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Envisioning Worcester's Future
A Workshop on Incorporating Principles of Sustainable Development Into Local Planning Practice
Proposal to Greater Worcester Community Foundation
August 14, 2002
The Worcester Community Project Center and the Interdisciplinary and Global Studies Division at WPI, in collaboration with the Worcester Smart Growth Forum, are pleased to present this letter of inquiry seeking a $2,458 mini-grant from the Greater Worcester Community Foundation. These funds would support a workshop on September 26, 2002, entitled "Envisioning Worcester's Future: A Workshop on Incorporating Principles of Sustainable Development in Local Planning." The workshop will bring together policy makers from Merton, England and their counterparts in Worcester, Massachusetts. Other members of the community who will be invited to attend include: architects, business interests, other government institutions, community activists, scholars, and members of the Smart Growth Forum. The plan for the half-day workshop will be to discuss Merton's experience with "sustainable planning" and how their experience might be applied to Worcester and the greater Worcester region. This workshop will mark the first step in a series of activities dedicated to exploring, researching, and promoting future growth opportunities that are economically, socially, and environmentally viable.
The time is ripe for the citizens of Worcester to explore these issues
The regional housing market is one of the hottest in the nation and the City has one of the lowest commercial vacancy rates in the region. Additional growth pressure is being applied to the region by industries, such as biotechnology, looking to Worcester as a business location because of its relatively low cost of living, proximity/access to markets, and the amenity resources available to employees. If we want to bring continued economic development and growth to the region while preserving a high quality natural and built environment, then we must be prepared to manage these market forces. What policy measures could enable us to harness the good that comes from economic growth without compromising our quality of life, our community, and its identity? Through the workshop proposed here we would be able to begin an informed conversation around these issues. A final report would seek to bring together the ideas generated through the workshop and proposed strategies for future action. The findings covered in the report could also support future workshops, focused roundtable discussions, and related activities resulting in policy-related outcomes for Worcester.
Learning from our neighbors to understand complex problems
Learning through the experience of others is an efficient way to understand the dimensions of complex problems, like local sustainable planning. The invited guests are involved in planning and business development in London, England's Borough of Merton. Of all London's Boroughs, Merton is on the forefront of sustainable planning policy and practice. Local ordinances in Merton require things like sustainability checklists, protecting green space, and working with entrepreneurs, architects, and developers to employ energy efficient, low emission building technologies. Neither a sexy high-tech economy, nor the gentrification of working class communities drives Merton's recent success in sustainable development. Rather, it is the creativity of its government and concerned citizens that have propelled the Borough's policies. Perhaps even more extraordinary, especially for those in Worcester, is that Merton's history is similar to our own.
Merton is a historical mill town that has undergone economic restructuring displacing workers and leaving numerous abandoned industrial sites. Granted, England is a signatory on the Kyoto Treaty and its legal system is different than ours, and these have had an effect on Merton's success. However, to dismiss the experience of this community as "out of context" would be to miss the point. Merton is a community with many characteristics similar to Worcester including its industrial history, demographics, and growth challenges, yet is considered a leader in implementing sustainable development. A key element of the workshop is to show how Merton's success might be replicated in Worcester as we grapple with many of the same issues.
The workshop will provide tangible benefits
Workshop participants will gain a broader perspective on the opportunities available to manage growth. They will also be exposed to a new and powerful language to discuss Worcester's current and future economic development issues. In addition to these immediate benefits, other long-term benefits will emerge from the workshop. An interim workshop report would summarize the discussion and seek to bring together a list or statement of first principals of a sustainable planning policy for Worcester. The report would be disseminated to workshop participants and other interested parties. The report and the data, from session and break out group notes, would provide a basis for future discussions and initiatives developed by the Smart Growth Forum, the Worcester Community Project Center, or other community partners in Worcester's progress. The workshop could also lead to a series of other "workshops" or "roundtables" with subsets of the original workshop population. The goal of these sessions would be to extend the discussion beyond the initial workshop relative to particular interests. For example, a roundtable sponsored by the WCPC and the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce, would promote discussion on issues directly affecting the business community. In each case, the session goal would be to move toward some set of concrete principals for guiding Worcester's development. Support from the Greater Worcester Community Foundation for the initial workshop would generate momentum around these to ensure follow-up sessions.
The workshop could also provide the rationale for directing resources and research activities within Worcester's institutions of higher learning. For example, the Worcester Community Project Center (WCPC) at WPI develops 15 research projects in Worcester every year. Through collaboration with other stakeholders, such as the city, community development corporations, and environmental organizations, and other non-governmental organizations the WCPC could develop a series of pilot "sustainable community projects" that present substantial benefit to the community. Similarly, institutions from the Colleges of Worcester Consortium, drawing on their unique expertise, such as Clark's HERO Project and WPI's WCPC, could collaborate on projects based upon workshop findings. Any of these scenarios could generate more funding to explore these issues. Finally, the workshop will bring together those interested in galvanizing Worcester's sustainable future and provide a shared language and foundation from which to move forward.
We would consider the workshop successful if it attracted a broad range of interested people in the Worcester community, including neighborhood, environmental, affordable housing, community development, and business (economic development) interests. Given our current contact list we anticipate 30-35 people will attend the workshop. Participants will be solicited through personal contact of Smart Growth Forum members as well as a mailing strategy. To ensure breadth of workshop participants, members of the Worcester Smart Growth Forum have been asked to develop a list of suggested invitees. In addition, members of the Worcester Community Project Center Advisory Board, John Anderson (former Worcester mayor) and William Densmore (former Norton executive), have extensive lists of contacts to draw from. Finally, we have drawn extensively from the Guide to Regional Organizations in the Greater Worcester Area (2002) published by the Worcester Regional Research Bureau.
Additionally, we would hope that the workshop would create an environment fostering new coalitions around these issues. Framing economic development from a sustainability perspective provides a new foundation for Worcester's citizens to engage the issue. Thus people could bring their expertise and years of committed work to the table, and generate original ideas or, at least, re-frame the ways they think of the status quo. We would also hope that the workshop would mark the beginning of a community-wide discussion that would direct the city's institutions and leadership to develop concrete ideas and policy measures for managing Worcester's growth to preserve its heritage for future generations.
To make this initial workshop possible we seek support of $2,458 from the Greater Worcester Community Foundation. This money will primarily be used to cover the cost of the transportation and accommodation of the two English presenters. Additional funding will be raised to underwrite some of the event costs, such as food and beverage service during the workshop, paying undergraduate reporters, and audio-visual equipment. In addition support from the Greater Worcester Community Foundation will leverage substantial in-kind contributions of faculty/staff time and expertise from WCPC and other organizations, particularly the participants in the Smart Growth Forum. It will also constitute a critical early contribution toward realizing this proactive approach to developing a policy agenda for sustainable growth and development in Worcester.
Thank you for your consideration.
Associate Director, Worcester Community Project Center
Assistant Professor, Interdisciplinary and Global Studies Division
Member, Worcester Smart Growth Forum
Links to Sustainability Sites
Directions to WPI