Urban sustainability in Mason means more than expanding infrastructure

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Robert Liberty converses with a community member prior to the meeting

By Layne Alfred
The Mason Times

“Cooperation and planning forms a vibrant city,” said Robert Liberty, director of the Urban Sustainability Accelerator at Portland State University of Oregon. Liberty presented his urban sustainability plan at the Mason City Council Meeting on Nov. 2.

Mid-Michigan is participating in “Imagine Mid-Michigan,” the Urban Sustainability Accelerator program directed by Liberty. This plan includes downtown success, farmland preservation, and much more that affect long-term “fiscal health and sustainability of government,” said Liberty.

“Why should you care when your responsibility is here in Mason?” Liberty asked the Council. Mason is part of the regional housing market as well as regional employment, so urban sustainability in even a small town such as Mason affects all of Michigan. However, Liberty did make it clear how beneficial a new urban zoning plan would be for citizens of Mason. “We want to maintain a quality of life here in Mason,” said Liberty, and sustainability helps to “maintain a sense of place.”

David Haywood, zoning and development director in Mason, said that urban planning is changing. “We just adopted an update in 2014. We call for at least three areas where we anticipate growing. We have room in the city to grow. We study those areas to determine how we want it to develop.”

For taxpayers of Mason, urban sustainability means a lot more than simply expanding the town’s development. “If you allow growth to happen without order, suburban sprawl or low density, you’ll have a lower value tax return to be able to pay for utilities and services,” said Haywood. The taxpayer’s cost will rise if the community can not handle all of its obligations. However, if the value of the city is higher after being expanded, Haywood said, “that development will help pay for itself and taxpayers will pay less.”

Effective urban planning has positive impacts besides the monetary perspective. Haywood explained how expansion and development has many environmental benefits as well, including an example as simple as making the city more walkable, so fewer pollutants will be emitted from vehicles.

“If there’s no cost or replacement planning, that’s bad. The community can’t afford itself and its infrastructure,” Haywood said. “When you can’t provide resources, you can’t provide amenities to the community.”

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