A Regional Sustainability Plan for the Berkshires
In 2010, the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission (BRPC) was awarded one of 45 inaugural nationwide federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Sustainable Communities Planning Grants. This federal program aligned funding and objectives of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Department of Transportation (DOT) to support sustainable community solutions. The three plus year process developed a regional sustainability plan that was built on other efforts to advance regional interests, and at the same time introduced new topics for the first time on a regional scale, such as a comprehensive energy plan and climate change adaptation strategies.
One Plan—Eight Elements
The Sustainable Berkshires Plan contains eight separate Elements.
Each Element is a separate report but must be considered with the other Elements. Element reports contain information about the topic area, an analysis of key issue and opportunities, a vision for a desired future, goals, policies and strategies to achieve that vision and a list of tools to accomplish the identified strategies.
The Elements are:
Conservation and Recreation
Local Food and Agriculture
Climate and Energy
Housing and Neighborhoods
Infrastructure and Services
The planning process provided many opportunities for the public to participate and help craft the plan contents. Four important opportunities included: workshops, forums, stakeholder meetings and the project website. Public workshops were held throughout the planning process to share information and gather input to shape the goals, policies, and strategies in the plan. Certain topics had forums—working meetings with stakeholder groups and the general public to delve deeper into issues and strategies. Certain topics had stakeholder / subcommittee meetings with groups or agencies with specialized expertise in an area and who would play a key role in implementing any strategies identified in the plan. This ensured plan policies were comprehensive and aligned with the strategic priorities of implementing entities. A Sustainable Berkshires website was developed and announced meetings and made draft work products, meeting summaries, and maps available to the public, allowing review and comment. The overall process was guided by a consortium of volunteers across the region committed to the project’s success.
Massachusetts General Law 40B states that a planning commission shall make careful studies of the resources, problems, possibilities and needs of its district and, on the basis of such studies, shall prepare a comprehensive plan to include recommendations for the physical, social, governmental or economic improvement of the region. The Berkshire Regional Planning Commission had overall responsibility to adopt the plan. The Commission, comprised of representatives from the 32 Berkshire municipalities, discussed aspects of plan development at regular briefings during the 3 year plan development process.
The Sustainable Berkshires Plan was adopted by the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission on March 20 2014.
Keep Berkshires Farming
Keep Berkshires Farming is a community-driven initiative aimed at supporting and strengthening local agriculture to build a strong and healthy regional food system. This planning process involves engaging a diverse set of stakeholders in gathering and analyzing data about the current state of agriculture in order to better understand existing production conditions, demand dynamics for local agricultural products or commodities, and related barriers or challenges. The data is then used to inform decision-making and prioritize specific strategies the community may undertake to support a vibrant agricultural economy.
Keep Berkshires Farming is based on the Keep Farming® process developed by the Glynwood Center. It was adapted into a regional approach for the Berkshires. The County was divided up into three regions, North, Central and South each with a team of representatives from towns with the region. Action Plan reports were prepared for all three regions
The Keep Berkshires Farming effort was occurring at the same time as the Sustainable Berkshires planning effort. Inasmuch as one objective of Sustainable Berkshires is to better understand local food and agriculture in the Berkshires to support agricultural profitability and enhanced access to local, healthy food now and in the future, BRPC worked with Glynwood to conduct the Keep Berkshires Farming planning effort.