Friday, July 16, 2010

Local vs Regional Planning

In the world of sustainability you will hear the term "Think Globally, Act Locally." The meaning behind this typically is to urge us to consider the health of the entire planet and to take action in their own communities and cities. This term actually started out as a planning term. It was coined by Scottish planner Patrick Geddes in the early twentieth century.

We tend to forget the planning origin and see the phrase as part of an economic strategy or environmental one. Both are very worth while. In Dover we have a strong buy local movement, coordinated by Dover Main Street.

I'd like to focus for a paragraph or four on the planning aspects of local vs regional planning. In New Hampshire, as with the Northeast, we don't rely too heavily on county government. We have counties, but they are not as important to our daily lives as they are in other areas of the Country. Subsequently we really have no county planning. Instead we have a regional planning agency. For Dover the agency is the Stafford Regional Planning Commission. The SRPC provides some planning services for communities in the region. Mainly they are influential in GIS and transportation networking. They have also worked on regional housing needs and environmental needs.

Dover is a non-dues paying member of the Commission. Until 2008 we paid dues. At that time we evaluated, and have since re-evaluated annually, our membership level and determined that the cost benefit analysis for the approximately $20,000 in dues was not in favor of paying the dues. The reality that I saw was being a community with fulltime planning staff, we didn't need the full services that SRPC offered, and we can still work with them on a case by case, cost by cost issue.

So what do we do for regional planning? First off, we act locally and think regionally. Dover doesn't reside on an island. We have strong connections, most of them transportation based, with our surrounding neighbors. We communicate with Somersworth on the efficiency of Weeks Crossing, we communicate with Rollinsford on Oak Street, which meanders across the boundary and also on a few housing projects which cross the boundary.

Thinking larger I meet quarterly with counterparts in Rochester, Portsmouth and Somersworth to discuss larger issues, and in some cases gripes. Probably the biggest boon to regional discussions has been the reliance on email. If any of us have local versus regional concerns we can shoot a quick email back and forth to garner understanding and influence outcomes.

I wrote previously that Willand Pond has helped the communities of Dover and Somersworth think more holistically, and it has. I meet biweekly with Somersworth planning, to connect and make sure we are moving forward, and through those connections we have developed a dialog that has extended to other areas, including working with Rollinsford to understand the impact of a proposed 270 unit residential complex located close to the town bound.

Speaking (writing?) of the town bound, I am starting a process of re-evaluating the boundary Dover has with each neighboring community. I met this morning with Madbury's selectboard to discuss the process. RSA 51 states that each community needs to walk its bounds every 7 years. We will be locating and documenting the existence of the boundary makers, and noting the absence of others. This process is interesting and should also be a good example of local and regional interests.

As I said before, we don't live on an island, and we interact on a regional basis whether we think about it or not. A project in Rollinsford affects to some degree Dover and vice versa. It is all about degrees and the more we talk to each other the clearer the degrees become. I hope that as we move forward we can better understand our degrees of impact and be more mindful of our neighbors and ultimately using the do unto others philosophy they will be mindful of us.

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