|WIT's World Ecology Report - Vol. 11, No. 1 - Critical issues in Health and the Environment (WIT, 1999, 16 p.)|
|Special focus: Youth and Global Population Largest Generation of Youth in History|
|Food for Thought: Eco-tourism in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania|
|Health and Environment: The ''Monster'' of North America|
|Did you know?|
|Point of View: Sustaining a Global Economy|
The countryside of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania is a national asset and is of international significance. In June 1996, at Habitat II, the Second U.N. Conference on Human Settlements in Istanbul, Turkey, the former Prime Minister of Turkey asked: Is Pennsylvania known as the Amish state? No, it is the Keystone State, but it is world renown for the Amish and Mennonite farms and the beautiful rolling countryside. In fact, Lancaster County has some of the most fertile farmland in the world, a colonial heritage linked closely with the birth of the nation and the distinct culture and way of life of the Old Order communities. The farmland is the keystone of the Lancaster County identity and a primary source of community pride.
Lancaster County has been the stage set for several popular theatrical productions including the movie "Witness" with Harrison Ford; and the play "Plain and Fancy." Lancaster County is also world famous for its Amish and Mennonite quilts, Amish horses and buggies, Amish barns, country roads, and farm foods. These features and strong images of Lancaster County gradually began to give way in the 1970's and 1980's due to a dominant new force known as suburban sprawl. New housing developments began to spring-up in previously cultivated farmland. Small, historic towns and villages were being enveloped by non-descript, look-alike subdivisions. Strip shopping centers and factory outlet stores began to line the major highways. Suddenly, the pastoral look of the country began to change. County officials felt that if the misguided pattern of growth and change were to continue, it would be inevitable that Lancaster County would lose its identity and simply become an indistinguishable component of the eastern seaboard megalopolis.
Urban Growth Boundaries of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania
SOURCE: Thomas Comitta Associates, April
Lancaster County Comprehensive Plan
SOURCE: Thomas Comitta Associates
In 1993, the Lancaster County Planning Commission prepared a Comprehensive Plan, a "Growth Management Plan" for their 627,000 acres (253,846 hectares). The Plan is a bold attempt to conserve the heritage landscape situated a 1-1/2 hour drive west of Philadelphia. The plan is intended to accommodate growth over the next 20 years, while conserving important natural and cultural resources. Many elected officials and civic leaders worked with the County residents and business persons to devise the Plan, focused on saving the remaining countryside. The Comprehensive Plan evolved after extensive public participation and input. The heritage values of Lancaster County were considered to be too important to lose, and too important to be overshadowed by the next shopping mall or large lot residential subdivision. Although many localities derive their revenues from tourism and related services, Lancaster County is taking action to balance tourism and development interests, with land conservation interests. In this way, a more effective win-win solution is evolving.
The key ingredient of the Plan is the Urban Growth Boundary (UGB), which encircles the City of Lancaster and 11 other Villages. Places like Strasburg, Lititz, Manheim, and Ephrata are intended to maintain their Village status and expand slightly to accommodate new development. (It is interesting to note that these Germanic place names conjure up the images of their namesakes in Germany. It is not surprising, therefore, that Lancaster County has chosen to follow the German model for Village development and countryside preservation).
Essentially, the UGB concept works like this:
· infill development is allowed within the UGB, where the infrastructure such as public water, public sewer, roads, schools, and municipal services, is already in place;
· land outside the UGB remains in farmland and productive agricultural use, and is maintained as the scenic countryside;
· the local economy benefits through increased tourism, with sightseeing in the farm country, and shopping in the nearby towns and villages.
The Comprehensive Plan is being implemented by the 60 municipalities of the County, and a number of agencies such as the Lancaster County Planning Commission, the Lancaster Farmland Trust, and the Lancaster County Housing and Redevelopment Authorities. Many of these agencies are also collaborating on a "Livable Communities" initiative. The "Livable Communities Work Group" is in the process of designing a "Heritage Neighborhood" in one of the 12 UGB's. This effort is a fine example of the implementation of the regional plan, in order to preserve the ecological integrity of the Lancaster County landscape, and to enable tourism to be a sustainable activity.
Key principles of the Livable Communities Work Group that pertain to the Eco-Tourism and regional planning concepts include:
· to concentrate on infill development within existing villages to achieve a compact mix of uses, versus spreading-out development with individual uses on large lots;
· to conserve farmland and other open spaces in the form of green-ways to separate villages and other settlements;
· to adaptively re-use existing buildings, streets, and civic spaces to foster re-building in an existing village, versus sprawling out to convert the countryside;
· to concentrate on creating walkable communities as a means of reducing auto dependency.
These principles are critical to the success of Eco-Tourism in Lancaster County, and to the health of future generations of County residents and visitors. These principles are also critical to maintaining a healthy quality of life.
Through the on-going Eco-Tourism and regional planning efforts, there have been several noteworthy accomplishments of the County (which now leads all other counties in the nation in production from non-irrigated land) including:
· Approximately 260,000 of the 400,000 acres in farm use are protected by effective agricultural zoning (the "flip-side" of the Urban Growth Boundary zoning);
· Over 15,000 acres of farmland have been preserved by permanent easement;
· The trend has changed in the loss of farmland acreage per year. From 1959 to 1992, 3,119 acres of farmland per year were lost to development. From 1994 to 1997, 2,066 acres of farmland were lost each year. The loss per year is now down below 2,000 acres.
The Lancaster County model is truly useful to other Counties that are attempting to protect heritage values and promote Eco-Tourism.
Promoting the development of environmentally sustainable tourism is a priority for UNEP.
SOURCE: UNEP Annual Report,