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Preserve open space, farmland, natural beauty and critical environmental areas

A. DISCUSSION

Why is it important?

Maintaining the memorable and unique landscape features of our communities just makes sense. Unfortunately, valuable natural and agricultural areas are some of the most affected by poor planning and automobile-focused development. While the benefits of the landscape can be hard to measure and challenging to communicate, there are many good reasons to preserve such areas. Open spaces are critical for recreation and have a positive impact on public health through active living. Conserving land and soil that is useful for agriculture is necessary not only to sustain future access to healthy food but also to maintain our culture and a way of life that many find meaningful. Preserving environmental features such as streams, wetlands, prairies and woodlands is essential for clean air and water and necessary for maintaining diverse and healthy populations of fish and wildlife. As much as we may use and value these areas, preserving them is a sizeable challenge requiring considerable community will and dedication, especially where there is development pressure and high land values. Yet the effort to preserve the land we’ve inherited is essential to ensure that future generations have a high quality of life and access to the beauty and meaning found in nature.

B. STRATEGIES

Identify critical landscape features and character

Deciding what’s most important to the community is a first, important step to conserving it. Often, we take for granted the special aspects of our communities and don’t think much about them until they’re threatened. Devising an inclusive process to identify the places that your community finds meaningful is a good first step.

Waterways, lakes, marshes and wetlands are critical environmental features that provide productive wildlife habitat and protection from flooding in addition to being valuable recreational amenities (Kiawah, SC).
Promote and incentivize dense, infill development in existing town centers

There are lots of good reasons to focus on developing our existing town centers including that they promote walkability, benefit existing commercial development and reduce infrastructure costs (and therefore taxes). But one of the most important reasons to promote infill development is to prevent unnecessary, poorly planned development from destroying valuable environmental features and farmland. Every residence or business that’s built in town is one more that isn’t built on the farms, fields or woodlands that make our rural areas so special and compelling.

Consider a growth or services boundary

Growth or services limits are controversial but in some cases they can be a means to limit encroachment upon natural and agricultural areas. In some communities, natural boundaries such as rivers and flood plains can limit development and force a community to build more compactly. Where these natural boundaries don’t exist, it may be necessary for a community to limit its long-term infrastructure costs by establishing a judicious service boundary. In all cases, annexation of new land into existing communities should be carefully weighed against the long-term environmental and financial costs associated with extensive suburban land development.

Consider compromise solutions through design

We can’t save every natural or agricultural area nor do we want to make development so expensive that it prices many of our citizens out of the market. It’s important to prioritize and to consider some compromise solutions through design. Cluster development is one approach that can allow owners to develop their property while still preserving the most critical environmental or agricultural features. New communities can be designed to conserve natural features, incorporate agricultural components and provide a high quality of life for residents. But it’s important that these new developments are dense, walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods that contribute to the community’s long-term quality of life.

Manage stormwater to preserve our streams and water bodies

Impervious surfaces increase runoff. This increase can cause erosion and flooding, damaging waterways and property. Development can also cause stormwater to become contaminated with pollutants. Fertilizers, pesticides, sediment, pet waste and heavy metals from automobiles or roof shingles all can affect water quality. Managing and treating stormwater on-site is the best way to mitigate these impacts. Communities should consider ordinances that can protect against non-point source pollution and that require each new development to limit impervious surfaces and retain stormwater. When designed properly, rainwater becomes a resource and not a waste product and our streams, lakes and wetlands are protected for future generations.

The Oktibbeha County Heritage Museum demonstrates appropriate stormwater management practices. The Starkville museum’s landscape includes rain gardens, a cistern to store water for irrigation, a pavilion with a green roof and a stormwater planter that retains and treats runoff from the roof of the museum. Mississippi State University students constructed the exhibits.
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