Project to Bring Affordable Technology-Based Community Planning to Shore Communities
Chestertown, MD, January 26, 2005 — The Maryland Sea Grant College has awarded a $100,000 grant to Washington College's Center for Environment and Society for a two-year project to implement visioning strategies, leadership training and a technology toolkit for rural community planning on Maryland's Eastern Shore.
The grant will be matched by the College. The project, “Visioning for Sustaining Rural Communities on Maryland's Eastern Shore,” is a continuation of the Rural Communities Leadership Program initiative of 2002-2003. The new program will mentor and assist community leaders in achieving more sustainable futures for their respective communities on the Eastern Shore. The visioning project will develop user-friendly Geographic Information Systems (GIS)-based computer applications that, coupled with leadership development and planning, will allow communities to create alternative “visions” of their futures and adopt their preferred options. The project commences February 1.
“This is a proactive rather than the reactive approach to preserving the rural character of our region and its traditional economy based on farming, fisheries and forestry,” said Wayne Bell, Ph.D., Director of the Center for Environment and Society (CES). “Our communities need to develop an understanding of how forces for change that are usually perceived as negatives—for instance, the influx of population and residential development pressures—can provide opportunities rather than threats for sustainable community development.”
Over the next two years, a project team at CES including Bell, Dr. Philip Favero, State Extension Specialist for Community Development from the Institute for Governmental Service at College Park, Wendy Miller, GIS Program Coordinator, and several student interns will implement the project. “Visioning for Sustaining Rural Communities” will facilitate an examination of the current forces of change at play on the Eastern Shore and the cultivation of a cohort of concerned citizens and public officials willing to develop leadership and visioning skills to share with their own communities. The key element of the project will be the development and implementation of a GIS-based Sustainability Toolkit, made available through the Internet and CD-ROM, with applications for projecting alternative futures based on population growth, natural and agricultural resources, zoning laws, tourism and recreational assets, and other relevant data.
The Sustainability Toolkit and the appropriate training to use it will be made available and affordable to communities for their own visioning projects.
“GIS is a great tool for communities to use in planning for the future,” said Miller. “Unfortunately, very few rural communities can invest the time and resources into building such a program. We hope to remedy this and provide this capability to Eastern Shore communities through their local leadership.”
The CES team intends to build momentum by exposing community leaders and public officials to model community visioning plans, such as that recently enacted by the town of Vienna in Dorchester County, and is accepting nominations for participants in the two-year project.
“We are actively seeking concerned citizens from the Shore who want to work with us to carry these skills and methods back to their own communities,” Bell said. Interested parties can contact CES at 410-810-7161 for more information.
According to Jack Greer, Assistant Director for Communications and Public Affairs for Maryland Sea Grant, “Visioning for Sustaining Rural Communities” is the first project of its kind in Maryland funded by Sea Grant's newest initiative, Coastal Communities, established to help communities implement strategies for sustainable development that balance environmental quality and growth.
First established in 1977 and located at the University of Maryland's College Park campus, Maryland Sea Grant supports innovative marine and environmental research and education, with a special focus on the Chesapeake Bay. With funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the State of Maryland, Sea Grant-supported research targets practical problems, with the aim of promoting stewardship of our marine and coastal environments.