one of 18 applicants selected by Smart Growth America in January 2014 to participate in the technical assistance program. Stretching from New Hampshire to California, the selected communities represent major cities, suburban centers, and rural towns alike.
The program, made possible through a five-year Building Blocks for Sustainable Communities grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Sustainable Communities, seeks to develop local planning solutions that help communities grow in ways that benefit families and businesses, while protecting the environment and preserving a sense of place. Three other nonprofit organizations—Forterra, Global Green USA and Project for Public Spaces—also received competitively awarded grants under this program to help communities get the kinds of development they want.