The Green Valley Institute:
Balancing Growth and Conservation through a University Partnership
by Susan Westa, AICP

It is easier to conserve rural natural resources and promote more sustainable development when numerous partners join together in a collaborative. Increasingly, special university programs are being created to help communities plan their land use and conserve their natural resources. Partnership administrators often take the lead in organizing efforts of localities and regions and in providing education and technical assistance in planning and conservation.

Since 2000, the Green Valley Institute has been at the forefront of planning and conservation efforts in a historic rural area in Connecticut and Massachusetts known as the Last Green Valley. The educational and other programs of the institute offer lessons for other localities and regions that want to leverage resources of universities, volunteers, and other stakeholders.


Rural Conservation and Development

Planners across the United States were made aware of the importance of conserving special places in New England when the Center for Rural Massachusetts published a landmark publication, Dealing with Change in the Connecticut River Valley: A Design Manual for Conservation and Development (Yaro et al. 1993). The illustrations from that design manual are now familiar to most planners. Those guidelines have helped many local community leaders and stakeholders envision the differences between sprawl and conservation-based development.

Planners who have not heard of Dealing with Change in the Connecticut River Valley are probably familiar with Randall Arendt's work, including (with Brabec, Dodson, Reid, and Yaro) Rural By Design (Chicago: Planners Press 1994), Conservation Design for Subdivisions (Arendt 1996), and Crossroads, Hamlet, Village, Town (Arendt 1999). The Center for Rural Massachusetts is a partnership at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst between UMass Extension and the Department of Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning. The center's mission is to "develop new models for vibrant, rural communities to guide them to make informed decisions using cutting edge tools when planning growth, protecting resources, fostering local economic development and maintaining rural character."

The Green Valley Institute in northeastern Connecticut and south central Massachusetts is similar to the Center for Rural Massachusetts in at least three ways: both are located in New England, both work toward attainment of conservation objectives through partnerships, and both have similar status as quasi-independent educational programs of universities.

The Green Valley Institute is a partnership between the University of Connecticut College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, the University of Massachusetts Extension and the Quinebaug Shetucket National Heritage Corridor. For the past five years, the Green Valley Institute has been working in a 35-town, bi-state region referred to as the Last Green Valley. The mission of this unique partnership between two universities and a national heritage corridor is to ensure that each community has the tools and information it needs to make sound land-use decisions. Through educational programs and technical assistance and by increasing volunteer capacity, the Green Valley Institute works with land-use commissions, land trusts, large landowners, and others who are converting land to new uses to ensure that they have up-to-date information, are aware of innovative strategies, and know what has worked in other regions to balance growth and conservation.

University Partnerships

Partnerships between universities and communities or regional alliances can play an important role in addressing land-use, community, and natural resource issues. In some areas, however, those partnerships have not yet begun to reach their full potential. Many communities have capable educational institutions with students eager to gain practical experience in their fields and with faculty whose focus is on community planning or natural resource issues. One excellent example of university involvement in planning was described in a recent issue of Practicing Planner. The University of Louisville's Sustainable Urban Neighborhoods Program has applied a holistic approach to help revitalize a neglected urban neighborhood (Gilderbloom 2004).

Such partnerships can connect the insight of professors, the outreach capabilities of cooperative extension systems, and the experience of local and regional organizations. These partnerships can bring diverse groups together to develop unique solutions to planning problems, disseminate planning information at the local level, and get plans implemented. Universities have an inherent interest in the success of their communities and regions. Providing leadership related to land-use and community planning decisions can protect the natural, scenic, or urban character of a university's community and region, while also helping to create suitable development needed to attract faculty, staff, and students. Communities that join forces with local universities and share available resources can increase their opportunities for progress when tackling local planning issues.

Throughout the country there are many examples of university partnerships focused on conservation and land-use initiatives. One example is the Appalachian Forest Heritage Area in West Virginia and western Maryland, where a team of forestry professors and extension specialists at West Virginia University have teamed up with economic development, tourism, and conservation organizations to create a new heritage area with a mission to "conserve, develop, interpret and promote a regional network of forest-based attractions and resources." (Selin and McGill 2005) Some of the partners in that heritage area include the Randolph County Chamber of Commerce, the Maryland and West Virginia divisions of tourism, Pendleton County (West Virginia) Visitors Committee, and the Canaan Valley Institute (a regional, nonprofit conservation organization with offices in West Virginia and Maryland). The Appalachian Forest Heritage Area, an "emerging ... new form of sustainable development ... that integrates historic preservation, tourism, the wood products industry, and economic development" (Selin and McGill 2005), is an example of how a university partnership can benefit a multi-state region.

Illustrative Examples of University Partnerships

• Center for Rural Massachusetts (University of Massachusetts)

• Sustainable Urban Neighborhoods Program (University of Louisville)

• Appalachian Forest Heritage Area (West Virginia University)

• Land Use Law Center (Pace University)

• Planning with POWER (Purdue University)

• The Green Valley Institute (Universities of Connecticut and Massachusetts)

An example of a notable university partnership organization is the Pace University Land Use Law Center in New York. That group has created a comprehensive program targeted at community leaders addressing land-use issues. Unlike the Appalachian Forest Heritage Area Partnership, this program is not limited to one geographic area, but has expanded to bring the university's expertise to a wide range of locations. Pace University provides a four-day comprehensive training program for community leaders, a one-day program in the basics, a self-certification program for local land-use boards, and land-use dispute training. The Land Use Law Center partners with other organizations to bring its programs to communities. Those partners in the past have included the Hudson River Greenway Communities Council, the Metropolitan Conservation Alliance, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and county governments. The Land Use Law Center's mission is to work with "local land use leaders ... [so] they can create balanced patterns of land development and conservation" (Pace Law School 2003).

Another university partnership focusing on land-use issues is Planning with POWER (Protecting Our Water and Environmental Resources), at Purdue University in Indiana. That statewide partnership program, coordinated by the university's cooperative extension system and the Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant program, also partners with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Soil and Water Conservation Districts, and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. Planning with POWER is an educational program linking land-use and watershed planning at the local level (Planning with POWER).


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