Citizen-Led, Comprehensive Land Use Planning in New York's Adirondack Park

By Holland, Ann H. Ruzow | Rural Society, April 2014 | Go to article overview

Citizen-Led, Comprehensive Land Use Planning in New York's Adirondack Park


Holland, Ann H. Ruzow, Rural Society


LITERATURE REVIEW

Living landscapes around the world often include rural communities and the societies on which they are based. Together they make a whole system that is greater than the sum of its parts. In an amenity-rich, conserved landscape such as New York's 6 million acre Adirondack State Park, the Bio-Geo-Physical world is an active social, eco- nomic, and political force (Freudenburg, Frickel, & Gramling, 1995, 1996). Living landscapes cre- ate a 'Yin' and 'Yang.' A tension between nature and society can be created by this circumstance when communities fail to recognise their interre- lationship with nature or view it as contradictory. For example, the dynamic relationship between 'Adirondackers' and nature shifts between practi- cal utilitarianism regarding natural resources and romanticism about wilderness, but nature's domi- nant presence remains constant (Erickson, 2009; Terrie, 2009). Understanding the conjoint constitu- tion of nature and society helps citizens experience how their interests and those of nature are inter- connected. Discovery, recognition, and discussion of local environmental conditions and 'nature' are powerful determinants that improve understanding of the relationship between social actions and natural conditions (Davidson & Freudenburg, 1996). Acting with improved understanding enables communities-of-interest to recognise the land's carrying capacity and become better stewards of the living landscapes in the United States and around the world.

A Participatory Action Research (PAR), single subject, mixed methods study conducted between 2007 and 2011 in the Adirondack Park Town of Willsboro, New York is described. New York's Adirondack State Park's 6 million acres of public and private land cover a geographic area larger than the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. There are 12 counties and 103 municipalities with approximately 132,000 residents dispersed in the settlements and countryside encompassed by the Park (Adirondack Association of Towns and Villages, 2009). The Park's unusual pattern of land uses is commonly referred to as a 'patchwork quilt' of public and pri- vate lands (Erickson, 2009). The Adirondacks are also included in the four-state designation (New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine) of the 30 million acre Northern Forest Region. Citizen-led participation and change is challeng- ing in the complex political, legislative, and cultural environment of this vast and forested region.

The purpose of the case study was to describe, document, explore, and analyse, through the methodological lens of PAR, how the local land use planning process, specifically the Town of Willsboro Comprehensive Land Use And Action Plan, was developed by the community of Willsboro, New York. This interdisciplinary, applied research converges around the needs of civil society, and in particular a region's stake- holders, who form a community-of-interest. This research is grounded in the theoretical framework of PAR and Critical Theory.

Complex land use decisions are influenced by who participates, how knowledge is collected and analysed, and who has access to that knowledge. If the relative weight of ecosystem assets and services provided by the natural landscape are well bal- anced with the other tradeoffs that local decision- makers consider does land use policy tip in favour of environmental factors? If citizen-stakeholders are empowered to make informed land use deci- sions do they in fact make them?

A contextual orientation to this place-based land use planning research is followed by a sum- mary explaining how planning theory and praxis are tied to the theoretical framework of PAR and Critical Theory. The case study is then documented in terms of its significance and geographical context before describing the research questions. A com- prehensive and complex mixed methods approach to data collection and analysis generated by the research design is summarised. Four findings are presented based upon case study evidence. …

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