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Regional Plan Assn. program aims to preserve open space.

With state and local governments heeding the calls from environmentalists and planning groups and taking steps to stop suburban sprawl in the tri-state region, the Regional Plan Association (RPA) has released an open-space blueprint for addressing both suburban sprawl and urban disinvestment.

Building a Metropolitan Greensward is being published as New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, along with the federal and local governments, are expected to spend about $3 billion over the next 10 years to buy land and refurbish parks. Are these steps adequate? What else may be needed? What areas are most threatened? Do the combined programs meet the region's needs? How can we stop urban disinvestment and restore parks and open spaces to our center cities?

RPA, the influential planning organization which has been warning about suburban sprawl and its damaging impact since the 1960's, answers these questions in their latest report, which describes a program of action and cooperation to preserve key open spaces and waterways, and help reverse the flow of residents and businesses from cities. Many of RPA's recommendations will be advanced by the current government proposals.

RPA's plan would help transform the region by creating access to recreational and scenic landscapes, protecting wildlife habitat and our natural resources, conserving sources of local produce and improving the quality of life in our cities with more effective management of urban waterways, parks and open spaces. The program will bring reason to future planning decisions and stop unchecked development.

To accomplish this transformation, RPA is creating a Greensward Network, a broad-based group of public officials, business leaders, civic activists and conservationists.

"We have provided a blueprint for New York, New Jersey and Connecticut to work together to stop suburban sprawl, help revitalize the urban environment and save our green space," said Robert D. Yaro, executive director of RPA. "We pinpointed 11 areas, such as the New York/New Jersey harbor, the Catskill Mountains, the Appalachian Highlands in the three states, Long Island Sound and active farmland throughout the region, where government action is needed to preserve the land and water and create a series of regional greenbelts. We now see government officials recognizing the serious damage caused by unchecked sprawl and its related impact on urban areas, and the need to preserve open space and our environment."

"Our region has some of the most extraordinary collections of landscapes and water bodies on the planet," Yaro said. "But this treasure is threatened."

"Building the Greensward will require that all levels of government invest in green-spaces and water resources," said Robert Pirani, RPA's Director of Environmental Programs. "The state governments are making unprecedented investments in land acquisition and park management, investments that are essential to the success of the Greensward Plan."

Recent government actions include:

In New Jersey, the Governor's Council on New Jersey Outdoors has called for the preservation of more than one million acres of open space in the next 10 years, including important investments in watershed protection, urban areas and greenway corridors. To accomplish this, the council recommended that a dedicated revenue stream of about $200 million a year be allocated for open space needs. Governor Christine Todd Whitman has proposed a two cents a gallon tax on gasoline to help meet this goal. Others are proposing to tap a variety of funding sources.

In Connecticut, Governor John Rowland and the State Legislature have responded to the Governor's Blue Ribbon Task Force on Open Space by passing legislation allocating $166 million over the next five years for open space acquisition. The goal is to have the state buy about 100,000 acres of woods, wetlands, trails and waterfront areas in the next 25 years. Connecticut has far less publicly-owned open space than most northeastern states.

In New York, Governor George Pataki, the State Legislature and the voters successfully enacted the $1.75 billion Clean Water/Clean Air Bond Act. These bonds will provide about $300 million for parks and natural resource protection over the next 10 years. In addition, the Environmental protection Fund allocates about $50 million a year for open space acquisition and parks.

In Washington, a decision about appropriations from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) is before Congress. The LWCF is the legislative vehicle for federal funding for parks and open space, and has provided important support for initiatives like Sterling Forest. Gov. Pataki has created an Empire State Task Force for Land and Water Conservation Funding to bring attention to this important federal program, especially its funding program for state and local parks.

Many counties and towns around the region are also investing in parks and open space. For example, voters in 53 local governments and 13 counties in New Jersey have voted to dedicate a portion of their local taxes to open space purposes.

Providing funding for Building a Metropolitan Greensward were: the USDA Forest Service, State and Private Forestry Northeastern Area, the Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust, the Pinchot Institute for Conservation, Fairchild Publications, ABC, Inc. and the Walt Disney Company.

Building a Metropolitan Greensward is available from the Regional Plan Association at 10 Irving Place, New York, NY 10003, or by calling (212) 253-2727, ext. 309. There is a $5 charge for handling and shipping.
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Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Date:Aug 12, 1998
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