New City Comprehensive Plan Embraces Sustainability

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Tompkins Weekly 11-7-2011

By City of Ithaca Planning Staff

As environmental concerns and rising energy costs have an ever increasing impact on our daily lives, individuals are learning to integrate concepts of sustainability into their regular routines. They use their vehicles less, buy energy-efficient appliances, and are more mindful of their water consumption, just to name a few. Making the necessary changes toward a sustainable and resilient future certainly begins at the individual’s level, but institutions and municipalities must change as well. The City of Ithaca has already taken many steps to become a more sustainable organization. In 2005, the City joined the US Mayors Climate Action Agreement, committing to reduce global warming through the implementation of local strategies such as land-use policies, alternate transportation measures, energy efficiency and green building practices. This agreement was followed by the adoption of the City’s Local Action Plan in 2006, which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emission from government operation by 20% by 2016. In addition, the City became a Climate Smart Community in 2009, joining a State-wide effort focused on saving tax-payer dollars while improving operations and infrastructure, increasing energy independence and security, and positioning communities for economic growth. The Energy Sustainability Project Manager is currently coordinating the City’s efforts, and to date, the City has undertaken numerous bicycle and pedestrian improvements, building and traffic light retrofits, and low-energy asphalt paving projects among many other initiatives. One of the City’s next major sustainability efforts is the preparation of a new comprehensive plan, which is currently underway.

The comprehensive plan is a long-range guide for the City. It lays out a vision for the city’s future and provides strategies to reach these goals. The comprehensive plan provides a framework for City policies and decisions. As such, the community values that are woven into the plan are of the greatest importance. The new comprehensive plan will build upon the City’s previous efforts and embrace the triple bottom-line approach to sustainability: environmental, economic, and social. The new comprehensive plan will address common planning topics such as land use, transportation, housing, open space, economic development, utilities and services, and parks and recreation, but the concepts of sustainability will be integrated throughout each of these topics. For example, the plan’s study of transportation will not only focus on traffic and parking but also on enhancing access to public transportation, improving bicycle and pedestrian environments, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Similarly, instead of focusing solely on the location of new development, the analysis of housing will address the protection of neighborhoods, housing affordability, the variety of housing options, preservation of the existing housing stock, and a general discussion of city-wide density. The exact content of the plan will be determined by the public’s input on goals for the future; however, it is clear that the new comprehensive plan must address these goals in light of considerations for environmental, economic, and social sustainability, as this is the only way to keep the city such a great place for future generations.

Pubic participation is a critical part of this planning process and is the way to ensure that the vision for the city’s future outlined in the plan truly matches the vision of the city’s residents. The first opportunity to provide input on the comprehensive plan will be at a public meeting on Monday, November 14, 2011 from 7:00-9:00 p.m. at Beverly J. Martin Elementary School.  All members of the community are invited and encouraged to attend.  For questions or to provide written comments, please contact Megan Wilson, Planner, at or 274-6560.

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