Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Adirondack Futures: The Park’s Next 25 Years

What follows is a guest essay by Dave Mason and Jim Herman of Keene, leaders of the ADK Futures Project. Over the past year they have been conducting workshops, interviews, and discussion sessions with a variety of Adirondackers about what the future of the Adirondack Park should be. Dave and Jim are retired management consultants who ran a small consulting firm during the 80’s and 90’s that helped very large organizations create strategies for growth and success.

The ADK Futures Project was kicked off at the July 2011, Common Ground Alliance (CGA) annual event in Long Lake. A year later, after 120 interviews and 14 workshops involving 500+ people all over the Park and in NY City, the results were presented at the 2012 CGA event. It is a pro bono project, using scenario planning, a methodology from our consulting careers. We are not members of any of the usual ADK organizations but Keene, NY is our home. The initial goal of the effort was to broaden the conversation about the Park, involving more people and weaving together the full breath of issues facing the Park. But along the way surprising alignment emerged around a particular future vision for the area.

Our 120 interviews were turned into six endstates and 120 events to structure the conversations in workshops. The endstates represent some classic different points-of-view about the Park. The events are who-does-what details that read like hypothetical news headlines. When combined, you make a scenario connecting today to the future.

We’ve held two types of workshops. Five were in-depth two-day long workshops with a Noah’s Ark of people with diverse affiliations at each one. We also held 8 half-day workshops either for a single group, e.g. Paul Smiths students, or open to the public with anyone welcome to walk in. Two-thirds of participants were full-time residents. Attendees were very diverse reaching young and old, rich and poor, seasonal and permanent, local and state, etc. The largest group was from education, as we ran two student workshops. In each workshop, the participants had to rank order the endstates into two criteria: desirability and attainability.

The result was a big surprise to us in two respects:

First, the alignment across all these types of groups was amazing. Every single workshop resulted in the one scenario called The Sustainable Life ranked most desirable by a considerable margin, often with the Usable Park scenario as second. This held true across groups that one doesn’t think of as aligned: AATV, wealthy NYC seasonal people, farmers and guides, college and high school students, etc.

Second, what is seen as desirable, is also the most attainable. What we want, we expect we can do – read that twice.

In fact, it turns out to be well underway. It can be largely done within the current rules and regulations – this is part of its appeal. We are doing it, now, and we just couldn’t see it because we’re too easily distracted by one argument or another. We may be learning that making progress in the large areas we agree on is preferable that dissipating our energies fighting over a fairly narrow set of issues.

Consider this: at Common Ground, each attendee was given a card for feedback on the conclusions we drew from this work. 93% of the attendees agreed or strongly agreed with the vision (64% strongly agreed). So the short version of the vision paper from this work follows. All the documentation, data and details about each workshop and the data analysis are available online.

The Next 25 Years of the Adirondack Park

Over the next 25 years, an understanding of the interdependence of our environment and our economy spreads through our communities. Our mixture of public and private lands is the defining feature of the Park; it drives our diverse sustainable economy and increases our self-reliance. We use balanced, slightly more flexible, regulation to preserve our unique landscape while enhancing the health of our communities.

The local parts of the strategy increase spending within the Park on local food, local energy, local forest products and other regionally produced goods, so we send less of our wealth outside the Park. By increasing the use of biomass from private forests, we reinforce the self-reliance that has traditionally been part of this region’s character, while lowering our use of fossil fuels. We are leaders in New York State’s switch to renewable energy sources. The global parts of the strategy include (1) nearly ubiquitous broadband Internet to enable residents to participate in the global knowledge economy and attract new families here, working remotely, and (2) attracting globally diverse visitors to enjoy and learn from our Park.

We strengthen our communities, centered in hamlets and villages, but they work more collaboratively across the Park. They are more dynamic and welcoming of new comers. Part-time and full-time residents work together to enrich hamlet life. Our small, networked, high quality schools give students a strong understanding of this unique place they are growing up. A vibrant visual and performing arts scene further enriches the quality of life here for visitors and residents. We attract young families and active retirees to settle here and further diversify our population. Living in the hamlets and being part of an active community is cool again. The hamlets are as big a draw as the Forest Preserve.

We move in small but steady steps toward more efficient government that strikes the right balance between centralization for efficiency and local responsiveness; government that works together across levels and functions and that partners well with community groups and NGOs. Integrated GIS and other databases are critical to make government work more productively and give citizens better understanding of Park conditions.

We maintain strong protections for the Forest Preserve and complementary private land regulation. The State and environmental NGOs purchase additional forest and farm easements and use transferable development rights to keep our land productive and preserve open space and intact forests. Community groups, land and lake-owner associations, NGOs and the State collaborate to protect our water quality and promote sustainable recreational use of the Forest Preserve. We manage the forest using science-based stewardship that helps protect it against threats of climate change and invasive species. We protect our large wilderness areas and natural corridors across the landscape. We overcome the stalemate that has prevented significant change to Forest Preserve policies and address some of the unintended constitutional limitations we face in helping our communities prosper.

We upgrade and expand our visitor amenities in a sustainable manner that does not degrade the Forest Preserve and strengthens the regional economy. We focus on attracting visitors that are interested in our protected environment and cultural heritage. By introducing the Park through our promotions to new and more diverse types of visitors, we continue to maintain a base of support among the next generation of voters of New York State.

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The Adirondack Almanack publishes occasional guest essays from Adirondack residents, visitors, and those with an interest in the Adirondack Park. Submissions should be directed to Almanack editor Melissa Hart at [email protected]

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