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Thread: Sustainability master plans

  1. #1
    Cyburbian
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    Sustainability master plans

    Does anyone have much experience with these? I've been asked to serve on an advisory task force to create one, and I am wondering about the degree of specificity they usually achieve. In your opinion, what items need to be included that are sometimes overlooked? Also, would a Sustainability Master Plan supercede, modify, and/or update a General Plan?

  2. #2
    Cyburbian
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    This is what I do for a living PI (well, that and other sustainability planning advice).

    No, they are generally not intended replace comp plans although a few communities around the country have re-branded their entire comp plans "sustainable development plans," which is something different in my mind.

    The names change from muni to muni, but typically cities or counties (either sponsored by a city or county government or an MPO) will produce 'sustainability elements' to their master plans, which comprise high level frameworks with identified focus areas, indicators, baseline performance levels and performance targets (often % improvement targets) across a number of sustainability indicators (which ones vary, but will invariably include measures of energy, water, waste, GHG emissions, and transport performance at a minimum). Other measures of formal, social, health, environmental performance maybe added as well (air quality/ashma is one common addition). These framework targets are designed to work with other (traditional) plan elements, such as land-use, housing, utilities, transportaton, economic development, etc, as well as other planning documents the municipality may want to produce or have already adopted (such as specific area plans, climate change adaptation frameworks, disaster resilience frameworks, energy plans, etc). The elements may be accompanied by a list of generalized agreed "strategies" for obtaining targets, as well as free-standing communications collateral, such as the framework in easy-to-communicate form (perhaps presented as a separate Sustainability Master Plan).

    The second part of this process is the Sustainability Action Plan, which provides for implementation strategies (specific, fiscally vetted programs). They typically begin by restating or even updating the focus areas, indicators, general baseline values, and performance targets in the framework/master plan, and then uses that general framework to develop and introduce specific strategies and implementations strategies (what the city needs to to do to attain the targets set int the sustainability element above). PlaNYC falls into this category. A lot of these were funded in part by EECBG monies over the last year or so and going forward for the next year (although this was not the case with PlaNYC).

    Generally speaking, to avoid these processes from getting bogged down in political debates, I recommend separating the sustainability frameworks/master plans and the the action plans from core land-use, UD guidelines and the like, instead ensuring that your land-use and UD intentions are delimit parameters used as the basis of the sustainability planning documents. This allows maximal flexilbility. For example, if your town intends to adopt the transect (as you've proposed elsewhere here), that's fine, we'll use the transect typologies as the basis of developing base-line analysis, and setting targets... and identifying strategies. But the framework and action plan shouldn't be part of core land-use (since it follows from it). Of course, the work of preparing the framework and strategies may result in a recommendation to change things in core land-use controls (as well as other elements).

    Hope that helps. Feel free to ask other questions, or, if you let me know contact info, I can send you more info comprehensively. We've done these around the country.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by Cismontane View post
    This is what I do for a living PI (well, that and other sustainability planning advice).

    No, they are generally not intended replace comp plans although a few communities around the country have re-branded their entire comp plans "sustainable development plans," which is something different in my mind.

    [snip]

    Hope that helps. Feel free to ask other questions, or, if you let me know contact info, I can send you more info comprehensively. We've done these around the country.
    Many thanks. That explanation answers many of my questions. As long as specific strategies are developed with a program for implementation, I'll participate.
    Last edited by mendelman; 20 Dec 2010 at 2:14 PM.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Cismontane View post
    This is what I do for a living PI (well, that and other sustainability planning advice).

    No, they are generally not intended replace comp plans although a few communities around the country have re-branded their entire comp plans "sustainable development plans," which is something different in my mind.

    [snip]

    Hope that helps. Feel free to ask other questions, or, if you let me know contact info, I can send you more info comprehensively. We've done these around the country.
    I agree this is the standard template for the process.

    I come at this from the ecology side, and in addition it must be acknowledged that the environment is something that matters and human activities are utterly dependent upon the environment. IME if you can get the task force to realize that with no environment there is no economy, you have taken a big step. So therefore you need to prepare the ground for this effort and ensure both that the business people understand it and the Birkie-wearers don't bog down the process. I usually try and include the city as environment, as in 'human environment' or 'built environment' and act as if it is perfectly natural that humans are part of the environment (even though the rich spend almost all their time in boxes).

    That aside, these are good efforts and hopefully you can create a decent and meaningful framework for action. You may want to scrutinize the latest JAPA that examines climate change, as there are a couple of good papers in there that look at Climate Action Plans and how they rate (even though mine was rejected).

    The takeaway: such plans are generally very weak in implementation, measuring, monitoring and enforcement. As planners we know these pieces are of utmost importance if we are serious, so we might wonder what it says when these pieces are weak or nonexistent. There is my preparing the ground for PI's efforts. ;o)
    Last edited by mendelman; 20 Dec 2010 at 2:15 PM.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian
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    The other dimension of this, once you agree on and adopt a set of funded strategies for your Action Plan that'll help you move toward targets (say X$ for PV subsidies, X$ for weatherization, X$ for energy efficiency education programs, X% of new buildings LEED certified, X acres or # of yards converted to xericscaping, X gallons reduction in average household water use, etc), is to make sure you have credible MMV (measurement, monitoring and verification) mechanisms in place. If any of the moneys you want to deploy involve, say, EECBG, ARRA, SCI funding, there are specific Federally-mandated MMV requirements (sometimes monthly, but mostly quarterly), but even in the absence of those, you want to make sure you have enough there to assure transparency and accountability. Some of these will be contractual, other may require your Council to create additional ordinances.. for example, requiring your own municipal property management agency as well as developers and homeowners who get grants under the various action plan programs to provide your MMV contractor or official with access to utility bills through your utility's existing online interface. Targets are useless without follow-through to know whether you're on track to achieve them or not.

  6. #6
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Moderator note:
    Quick reminder: please parse long posts when you quote them. The post is already in the thread and shortening the quoted text makes the overall formatting of the thread easier to read.

    Thanks,
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    Let's not be didactic in this profession, because that is a path to disillusion and irrelevancy.

    Six seasons and a movie!

  7. #7
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by ColoGI View post
    IME if you can get the task force to realize that with no environment there is no economy, you have taken a big step. So therefore you need to prepare the ground for this effort and ensure both that the business people understand it and the Birkie-wearers don't bog down the process. I usually try and include the city as environment, as in 'human environment' or 'built environment' and act as if it is perfectly natural that humans are part of the environment (even though the rich spend almost all their time in boxes).
    ;o)
    In this situation, economic strategy comes first in that the would-be competitive advantages and core competencies of the city are being undermined by air pollution, principally, and that a significant portion of said pollution is being generated by the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach and by the logistics industry, which is needed to provide blue-collar jobs for a population that has too many people with too few skills. So, the issues are regional, and they require regional leadership, as well as political will that arises from an understanding of the economic impacts of this pollution.

    The most significant challenges are that: railways are regulated at a federal level; fueling stations for trucks are distributed across several jurisdictions; and, much of the actual pollution is being generated outside the city limits. So, I wonder if there isn't some way for the local county-level transportation-planning agencies to potentially sue oil users in L.A. and Orange Counties in order to achieve some level of environmental justice. Revenue from oil taxes and/or pollution fees, for instance, might be directed to improving transit in the neighboring counties as a mitigation measure. Eliminating the city's own contribution to the problem would help give it the moral authority to, in turn, call for a redress of these grievances by offenders who are not doing as much to resolve the situation.

    Has anyone ever heard of such an effort where studies have demonstrated that air pollution is blowing from one county or jurisdiction into another?

  8. #8
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by mendelman View post
    Moderator note:
    Quick reminder: please parse long posts when you quote th....

    Thanks,
    My bad. Lazy and cutting corners. Apologies.

    Quote Originally posted by Pragmatic Idealist View post
    In this situation, economic strategy comes first in that the would-be competitive advantages and core competencies of the city are being undermined by air pollution, principally, and that a significant portion of said pollution is being generated by the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach and by the logistics industry, which is needed to provide blue-collar jobs for a population that has too many people with too few skills. So, the issues are regional, and they require regional leadership, as well as political will that arises from an understanding of the economic impacts of this pollution.
    Were you there when IIRC Lompoc or someone like that was complaining about SCAQMD's plan to lighten roof color to ameliorate the Urban Heat Island? That is: regionalism? That's a good place to try and start to get everyone working together in about 35 years for the long-term goals. Think about the silly malls from SFO-Tahoe all along I-80 as a reaction to Prop 13: everyone chasing their own dollar. Regionalism is very difficult in that state with the amount of structural problems there.

    Nonetheless, I assert that the air pollution problem is now a byproduct of economic activity paradigms that are global, not regional. That's essentially what your AB32 et al. tries to address and instead scale down with land-use changes and so forth. There is only so much you can solve until the alternative fuels folks at LBL and UCD et al get real funding.

    Quote Originally posted by Pragmatic Idealist View post
    So, I wonder if there isn't some way for the local county-level transportation-planning agencies to potentially sue oil users in L.A. and Orange Counties in order to achieve some level of environmental justice.
    Never fly. Fiscally constrained municipalities/counties are no match for the legal teams of Big Oil. Don't even bring this up. Fuhgeddaboutdit. Na-ga-happen. Remember what I implied about these plans being shelf art. You don't have enough power to make yours anything but. You can provide data and try and gently direct the conversation and agenda, but effect that sort of change?!?! You have your career to worry about.

    Quote Originally posted by Pragmatic Idealist View post
    Has anyone ever heard of such an effort where studies have demonstrated that air pollution is blowing from one county or jurisdiction into another?
    Look in the paper. Stockton and the rest of the Central Valley have complained for years about the Bay Arean's air pollution. And the Valley air pollution weakening trees in the Sierra. Their legal efforts take decades to move forward. Not a playuh.

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