Green Vision 

Consortium plans for the region’s eco-friendly future.

Just as a blueprint guides architects and engineers as they plan and build new structures, a "greenprint" acts a guide for a region's future sustainability.

The Mid-South Regional Greenprint Consortium is in the process of planning a long-term vision for the area's greenspaces, including parks, greenways, community gardens, stormwater management, and waterways. The consortium began the public-input phase of its planning process last week at a well-attended meeting at the Memphis Botanic Garden.

Funded by a $2.6 million grant from the federal office of Housing and Urban Development, Shelby County officials assembled the consortium in November 2011, but it is only now beginning to ask the public what it wants to see for the future of greenspaces in the four counties included in the greenprint — Shelby and Fayette in Tennessee, Crittenden in Arkansas, and DeSoto in Mississippi.

"The purpose of the greenprint is to connect these four counties through a greenspace network, but that network looks beyond recreation," said John Zeanah, program manager for the Mid-South Regional Greenprint and Sustainability Plan.

While the consortium is considering how people use parks and greenways for recreation, they're also looking at the future of transportation alternatives, environmental protection, public health, fair housing, community gardens, and ways that people can use walking and cycling trails to get to work and run errands. They're even looking at ways to increase ridership on bus systems in the region and how to make "blueways," a buzzword for navigable waterways, more accessible by adding docks.

The consortium has posted a survey on its website to gather information about what Mid-Southerners want to see in the greenprint plan, and its next public meeting — May 14th at the Landers Center — will feature breakout sessions designed to collect ideas and concerns from the public.

Because the funding for the plan is coming from HUD, the consortium is also looking into a fair-housing assessment.

"HUD wants to see where our concentrations of poverty and segregation are and where our areas of high opportunity are, like large employment centers or areas of large public investment," Zeanah said. "Then we'll be looking at how we can make connections between communities of low-income residents and high-opportunity areas."

In other words, they'll be looking at how to use walking trails and bike lanes to connect high-poverty areas with companies that employ a lot of people from those areas.

The finished plan, due by January 2015, will be massive. And since the grant only covers planning and not implementation, each aspect of the plan will have to find funding before it can become reality. But Zeanah said having this plan in place will give the region an edge.

"When money comes down for projects, whether from a foundation or local, state, or federal funds, and they're asking for applications, we're not starting from scratch," Zeanah said. "This plan gives us more of a competitive chance to get some implementation funds by being further along in the process."

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