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Continuing Education – Learning New Tools and Successful Strategies for Sustainable CommunitiesMegan Maffeo

Baltimore was proud to host the 14th Annual New Partners for Smart Growth Conference last week, focused on practical tools and innovative strategies for creating great communities. The conference agenda appealed to participants from a wide range of disciplines creating an intersection to forge new partnerships in tackling the nation’s most pressing community issues. Attendees gained first hand observations through local tours highlighting Baltimore’s efforts and achievements in neighborhood revitalization, adaptive reuse and historic preservation, urban agriculture and food entrepreneurism, bicycle infrastructure, and water quality improvement projects to name a few. A technology fair offered an interactive introduction to tools used in scenario-planning, crowdsourced planning, opportunity mapping, and community engagement. A series of workshops and educational sessions held over a period of three days offered in depth discussion on issues that centered on environmental sustainability, economic prosperity, and social equity.

Local projects such as Remington Row, Masonville Cove Environmental Education Center, Patterson Park, Baltimore Red Line Light Rail, and City Arts II, included on the FTLA resume, were displayed during the conference as national precedents.

Across topics, recurring discussions included resiliency and adaptability, quality of life, equitable development, and the importance of partnerships. FTLA Associate, Megan Maffeo attended the conference and shares a few examples of topics and themes presented that can impact community development.

slider-kidsHigh Performing Schoolyards

A nationwide investment in schools speaks to more than just education. Schools are becoming high performing landscapes that strive to impact the health, well-being, and sustainability of communities. Dispersed throughout communities, schools provide hubs where citizens convene to build social resilience. Improved schoolyards, outdoor classrooms, and natural play spaces pull students away from electronic devices and actively engage them at a time when childhood diabetes and obesity rates are serious issues. Research shows healthy students are better learners.

A case study presented by Jamie Zaplatosch and Meg Kelly described how Space to Grow, a public-private partnership in Chicago, is connecting multi-sector partners to fund community-based design and construction for schoolyard renovations. An in-depth outline of Space to Grow’s structure and process provided a convincing model, leveraging public green infrastructure funding for schoolyard renovation. This structure prioritized physical activity, outdoor learning, exploration, and community engagement while incorporating landscape features that capture rainwater, reduce flooding, and improve water quality.

Equitable Development

Transit Oriented Development (TOD), characterized as compact, walkable communities, centered on high-quality mass transit, is a pillar of smart growth. Without mechanisms in place for affordable housing, however, existing low-income residents are often priced out of TOD neighborhoods with the unintended result of gentrification. One model successfully building a system of permanent affordable housing is the community land trust.

The National Community Land Trust Network moderated a session answering the question “what is a Community Land Trust (CLT)?” A CLT invests public funding to create affordable home ownership via a dual tenure structure, where the ownership of land and the ownership of property are separated. The organization then supports the residents to maintain and sustain homeownership. In return, the homeowner agrees to resale at an affordable price to another lower income homebuyer in the future. This mechanism allows the homeowner to successfully own a home and build wealth from the investment, while the organization is able to preserve the public’s investment in the affordable home permanently to help family after family.

Resiliency / Adaptability

Consider this statistic: two-thirds of all counties in the United States, in the past three years, have received a federal disaster declaration. In addition to natural disasters, demographics and patterns of settlement are shifting – anticipating change, being adaptive, and proactive planning is key for successful communities. Leadership and motivation to understand risk is vital to resiliency. Presenters urged attendees to think of resilience as a framework where vulnerabilities, opportunities, and needs of communities (both physical and social), are identified  to allow citizens to shape their community and implement action plans BEFORE disaster occurs.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) demonstrated an interactive tool, Digital Coast. This is an online resource making data and tools available for assessing risk and potential impacts to people, places, and natural resources in coastal communities. Further, the Maryland DNR using Coastal Atlas, Maryland’s version of NOAA’s Digital Coast tool, described how these tools allow them to work with local communities to make informed decisions on natural resource management issues.

The team of landscape architects at FTLA understands the importance of intentional site design that strengthens adaptability and builds resiliency into the fabric of our communities. We are ready to bring forward thinking solutions to your next project.

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