Essential Reading

Envisioning Regional Design

Envisioning Regional Design is an ongoing initiative to address growth challenges in the Flatwater Metroplex of southeast Nebraska and southwest Iowa. A September 2006 charrette brought together 150 architects, planners and regional stakeholders to identify growth challenges and opportunities and to envision a sustainable future for the rapidly growing Metroplex region.

The Five Domains of Sustainability—Environmental, Socio-cultural, Technological, Economic and Public Policy—provided a framework for charrette discussions and for interpretation of the results. You can download a PDF copy of the 34-page final report here.

Charrette teams examined six environments in the Metroplex:

  • I-80 Corridor Environs: Examination of growth challenges and opportunities at various sites along the Interstate 80 Corridor between Lincoln and Omaha/Council Bluffs.
  • Communities in the Path of Growth: The impacts/opportunities of growth in the small commuter town of Ashland.
  • Suburban Conservation Community: Proposal for a conservation community near Bennington (exurban Omaha).
  • Transformation of Regional Shopping Mall: Outdated suburban retail area in the mid-sized Metroplex community of Fremont.
  • Near Urban Core Neighborhood: Building on the revitalization of the Drake Court district near downtown Omaha based on recent studies and improvements in this historic neighborhood.
  • Urban Core Center: An examination of opportunities for revitalization in downtown Lincoln associated with the Downtown Master Plan, Antelope Valley, and other work and studies.

These distinct environments are models for the many types of rural and urban communities. Challenges and solutions identified in this report are readily transferable to any community facing growth and change.

Several themes emerged from the charrettes that could be applied to a range of urban and rural conditions along the I-80 Corridor and throughout the Metroplex:

  • Lack of a Shared Vision: There is no shared vision of preferred regional growth patterns, land use policies, or economic goals. Lack of coordination, and competitive tensions lead to inefficiencies and hamper efforts to improve quality of life. Lack of communication and public input leads to mistrust.
  • Outmoded, Conflicting Policies: Municipal, county and state governments have different, conflicting approaches to planning. Policies and jurisdictions designed to address 19th century conditions are not suited to the global and environmental challenges of the 21st century.
  • Infrastructure: Critical infrastructure lags behind growth pressures due to lack of coordinated planning and transportation alternatives. With commuter traffic expected to increase eightfold in forty years, alternatives are needed to current transportation networks and funding methods.
  • Ecological Threats: Economic growth will not occur, and quality of life will diminish, without a consensus of the region’s most fragile natural, social and historic environments and strategies/mechanisms to protect these environments.
  • Land Conversion: Rural/urban interests are in conflict as farmland and fragile natural environments are lost to sprawl and acreage-style development. There is a critical need to foster understanding of the interdependencies of all communities and natural systems through the creation of food-based coalitions.
  • Energy and Natural Resources: Valuable natural resources (water, wind, soils, 4-season solar climate) are underutilized or misallocated. Incentives are needed to increase the use of clean, alternative energy and to make energy efficiency a priority through building code improvements and incentive programs.
  • Healthy Living: Policies are needed to encourage healthy, walkable communities that offer transportation and housing choices in mixed-use developments, preserve urban centers, and promote vibrant public spaces and neighborhood identity.

Five Elements—Land, Water, Materials, Energy and Food—define areas most affected by growth management issues in the Flatwater Metroplex. These elements are common to both rural and urban interests and serve as a basis for discussion and, ultimately, the formation of urban/rural coalitions that are essential to building sustainable communities.

As noted above, our current way of doing things is neither cost-effective nor sustainable even for the near future, and continued inaction will lead to extreme consequences as huge demands are put upon natural resources and infrastructure. Flatwater Metroplex stakeholders must coalesce into a single economic, cultural, environmental and civic entity if they hope to maintain or improve the quality of life. They need to discover and adopt tools and means to address the source of problems rather than the symptoms.

To achieve this goal, Metroplex stakeholders and their leaders need to consider policies and initiatives that are being enacted by other metro regions in the United States:

  • Adopt state policies that clarify and prioritize land uses, protect the most arable and fertile rural lands for food production, and protect natural, historic and cultural resources. The state should coordinate reviews of water-related policies to ensure equitable access to clean water for human, agricultural, industrial and wildlife uses. Water is perhaps the most significant element; if the state and region does not get a handle on water policy, economic prospects will fall flat.
  • Establish regional governance through a voluntary set of regional partners. Transportation networks, watersheds, natural resources and cities extend beyond jurisdictional boundaries and are not effectively managed by outdated, piecemeal or conflicting approaches. Sustainable development is only achieved through connected, coherent regional policy.
  • Initiate an effective planning process through regular conferences, meetings and workshops that give every stakeholder an opportunity at the table. Establish a series of councils and investment zones representing diverse rural and urban interests, identify and publicize best practices, and establish a consensus of the region’s most fragile, natural, social and historic environments. Based on a series of indicators, planning should promote safe, walkable communities, food-based rural/urban coalitions, and energy conservation while protecting the most fragile natural, social and historic environments.

To read the entire report and its recommendations and ideas, download the 34-page PDF final report here.