Thursday, June 2, 2011

What are Other Communities Doing about Community Character?

1893 Forsyth County Courthouse
Community Character is a topic that is considered to be important in most communities. For this update, eight other comprehensive plans were studied including: Raleigh, NC; Cary, NC; Greensboro, NC; Portland, OR; Greenville, SC; Denver, CO; and Lynchburg, VA. The approach to community character varies depending on each city’s priorities, but one theme prevailed; each community wanted to keep a unique sense of place.

The integration of design into public and private development projects is a common tool used by the communities studied. Recommendations to protect and enhance the visual image of a community included the use of design guidelines, ordinances or programming that addresses major roadways, neighborhoods, commercial areas, downtowns, scenic corridors, gateways, greenways and landmarks. Many communities emphasize programs for the man-made environment such as gateways, corridors, public landscapes, streetscapes and public and/or private art. It is recommended that such programs not be limited to the urban environment, but should also address rural areas.
Many cities are seeking to preserve urban and rural viewsheds. In an urban area, views can be protected through the development review process or through outright purchase, such as the creation of a park. In rural areas, programs that buy development rights are popular (see Chapter 7, Environmental Quality and Sustainability for more details on open space preservation).

Some locations, such as Denver and Portland have prioritized the purchase of natural areas including forests, streams and other natural resources. Areas are designated for protection before any major development occurs. This ensures that land preserved through the development process is not just “left over land”. Communities are also beginning to see the necessity and value in the protection and preservation of working farms and historic landscapes that reflect rural heritage.

Active public art programs emphasizing the past, present and future of the community are becoming more common. A public art program can promote both the character and culture of an area and serve as a bridge to open space, parks and greenways, as well as the built environment.

Many of the communities studied have realized that historic preservation is not just about saving the old house on the hill. It is an important piece to the economic revitalization puzzle that can help the economic development of a downtown, neighborhood, or entire community. Many communities have developed procedures that abate violations affecting historic resources through repair and/or acquisition rather than demolition. Retaining existing housing stock is also a “green” approach since it recycles the housing we already have.

The preservation of an area’s cultural heritage is another important economic development tool. Cultural tourism is growing in many areas through various initiatives to promote the ethnic heritage and history of a community.

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