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What is the story?
Most developed countries that have many people and too little land now have laws about where development can take place and where agricultural and wild landscapes are protected from urban changes.
In the past, as far back as the Middle Ages, communities in Europe lived within the walls of a town for protection. Compact towns also made it easier to get goods, services, and help.
When Europeans came to America, land appeared to be endless. Europeans wanted land so badly and they didn’t want anyone telling them what could be done with their land.
Where are we now?
Today, North Carolinians are seeing more and more people move here. Now, 8.5 million people call North Carolina their home, yet by 2050 there may be up to 13 million North Carolinians. With so many people, many things that you do with your piece of land will affect your neighbors.
Many people think we should plan our communities more. Community-based planning looks at what is best for the community as a whole. Without this kind of planning, we could lose valuable natural resources that will hurt our economy.
What does it all mean?
How could community-based planning help us? People want easier access to services like schools, shops, fire departments, medical care, and police. People want attractive streets and buildings.
Although people want tighter and more carefully planned development, some people still want a rural home and three acres out in the woods far beyond the community. Unfortunately, letting this happen often can drive up many hidden costs to the community. The further away these suburban and rural homes are from the services (water, sewer, emergency services, power, cable TV, schools and so on), the greater the cost to the community.
Existing North Carolina towns could provide space for housing twice our population. For this, we need to plan residential communities largely within city limits and design them better to attract interested buyers. In fact, recent North Carolina home developments, built to be more accessible to services but also well designed, now attract lots of potential buyers.
How does this affect me?
Development, such as roads, commercial buildings, and residential areas, cover about 11% of North Carolina. Large scale development, without careful planning, could impact food production, economic prosperity, and wildlife habitats. Let’s look at these issues.
First, development is beginning to affect our ability to grow the local food that we will need as the population grows.
Secondly, these developments often make our vacation areas less attractive. Vacationers then go elsewhere. Just like a domino effect, this, in turn, reduces the number of jobs needed to support tourism at our North Carolina vacation spots.
Thirdly, development around lakes, on mountain sides, and along our coasts damages important wildlife habitats. Many developments on the coast could be damaged in the coming years from rising sea water levels and more violent storms caused by global warming.
Random development causes the loss of a variety of plants and animals. Until recently, for example, planners thought wetlands and other wilderness areas were useless spaces. They thought wetlands should be available to anyone who wanted to develop them for housing, agriculture, or commercial use.
We now know that wetlands especially are important in helping to regulate water flow. They act like giant sponges and water reservoirs. Wetlands play an important role in maintaining life support systems for both humans and other living things, particularly in the cleanliness of fresh water and by supporting some of our rarest plants and animals. In fact, North Carolina has lost about 50% of its wetlands in the last century!
Did you know?
North Carolina supports a huge variety of plants and animals. These have evolved due to our special geology (soils) and a climate bordering the warm South and the cooler North. These plants and animals, together with our attractive landscapes in the mountains, Piedmont, and coastal areas, have huge economic potential for scientific discovery, recreation, and tourism.
Our state’s unique features are vital for our future. We must maintain this diversity of plants and animals as much as we can.
What can I do?
Keep a weekly journal about the plants and soil around your home.
Read labels for pesticides, insecticides, and household cleaning products:
Print the photographs that we provide for you and discuss how each one might impact the major regions of North Carolina: the Mountains, the Piedmont, and the Coastal Plains.