Why Plan?

For our children and our children’s children.

A classic Greek proverb proclaims that “A society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they will never sit.” Successful communities are planned...and then planned again and again to adapt to changing conditions and to prepare for the inevitable challenges of the future. When land uses are planned properly, residents will be grateful to those who created a vision for their community’s future.  But when planning is done poorly or not at all, it can annoy everyone affected by it for decades or even centuries. Planning is a continuous process that identifies both opportunities and problems and then helps residents find solutions.

Before the 20th Century, human settlements had evolved around a neighborhood model, where people could generally walk to their destinations in five to ten minutes. It was proven to work. But since the 1950's, planners and other design professionals began to develop a new model, based upon a nationwide network of highways as a way to “modernize” America, to make it easier to escape from so-called "congested" and "dirty" cities, to fuel economic growth and to ease travel by cars. Now, more than a billion vehicle trips per day by America's 100 million households to get to work, to shop, and to play, has degraded air and water quality, destroyed thriving neighborhoods, and contributed to climate change. We may love our cars, but they have literally driven the design of our communities. Society attempted to replace an enduring model with a new but previously untested one. GREENPLAN helps communities to reverse that trend by planning on a more traditional model rather than an auto-dependent model.  Moving people closer together into a compact and more urbanized form, rather than continuing to develop "green spaces" will be a key determinant of how well society adapts to the reality of shrinking open space and diminishing fossil fuels.

A consequence of the auto-dependent model is its reliance on finite fossil fuels. One of the results, and what will become the story of our lives, is climate change. Fossil fuels developed over millions of years from decaying organic material like plants. They turned the sun's ancient energy into coal, oil and natural gas from which society meets more than 80% of its current energy needs (for decades, the coal industry has referred to coal as "buried sunshine"). Observations of temperatures around the world have seen a steady rise for more than 150 years, a likely result of burning an estimated 100,000 years of ancient plant growth each year. In 2007, the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) wrote that "Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice and rising global average sea level." The IPCC report embodies the consensus of climate scientists.

This is what is happening now:

  1. BulletThe earth is getting warmer and will continue to do so.

  2. BulletNortheast annual average temperature has increased by 2 degrees fahrenheit since 1970, with winter temperatures rising twice this much.

  3. BulletGlobal sea levels have risen six inches since the 1920's.

  4. BulletHalf that rise in sea level will typically cause a shoreward retreat of coastline of 150 feet if the land is relatively flat.

  5. BulletSea levels are now rising at a rate of about 1.2 inches every ten years.

  6. BulletSome projections include a sea level rise measured in feet within 100 years.

  7. BulletThe US Climate Change Science Program notes that "thoughtful precaution suggests that a global sea-level rise of 1 meter [or about 3.3 feet] to the year 2100 should be considered for future planning and policy decisions." Some are even predicting a sea-level rise of up to seven feet this Century. Metro-North, Amtrak, CSX, and other Hudson River shoreline uses will be affected if this were to occur.

  8. BulletWhile some research organizations won't commit to specifics, they also acknowledge that, given past interglacial sea level rises, we're headed in this direction.

  9. BulletThe United States' transportation sector alone emits more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year than any other nation's entire economy, except China.

There are concrete ways to mitigate climate change impacts and environmental planning can help to solve some of them. The following list is a starting point for what communities can do to adapt:

  1. BulletRequire that new development build on existing centers and be walkable.

  2. BulletEliminate single purpose zoning districts in exchange for a diversity of uses so that walking from homes to work, schools, shopping and recreation is enabled and encouraged.

  3. BulletJump-start local food production through farmland protection strategies, open space planning, purchase of development rights, community preservation planning programs and even urban agriculture.

  4. BulletRevise Zoning regulations to include standards that require energy reduction in all sectors of the economy.

It took us millions of years to learn how to walk and only 100 to forget. A primary goal of community planning should be to create no new net vehicle trips by developing complete neighborhoods and integrating pedestrian and bicycle facilities in all decision-making. Here are a few other ways to get there:

  1. BulletEliminate barriers to renewable energy technologies wherever appropriate, including allowances for at-home and neighborhood power production.

  2. BulletProvide generous landscaping, especially a diversity of trees, for new as well as existing development, thereby helping to keep communities cooler.

  3. BulletAdopt standards for green building technologies, such as those of the US Green Building Council's LEED programs, the Living Building Challenge and other similar standards.

  4. BulletAdopt Smart Growth strategies, such as those recommended by the Smart Growth Network or the Hudson Valley Smart Growth Alliance.

  5. BulletTreat urbanized areas, like cities, villages and hamlets more as the unique ecosystem they are because this will help society move in a direction towards imitating life itself. Urban agriculture can be promoted just like traditional agriculture to bring local food production even closer to consumers.

  6. BulletThe new field of Biomimicry is helping planners and designers to answer the question "What would nature do here?" because "what life does is to create conditions conducive to life."

  7. BulletWhile it may seem counterintuitive that compact urban areas are environmentally beneficial, if more and more people lived like they do in Manhattan, by living smaller, living closer, and driving less, the amount of fossil fuels consumed would significantly drop.

When residents take charge of their destiny and become active participants in the land use planning processes of a community, they are more likely to adopt sound planning strategies to deal with change. But, when people feel powerless, they are more likely to use emotional management strategies, like denial, which helps no one.

Considering that planning decisions will affect a community for 100 years and more, Hudson River and other shoreline communities throughout the world may be most impacted. But why should every community, regardless of location, be thinking about sea level rise and other impacts of climate change? The development decisions made by planning officials every day, relate directly to the use of fossil fuels and sea level rise is only one of many adverse impacts on livability.  Dave Martin’s photo from the 2010 spill in the Gulf of Mexico, that appeared on the cover of Audubon Magazine, graphically illustrates one of the consequences of a land use system based on oil.

Planners, engineers, architects, environmental designers, and natural scientists all need to help communities find better ways to accommodate population increase and economic growth without worsening environmental impacts. The challenge will be to make compact growth more livable so that people would prefer to reside in denser environments than sprawling areas.



GREENPLAN provides Urban and Rural Planning
services to communities and individuals. We help communities develop a vision for their future through GREEN comprehensive PLANS and their implementation tools. We help others plan for success in the land use approval process. We seek to create vibrant and sustainable "places" for people to live, work and prosper. Our work is mostly in New York's Hudson River Valley, a National Heritage Area composed of vibrant urban places, bucolic rural farmlands, scenic landscapes that inspired the Hudson River School of painters where American Art was born, natural lands including some of the finest wilderness areas east of the Mississippi, and recreational amenities like the Appalachian National Scenic Trail and Walkway Over the Hudson State Historic Park.  We draw our inspiration from these national treasures and do our part to ensure the lives of future generations will be enhanced by them as well. 

Social and economic well-being depends upon a healthy environment and the ability to be resilient in the face of change. GREENPLAN helps plan and then manage the natural and cultural environment in a way that meets present needs and allows future generations to meet theirs, the basis for "sustainability." There are a multitude of other planning priorities that must also be addressed, such as livability, scenic beauty, affordable housing, transportation, fiscal health, and food security to name a few. Communities play an essential role in creating sustainability through local land use planning. But, when communities "fail to plan," then in reality they are "planning to fail."

We believe that real estate development and local land use controls go hand-in-hand when a commun
ity creates a vision and translates it into workable rules and regulations.  Since the real estate industry is usually all about the bottom line, when developers are on a level playing field and know in advance what the rules are, then calculated decisions can be made and they are more likely to invest in a community and build upon its assets.  Clear and unambiguous rules play an important role in assuring smart growth.

To become better acquainted with our approach to planning, start with 10 Things About Us. If you wish to view or download a document we prepared, go directly to Our Work. GREENPLAN-IT is the place to find videos, podcasts, and articles to educate and entertain. The contact page has a complete list of our past and present clients along with a link to send a message if you want further information.