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Honor Award – Sustainability and Environmental Planning: Town of Nederland Comprehensive Plan Update 2013

Situated in a mountain valley in Boulder County, 17 miles west of Boulder, the Town of Nederland is a charming community faced with a unique set of planning challenges. The town has continually seen growth from people seeking solace from urban life, and increasingly Nederland has become a popular destination for recreationists traveling to the surrounding National Forest to ski, mountain bike, hike, and camp. Most people in Nederland believe strongly in environmental sustainability, yet surprisingly, these values had never before been incorporated into their Comprehensive Plan. Addressing sustainability within the context of long-range planning was a key focus of the 2013 Update.

Early in the process, the Town and Steering Committee—comprised of Town Councilors, local leaders and Planning Commissioners, many of whom themselves were environmental professionals, scientists, or advocates—decided that sustainability was not simply a standalone element of their plan. Instead, it was to be treated as an overarching value that reached nearly all aspects of planning and decision making in Nederland. As a result, the updated Comprehensive Plan presents sustainability as its foundation expressed through ongoing dialogue and key points throughout the document. In the process of defining “what” sustainability is, the Nederland Community avoided the common “silo” approach, in which environmental, social and economic sustainability are placed into individual, yet interconnected buckets. Instead the Nederland Comprehensive Plan follows a more progressive “nested” approach. This approach is built on the belief that economy and society are not just interconnected to environmental sustainability, they rely on it, giving them considerable weight in the equation of balance.

The Nederland Comprehensive Plan is also careful to recognize the constraints that Nederland has in trying to become a sustainable community, as a remote mountain town. Their climate is harsh, growing season short, and they depend on outside sources for jobs, most of their food, and other daily products. Making steps to become more “wired” encourages people to work from home, and free bus service via RTD gets people out of their cars. Rather than avoiding hard decisions about improving community sustainability, the Nederland community found a brand of sustainability they can strive to achieve; one that reduces consumption and carbon footprint and supports civic and economic need.

Innovative: By using a systems model, the emphasis of the Comprehensive Plan is on ecological limits imposed on the economy and society, instead of just their interconnectedness. This concept of sustainability not only speaks to the need for consideration of all forms of capital in community decision making, but also places prime importance on the services of natural capital that are essential to all life on this planet. The systems model emphasizes the idea that many decisions or projects are interconnected, rather than trade-offs between environmental, social and economic benefits. For example, an environmental stewardship education program that fosters knowledge of, appreciation for, and action with the environment will have positive benefits to our society (healthy lifestyles, love of the outdoors, connections with nature) and our economy (innovative technologies, resource efficiency, sustainable business practices).

Transferable: When addressing sustainability, mountain communities must recognize their inherent constraints in order to have realistic goals for “moving the arrow” towards less resource consumption and a reduced community-wide carbon footprint. Nederland was honest and bold in the direction that they set forth in the updated Comprehensive Plan and this may serve as a model for many communities in similar circumstances.

Quality/Excellence: By weaving the narrative and policy elements of sustainability throughout the Comprehensive Plan, the importance of the thinking was clearly evident. While the Comprehensive Plan is broad in its consideration of policies, the clarity provided by focusing on sustainability make the document more approachable and relevant.
Promotes community progress: The policies themselves are also bold, thoughtful and actionable. Protection of riparian corridors, promoting senior housing options within walking distance of transit stops and key destinations, encouraging local food production and more opportunities for people to work and live in Nederland are all articulated in policy statements. Those are then directly translated into implementation actions that will serve as a roadmap for the future in Nederland, some of which have already begun.

Public participation: In developing the Comprehensive Plan the community came together for several well-attended public forums and engaged in interactive sessions exploring the breadth and depth of “What is Sustainability”. An online “Carbon Footprint Calculator” was utilized to help people determine their own person contributions. A passionate array of stakeholders were also engaged and provided rich dimension to the issues within the Comprehensive Plan.

Effective: The Comprehensive Plan is helping the Town of Nederland move forward. Specific and actionable policies are driving ongoing discussion on all dimensions of the plan.


 

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