Open Space Institute tags a half million acres as suitable for sustainable development in Catskill region

Report indicates that growth can occur without harming the region’s farmland, water and other open space resources

The Open Space Institute released a report this month identifying what it says are 500,000 acres of “preferred growth” land in the Catskills. OSI says this is more than 10 times the amount likely to be developed in the next 25 years.

Preferred growth lands are described as Undeveloped, privately owned land that does not have physical impediments or regulations against development,. Development on these lands would avoid direct effects on agriculture, water, recreation and wildlife habitat. (Preferred growth does not account for the feasibility of or market demand for development.)

The report should be a valuable initial guideline for land use in the area encompassing Ulster, Sullivan, Greene, and Delaware counties. However, some potential conflicts may be inherent based on some of the contradictory information presented. For instance, the report says

Despite extensive win-win opportunities for conservation and development, sustainable growth will depend on such factors as access to mass transit, growth in the workforce and incentives to attract desirable businesses.

This conflicts with the fact that area workforce is expected to decline dramatically. Also, much of the new development is projected to be housing for empty nesters and second homes, which, according to the report, often tend to be located on or near waterways and not necessarily in areas of higher density. What are considered “desirable businesses?” To what extent is mass transit currently available in the Catskill region?

How we describe planning going forward is important. Phrases like “win-win opportunities” are confusing, misleading, or meaningless. A term like “sustainable growth” is ultimately an oxymoron. If we continue to apply the same kinds of economic value indicators when talking about overall land use and sustainability, we will continue to run into the same problems we face as a society, open spaces or not. Organizations concerned with environmental protection need to continue to merge the two eco-systems, ecology and economy.


3 Responses to Open Space Institute tags a half million acres as suitable for sustainable development in Catskill region
  1. Mara Farrell
    March 31, 2011 | 11:52 am

    Well said. And there has to be a higher value placed on wildlife habitat. I cannot believe that a rich diversity of animals do not call these scores of Catskill acres home and have called them such for generations. There is a remarkable caste system gathering steam among the great conservation influencers for what defines the lands that deserve protection and the lands viewed as dispensable- without worth. Frankly, I see it quite differently. Even the micro forest wedged in between two concrete stripmalls on Route 9 (the stretch between Fishkill and Poughkeepsie, often referred to as the “bloody scar” by the more progressive town planners) is worthy and beautiful in its own right. I know what a diversity of enterprising and noble animal is trying to scratch out an existence on that patch of land – where once the vast forest and field was theirs.

    • admin
      March 31, 2011 | 2:32 pm

      Some environmentalists are looking not only at the actively “preserved” spaces, but how to link these spaces with passages through the human habitat. In other words taking a more comprehensive view, and planning land uses with this in mind. Of course we need space for humans as well, but we need to be a lot smarter as to how we go about it. Which I think is part of the goal of the OSI study.

      The other issue is one we touched on in yesterday’s post regarding environmental justice. Often the land that gets mistreated is in areas where the population does not have much economic or political power, whether that be on the other side of the local tracks, or in some of the poor southern States (like West Virginia and Kentucky, who have lost so many mountains so that we in the Hudson Valley can power our homes), or fracking in the depressed Catskill region, or exploitation of people, land, and resources in the global south through colonization by giant transnational corporations.

      • Mara Farrell
        March 31, 2011 | 3:15 pm

        I look forward to taking a closer look at the OSI report. I’m working now on a master plan for a Fishkill Living Historic Park, created by landscape architect Linette Straus – a plan which calls for a total rethink of how northern Hudson Highlands lands can be protected, habitats secured and – at the same time, spur a recharge of an environmentally damaged area economically. The first step is to start to change the conversation regarding land use in Southern Dutchess.

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