Posts tagged ‘elements of sustainability’
On January 31, we provided the Council with the “opening act” of an innovative discussion suggested by Council President Roger Berliner on the impact of our changing demographics on service delivery. We were asked to frame the discussion through a presentation highlighting the changing County demographics. I used an approach I have talked about before, which I call the Elements of Sustainability, nine elements which bring together a holistic view of the human ecosystem.
The discussion is not about land use. Rather, this is a way of thinking about the interrelationships of how we move about our environment each day and how one action must be considered across a broad range of impacts that define how, when, where and why we do what we do.
My intent in the Council presentation was to initiate a discussion about rethinking relationships in County actions, stepping out of agency silos to consider how our actions, when considered across service boundaries, can be the most effective form of community building.
The Elements of Sustainability are based on nine factors:
The Council presentation provided examples about how to consider county services within this way of thinking. In a video clip at the end of the presentation, we highlighted the Long Branch Sewing Club, a terrific example of a grass roots initiative that conveys the Nine Elements.
With the rapid growth in the minority population, there are more and more residents with untapped potential for creative activities. The sewing club started as a way for Hispanic women in Long Branch to gather, with sewing as a unifying force. The club has emerged as not just an economic enterprise, but a place to share ideas, experiences and build on each other’s strengths to improve their lives and those of their families. In effect, a grassroots chamber of commerce.
While it is a small enterprise, it has a very large impact on the lives of people in this community.
The group is selling their products at local markets, providing income for the group’s members, many of them stay-at-home moms. Selling their wares at local markets helps circulate dollars in the local economy.
This is an excellent opportunity for the members to share experiences and challenges and help each become more integrated into the community.
Members bring their children, providing a safe environment in which they can play. The members enjoy stress-reducing social interaction and become aware of opportunities in the network of health services.
The group has emerged as a local economic generator, adding to the economic infrastructure and helping to provide demand for services in this neighborhood. They create a mulitplier effect.
The group has found it has greater strength in numbers. Their presence at the market is an example of how, together, they present an organized business group that is becoming known around the area, increasing their market. And the group members are learning a new enterprise that benefits themselves, their families and the community.
The potential for social and economic growth in MoCo is staggering. The rapid shift in population dynamics is like the great European migration in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Coupled with significant change in the U.S.-born population — the aging population, lower birth rates, youth unemployment – we are seeing a whole new America.
Encouragingly, Montgomery County has seen a recent swing to a positive domestic in-migration for the first time in 10 years. Regardless of where our residents come from, everyone wants to succeed and see their children prosper. The bigger impacts occur as families move into the second and third generations, as new businesses become established, English skills improve and social networks expand. The average age of our foreign born residents is lower than U.S.-born residents. Average salary generally increases as we age, so there is considerable growth potential in household income as our new residents get older.
The growth in minority-owned businesses and the resulting employment is considerable. We can assume, also, that the small businesses that have closed during this recession have a high number of minority-owned businesses. Of the 414 business lost from 2005-2009, 93 percent had fewer than 20 employees. Looking at a map of the distribution of businesses by size around the County, it becomes evident the big ones, with 50+ employees, are centered on the I-270 Corridor. We need to think about the potential of the small businesses serving so much of the county and how we can help them succeed and foster more employment opportunities.
In my presentation, I highlighted some economic facts about McDonalds. Turns out a councilmember and several others in the room had worked at McDonalds. Councilmember Craig Rice pointed out that the kids who start at McDonalds are now in competition with older adults and senior citizens. The scarcity of service sector jobs, usually the source of employment for the under-18 group, shows up in the high unemployment rate that shadows all the other age groups.
Both Mr. Rice and Councilmember Hans Reimer pointed out that our policies have limited the opportunity for employment, especially in this age group, and that we need to think about our commercial policies to ensure that the growing number of young people have entry points for employment.
I also discussed the increasing poverty rate and attempted to put a face on the trend. Many people in poverty are working, many of them part time, but others full time. Many have higher levels of education than one might expect. Considering the cost of living here and the economic crisis, we have seen a huge increase in adult children living at home.
Our shifting demographics underscore the need for policies creating balanced service delivery linking housing, health, transit, jobs, training and education, to ensure all residents have equal access to opportunity. As we map out our services against the changing needs of the population, patterns begin to emerge. Young adults want reasonably priced housing near services and jobs. So does our growing senior population. New residents of the community need access to good transit. Yet, so do our young adults.
MoCo is at an important point in its evolution. Decisions today will set the course for a vibrant community that enhances the important factors in our quality of life like education and stable neighborhoods. Yet it also means accommodating change in a holistic approach where each action builds on the investment in our residents.
This is an exciting time to be involved with land use in the burbs. The boundaries between urban, exurban, suburban and rural areas are blurring as the connections become more and more varied. Transportation, services, communication, education, health, storm water, energy – think about all the things we use, see and do that are not defined by a geographic boundary.
This fall, we will kick off our annual speaker series to look in more detail at how we can connect the dots between such issues in society at large and, of course, in Montgomery County. Read on for more information and how you can help us plan the series.
Last spring, we held a speaker series based upon what I refer to as the elements of sustainability, nine themes that should form the basis for making decisions about growth.
The idea started to gel back in St. Louis when the HOK Planning Group and I were discussing how sustainable elements could apply there. Since that time, HOK has expanded the elements while planning new communities in India.
For our purposes, we can focus on the core nine:
These elements form the basis of our thinking and how we create the connections between them to prepare for a sustainable future. Take energy. “District heating” is common in older cities like Toronto and St. Louis, where buildings are heated through a network of underground steam pipes from a central steam plant. Very efficient.
In a new landscape, can we explore options for replicating district heating in a more efficient way using sustainable energy? How does this impact air quality – health, infrastructure, economy (costs for operating a building, for example).
That’s just one example of the interrelatedness of the elements – showing that land use is no longer only about land use. In our spring speaker series, we covered affordable housing, bicycle commuting, small-scale retail, new media communications and engaging the community. It was a thought-provoking series. (You can watch any of the presentations in our video archive.)
As we plan our fall series, we need your ideas.
We want to dig deeper into some of the elements to generate concrete ideas about our future. I invite you to suggest subjects and speakers based on the nine elements for the series. Post your ideas on this blog or send them directly to us.
We are working with the Silver Spring Regional Services Center to co-host the series at the new Silver Spring Civic Building. And as part of working with new media, our first session likely will be a Pecha Kucha evening, where presenters will have six minutes, 40 seconds and 20 slides to convey an idea to the audience. I look forward to your suggestions.