Worried about area’s growth? Here’s how to have your say
Charlotte area planning and sustainability enthusiasts can have their say about the future of the region in coming weeks by taking part in two long-range regional planning efforts.
- In Mecklenburg County, volunteers are being sought to help draft the Mecklenburg Livable Communities Plan. Mecklenburg County residents can apply to participate in a work group through Aug. 30. Applicants are asked to commit two hours per month for the next two years.
- A broader effort, the “CONNECT Our Future” long-range plan, is holding 16 public workshops throughout the 14-county Charlotte region in September and October. (For a complete schedule, see below.)
The two planning efforts may sound similar, but their scope is different.
The Livable Communities Plan aims to bridge gaps between smaller area land-use and strategic plans, in order to create county-wide economic, environmental and social goals. Those three elements are what City of Charlotte Energy and Sustainability Manager Rob Phocas calls the “triple bottom line” of sustainability.
“Say you’re doing an energy project. On its face, that might be helping the environment,” Phocas said. “But then there is also an economic component to that if you’re creating green jobs. Then there could also be a social component of that if you’re helping people reduce their utility bills. It’s often hard to untangle the three of them.”
The Livable Communities Plan was initially the county’s sustainability plan. The committee overseeing the endeavor decided to drop references to “sustainability” or “green” living from the plan’s language.
"We thought that focusing only on environmental sustainability would be a misinterpretation of this plan," said Interim Assistant County Manager Leslie Johnson. Johnson is on the plan's oversight committee.
Applicants for the Livable Communities work groups are asked to commit two hours per month for the next two years. The work groups will be made up of between 15 and 30 people each.
“The safety group, for example. We want to put the work groups together and ask, ‘What is our vision for a safe Mecklenburg County?’ And do the same for each of the groups," Phocas said.
“The idea would be if, say, a town has a specific transportation plan and another town doesn’t or has a different version, you bring those things to the table and you come up with a 30,000-foot view of what good transportation looks like,” said Phocas.
An oversight committee made up of representatives from the City of Charlotte, Mecklenburg County, the six smaller Mecklenburg towns, and the Foundation for the Carolinas will guide the work groups. The groups will spend the first year detailing a vision for the plan and the second year creating goals and measures to assess the goals. Elected officials from the county, city and towns will approve the plan’s vision in 2014 and a final draft of the plan in 2015.
The Knight Foundation and the Foundation for the Carolinas contributed $25,000 each to the project. The City of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County will contribute a total of $300,000 ($150,000 each) in staff time.
Work groups will be created along nine dimensions of quality of life. But there will likely be only three to five work groups, Johnson said. The dimensions are:
- Character and culture
- Economic security
- Education and youth
- Community engagement and leadership
The Livable Communities plan is linked to the Centralina Council of Governments-administered “CONNECT Our Future” long-range planning program. Johnson likens the connection to a bull's-eye target, with CONNECT, a broad-based regional plan, occupying the outer ring, the smaller area plans as the bull's-eye and Livable Communities in the middle, linking the smaller plans with the broader vision. While the Livable Communities Plan focuses solely on Mecklenburg County, the CONNECT program focuses on the 14-county Charlotte region’s economic, educational, environmental and transportation needs through 2050.
The CONNECT program will hold 16 regional workshops in September and October – three in Mecklenburg and one in each of the other 13 counties.
The CONNECT project is moving into its second phase. In its first phase earlier this year, planners and staff from CCOG and the region’s municipalities gathered information at several open houses throughout the region, online surveys and the day-long RealityCheck 2050 in June.
At those public workshops, attendees will work in tables of 10 to come up with growth scenarios for their counties. In the third phase, during early 2014, planners will develop a “preferred growth option” from the workshop scenarios and other public input.
“(The fall workshops are) just building upon what we heard in Phase One,” CONNECT Program Director Sushil Nepal said. “This is what you told us, now we’re coming back to you and asking you if we got it right.”
Each workshop location will host three sessions – 9 a.m. to 11 a.m., 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. – on the designated day. To register for your county’s workshop session, click here.
During the first phase, 2,215 people responded to the survey about what is most important to the region’s residents. Nineteen percent of respondents cited “jobs, economic development, poverty and unemployment” as the biggest challenge for the future of the region.
“Transportation, traffic and walkability” received the second highest share, with 14.69 percent. Ten percent picked “infrastructure to support growth.”
“People like the downtowns; they like the natural parks and community spaces,” Nepal said. “What we’re hearing from people is that they want jobs and economic development but they want sense of place more than anything else. How do we interact with our neighbors?”
For the CONNECT effort, the Department of Housing and Urban Development provided a $4.9 million Sustainable Communities Grant, and area towns and municipalities contributed $3 million of in-kind support.
Disclosure: The UNC Charlotte Urban Institute, which runs PlanCharlotte.org, has a contract with the CONNECT project to develop a set of regional metrics to track progress in our region over time toward a sustainable future and to house those metrics on a page on the institute’s Regional Indicators website. The contract is for $205,486. To assure the objectivity of this article, institute Director Jeff Michael and the institute researchers working with CONNECT had no role in its writing or editing.