The Potential for Community-Based Land Use Planning in Kalamazoo County

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Carroll, Brendan McGregor
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Today a child woke before dawn to wait for a school bus. She stands in the dark trying to perceive the unfamiliar landscape that does not resemble the one she once played in. Gone are the brooks, meadows, oak savannahs, and vistas from which her subdivision took its name, replaced by asphalt cul-de-sacs, ‘miracle grow’ lawns, and gratuitous urban residencies. The forest behind her house is being developed as another subdivision. The local farmland is being assessed as a potential golf course, and the small town nearby is rapidly becoming suburbia. The rural county roads she learned to ride her bike on, once home only to farm machinery and Sunday drivers, are becoming four, then a six-lane highways. As these trends of the current paradigm of development in the United States continue, the impacts of this phenomenon are described by a single word: Sprawl. The realization is spreading that the decisions we make, or fail to make, today will determine how well the American metropolis will be able to avoid the consequences of increasing sprawl, congestion, pollution, and social isolation that threaten to overwhelm it. (Kelbaugh 1997: 3). However, in the majority of communities throughout the nation residents have very little political voice. Therefore, in order to harness and empower residents, community based organizations must be designed to allow the true voice of the community to be heard, providing a medium for change. The resolution will not happen over night, rather “it is about incremental steps—some small, some large—to save and improve upon America’s urbanism (Kelbaugh 1997: 3). Providing an opportunity for community members to play a proactive role in the development of their community is crucial to changing the current development paradigm; Convening for Action is one such catalyst for change. The initial phase of Convening for Action is the identification of “the important natural and historic features of our community” (CFA 2001: Pamphlet). The research presented in the following paper, was therefore designed to give answers to the following two questions: “What are the important places in Kalamazoo County that define our sense of place and that make our community distinct and unique? What places would leave a hole in the fabric of the community if they were to disappear?” (CFA 2001: Pamphlet). By including participants from rural and urban middle schools, high schools, Western Michigan University, and adults from throughout the county, this project then details the differences between these diverse groups of participants, as well as their common call for change.
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