Building Regional Sustainability through Urban-Rural Connections

Cities and surrounding rural areas are highly connected and interdependent on a number of realms: socially, economically and environmentally to name a few. To succeed, cities in America need a healthy and sustainable rural economy and culture; and in turn rural America needs vibrant, well-functioning cities and suburbs in order to thrive and flourish (Dabson, 2007).  Meaningful dialogue, understanding and collaboration is critically important when seeking solutions to issues that affect cities and nearby rural counterparts.

Urban-Rural Combined 2015-07-23For example, agricultural land uses in watersheds that provide source water for metropolitan areas has become a major concern as of late. While it is a city’s responsibility to provide quality drinking and recreational water resources to residents at a reasonable cost, it is the goal of agricultural producers to provide food for America’s consumers, also at a reasonable cost, while bringing in sufficient revenues needed to stay in business.

Inputs used to increase food production – fertilizers and herbicides, for example – can enter the rural watershed and affect the city’s water resources downstream. The cost to the city of treating and removing nutrients and herbicides from their drinking water can impact on resident’s water rates. The loss of fertilizers and herbicides due to run off increases a farmer’s cost of production.

How can meaningful dialogue and collaboration between urban and rural entities be created around issues such as these? Is it possible to find common ground that can be built upon to benefit and meet the needs of all parties? In the scenario above, common ground may be that both the farmer and the city would like to see fertilizers and herbicides stay on the fields and out of the watershed. Dialogue and collaboration is needed to discover and implement the combination of educational programming, best management practices, incentives and other types of support that is most effective in helping these entities meet their common goals.

A recent issue brief published by the National Association of Development Organizations (NADO) provides examples of urban-rural collaborative efforts through a series of case studies highlighting examples from communities across the country: Creating Opportunity and Prosperity Through Strengthening Rural-Urban Connections. NADO concludes that “in order to move forward, a national statement of shared purpose along the lines that if metropolitan America is to drive national prosperity, then to succeed it will need a healthy and sustainable rural economy and culture, and if rural America is to flourish, it will need vibrant, well-functioning cities and suburbs.” Finding common concerns, understanding interconnections, recognizing interdependence and building collaborations are key steps in building regional sustainability.

(Submitted by Myra Moss, Associate Professor and Extension Educator, Heart of Ohio EERA)

Watershed planning for Great Lakes communities

Most every decision we make results in some sort of impact. Take our development decisions, for example. In some way, they impact sustainability. How can we better understand the impact of our decisions?

Tipping Points & Indicators 2014-12-04

Tipping Points and Indicators is a collaborative program that gives land use planners, natural resources managers and stakeholder groups in the Lake Erie Watershed the information they need to enhance local economies and protect natural resources. Using its decision support system and action planning process, communities can determine how close a watershed is to the thresholds (or “tipping points”) that might change the way aquatic ecosystems function and pinpoint the land use practices driving them.

Tipping Points and Indicators is a new Great Lakes research and Extension program comprised of a web-based, data driven decision support system and a facilitated community visioning and action planning process designed to enable effective protection and management of natural resources throughout Great Lakes. The web-based portion is available at  The facilitated portion yields an action plan that includes an overview of the current community status and whether the community is nearing or exceeding Great Lakes tipping points. It also provides customized education strategies, example policies and sample ordinances to improve current conditions. The program is targeted to land use planners, natural resources managers and stakeholder groups with an interest in assessing community sustainability using Great Lakes tipping points.

Research team members identified land use indicator variables that determine the threshold, or tipping points, that when exceeded can impact aquatic ecosystems. Great Lakes Sea Grant Network Extension Specialists developed the associated website and facilitation process that guide community groups through an interactive watershed action planning process. Touch screen monitors are used to enable community groups to collaborate and explore the website, tools and GIS maps to determine planning priorities linked to community values.

The overall program goal is to enable the development of sustainable, watershed-specific land use strategies. The Tipping Points and Indicators planning process is facilitated by Great Lakes Sea Grant specialists. Contact your state facilitator and request a planning workshop for your community.

(Submitted by: Joe Lucente, Assistant Professor and Extension Educator, Ohio Sea Grant College Program and Ohio State University Extension)