By: Jamie Rae Walker, Assistant Professor and Extension Specialist-Urban Parks, The Texas A&M University System
Implementing a planning process can help rural Texans improve their communities, address problems, and capitalize on opportunities.
Rural areas across Texas are experiencing a broad range of changes—some face rapid growth, urban encroachment, and loss of rural character. Other areas are grappling with job losses, outward migration, and lack of transportation options.
To address these problems, governmental officials and local citizens are participating in rural and regional planning exercises. For example, the City of Vernon used a planning process to improve local parks and sustain its rural character and quality of life. By gathering data from existing parks and working with citizens to identify priorities and capacity, the city improved safety and upkeep at local parks; installed a community-built playground; and acquired funding for and built a new community pool.
In the Texas South Plains, three counties addressed job losses because of a major plant closure by working together to create a regional economic development plan. The counties analyzed data on key economic indicators and identified meaningful economic assets across the region. Now they are working together to improve workforce education and retention. They have hosted a regional workforce and education forum and are seeking joint funding opportunities.
To reach their goals, other rural leaders and residents could also adopt a basic planning process, which includes several steps:
- Gather data: Review the existing conditions, population trends, and your community’s capacity for addressing them.
- Analyze the data: Interpret your findings and compare different solutions.
- Create the plan: Host public forums, choose alternatives, set planning and zoning standards, and assess fees.
- Implement the plan: Set goals and create strategies to reach those goals. Then take action.
- Monitor the results: Create a feedback loop for improving the plan, update information from the data-gathering phase, and enforce zoning standards.
Communities can approach the process in many ways, such as by focusing on a goal, issue, opportunity, or trend. Choose a process that reflects your community’s needs and preferences.
Although many communities have master plans in place, they often lack the policies, implementation, and monitoring required to be effective. Some communities have limited staff or other resources.
Neighboring communities may work together to create, implement, and monitor a regional plan. Because multiple jurisdictions govern these areas, they require much coordination and communication during the latter phases.
A key to success is to involve many local or regional citizens to complete all phases of the planning process. Otherwise, the plan will sit on the shelf instead of guiding the community to address its issues or realize its vision.
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