Friday, March 30, 2007

Planning for the Future

I’m a couple days behind and there are so many things to talk about…

On Wednesday night, the Tiverton Land Trust presented a public forum entitled “Planning Tiverton’s Future. About 120 residents gathered at St. Theresa’s Church to learn about future planning activities both at the state and local levels. Many thanks to the TLT for once again bringing the town together on such an important topic. The event happened on the heels of an announcement that the Tiverton Land Trust was recently awarded $400,000 as part of the state’s outlay of nearly $5.4M in open space grants.

Kevin Flynn, Associate Director at the R.I. Division of Planning kicked off the discussion with an overview of the state’s “Land Use 2025” plan, a robust strategy aimed at directing the future growth and development of the state’s remaining 350,000 undeveloped acres. Bottom line – it’s all about applying smart growth strategies to keep urban areas urban, rural areas rural, and a clear divide between the two. An interesting stat: It took 330 years to develop the first 20% of Rhode Island’s land and only 25 years to develop the next 10%. Mr. Flynn anticipates running out of developable land in RI by 2045-2050.

From there, Chris Spencer, Tiverton’s first full-time planner took the podium to set the stage for what’s to come in Tiverton. (Did you know that Tiverton is one of the last few municipalities within the state to have dedicated planner?) First impressions mean a lot, and Mr. Spencer held his own nicely – even where one audience member barraged him with an onslaught of loosely strung together questions that was akin to a record skipping…

According to Mr. Spencer, Tiverton’s past planning woes are rooted in poorly thought out zoning codes and a general lack of long-term planning. Alas, Tiverton is not unique in this predicament; modern suburban design took shape in the 1950’s and has just spun out of control from there. There’s a huge loss of the walk-able community that is defined by mixed-use buildings and common areas (think parks) in a high-density population area.

The future of Tiverton’s planning appears to lie with two strategies: transect planning and form-based codes. Transect planning is a type of planning model associated with the New Urbanism school of thought. Basically, it slices a community into sections ranging from absolute rural to the urban center and dictates varying degrees of complimentary development within each. All along, there is an intersection with the natural environment and respect for maintaining the sustainability of it.

Form-based codes are a shift from traditional zoning codes that focus more on building design and aesthetics rather than strict land use. Mr. Spencer used a variety of diagrams and illustrations to help us non-planner-types understand it all.

Bottom line, as Mr. Spencer put it, we need to focus of defining more of what we DO want and less of what we DON’T want when it comes to development. He sees these two strategies playing out primarily in 4-5 existing areas within town, namely along Main Road (Four Corners, Bliss Four Corners, North Tiverton, etc.). I had one question for him that I was unable to ask because of the swarming crowd around him at the end:

What are the next steps to making this all happen?

Monday, March 26, 2007

Turbine Trifecta?

Things happen in threes, right? Births, weddings, deaths… wind turbines?

In an earlier post I espoused on the wind turbine being tested at the site of the new artists’ community at Sandy Woods Farm in Tiverton. This past week the Sakonnet Times featured a story on Albert Lees III and his desire to help move Lees Market off the grid a bit with the possible installation of a one megawatt wind turbine on a piece of his property.

Mr. Lees deserves hearty congratulations for his leadership. As with most things (think the birth of the Internet), it takes the private sector to take the bull by the horns and make it happen. Unfortunately, waiting for our local government entities to realize the benefits of such forward thinking around tackling energy issues close to home is not in anyone’s best interest. My kids might have kids of their own by that time. Call it delusional optimism, though, but I’d like to think we have a few local officials who could help us champion such causes.

So first we have Sandy Woods Farm; second is Lees; anybody care to guess where the third might crop up? Can Little Compton pull through to create our little own local Turbine Triangle? Maybe there is something in the works that I’m not aware of? If so, drop me a line and let's get the word out there.

I’d love to pull together a Top Ten list of potential locations for renewable energy installations across the Sakonnet area – then mobilize to try and make it happen. I think we could through the right partnerships with local business leadership and town officials who are of similar mindsets.

Anybody care to cast a vote?

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Gearing Up for Earth Day 2007

Mark your calendars. Earth Day 2007 will be celebrated on Sunday, April 22. Just about 30 days away. Now what?

Well, for starters, Sustainable Sakonnet will be having a special series of blog postings during the week leading up to April 22. We’ll focus on a handful of topics that are informative, actionable, and inspirational.

I’d like to also post any kind of events happening around the community so that we can all share in them. From clean-ups to school projects to tree plantings to recycling, let’s get the word out. Feel free to send an email me at and I’ll put it together.

I’ve always envisioned a larger community event centered around Earth Day. An opportunity for everyone to come together, have some fun, and learn about how they can make a difference in their everyday lives. Good examples of this type of event include the Tiverton Land Trust’s annual “Country Day at Pardon Gray” and Norman Bird Sanctuary’s annual fall harvest event. That is definitely something to work towards.

In the meantime, here are some resources to help you prepare to celebrate Earth Day:

Earth Day Network. National organization that helps promote and organize around Earth Day. Search for local events by state. (Nothing so far in our neck of the woods.)

U.S. EPA’s Earth Day Site. This does not constitute an endorsement of the present administration in the least, but it does get an “A” for effort. The RI DEM has nothing listed, which is a shame.

Earth 911 Kids’ Earth Day Site. Recycling resource Earth 911 presents a robust site for kids, parents, and teachers from elementary through high school.

Until next time, "Be the change you wish to see in the world."

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Connecting Farms, Food, and Kids

Well, we’ve had two 50-degree days in a row and I’m thinking spring. And that makes me think of kick-starting the garden and compost piles. We’ll save composting for a later post. For now, let’s talk about growing food and what we do with that food here in the Sakonnet area.

When I think local food, I think local farmers. We have a lot of them. From community supported agriculture (CSA) programs to local farm stands, we’re blessed with bounty of fresh fruits and vegetables for a good chunk of the year. Local farmers are our link to the land, our link to a time when they were literally a lifeline for the communities they farmed in. While that is still true to an extent, local farmers continue to face tough challenges in an ever-more competitive and price sensitive marketplace.

Now, let’s talk about another issue: School lunch programs and their connection to the health of our kids. This topic has been all over the news of late and for good reason. While lunch programs are regulated for content, there’s only so much that you can provide for a certain price point. Look at the Sakonnet Times every week for the school lunch listing. Pizza, hot dogs (foot long, no less), etc. We can do better.

Let’s create a farm-to-school program. This is a national trend whereby local farmers are finding new markets with local schools to provide them with fresh produce for use by their lunch programs. It’s a win-win all around: Farmers grow their markets; our kids get nutritious, wholesome food that sure beats pizza and hot dogs. Kids are learning about where there food comes from, better nutrition, and creating life-long eating habits that put them on the path to health and wellness.

Check out the new report from the National Farm to School Program entitled ”Going Local: Paths to Success for Farm to School Programs”. It’s a wonderful and inspiring read, showcasing examples of successful programs from across the county.

According the Farm to School website, there are no municipal level farm-to-school programs in Rhode Island. Why shouldn’t we be the first and set the bar for the rest of the state? We have farms, we have schools; all we need is the desire for something better.

Are you a parent? An educator? A municipal official? A farmer? Please post a comment or email me if you’re interested in exploring this further. We can make this happen. This could be sustainability in action.

Need some more inspiration? Check out what Alice Waters is doing in California at The Edible Schoolyard; or closer to home in Connecticut with Chef Timothy Cipriano’s effort called Local Food Dude.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Event Notice: Environmental Film Festival

Passing along another great event announcement from a friend at the Westport River Watershed Alliance. Contact info is below.

Join the Westport River Watershed Alliance and the Westport Fishermen's Association when we host the Wild and Scenic Environmental Film Festival On Tour at the Westport Middle School Auditorium, 430 Old County Rd (map), on Friday, April 13th, 2007 at 7:00pm.

The Wild and Scenic Environmental Film Festival On Tour brings together award-winning environmental and adventure films in a spirit of inspiration and education. The films chosen for the event in Westport represent some of the favorites from the annual film festival held in Nevada City, CA, each January. Our event will feature the films: Wind Over Water by Ole Tangen Jr., which chronicles the debate over the Cape Wind Project , Kilowatt Ours by Jeff Barrie, a journey to discover solutions to America's energy related problems and Broken Limbs by Jamie Howell & Guy Evans, a look at the new breed of farmer, focused on the survival of America's small farms. Come to see one of the films or stay to watch all three.

Call WRWA at 508-636-3016 for inquiries or to register for this FREE event or visit our website at To learn more about the Wild and Scenic Film Festival visit their website

Friday, March 9, 2007

Event Notice: Conservation Easements

The Little Compton Agricultural Conservancy Trust is sponsoring a seminar to learn more about the ins and outs of conservation easements -- a legal method to preserve your land from future development.

Event Details:
"Conservation Easements: Protecting the Family Farm"
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
4:00 - 6:00PM
Little Compton Community Center

RSVP by 3/16 to Correira & Associates at 401.454.5040

Tiverton’s Wind Turbine Horizon?

What a great news week for local sustainability efforts. The Sakonnet Times featured a story on the budding artists’ community planned for the Sandy Woods Farm area of Tiverton and their exploration of renewable wind power for the site. (Background story on proposed community is here.)

Aside from this development being a solid example of smart growth in action, the addition of a community renewable energy source to provide ONE HUNDRED PERCENT of their energy needs is icing on the cake. Granted, this just the exploratory stage and tests to gauge wind prevalence and strength are just getting under way, but just the thought of an entire neighborhood being off the grid is a dose of powerful motivation.

I wonder what could be done at some of our public facility locations to mirror these efforts. If tests proved feasible, imagine our schools removing yearly energy costs from their budget through the use of wind and/or solar arrays. Those savings could certainly fund a teacher or three, or maybe a band or art or language program. Portsmouth is actively exploring this. Could we ever be so progressive?

Monday, March 5, 2007

Greening Our Businesses

Thanks to the Sakonnet Times and Newport Daily News for running the letters I submitted to their respective editors to promote the launch of Sustainable Sakonnet. It’s great to know that our local papers support environmental initiatives such as this.

The letter to the Newport Daily News referenced Gov. Carcieri’s State of the State address, specifically highlighting his ambitious goal to supply 20 percent of the state’s energy needs from renewable resources by 2011. That’s only four short years away. Four years.

It’s important to note, though, that renewable energy is only part of the solution to our energy woes. The other big part is energy conservation – using less to begin with. So what are we here in the Sakonnet area going to do to help on both of these fronts? Let’s talk about each opportunity:

Renewable Energy
It was ironic that the top business story in that same edition of the Newport Daily News was about Newport Harbor Corp.’s move to get all their power from renewable sources. Yes, going all-green adds a bit more to your yearly costs (for Newport Harbor it was about 2.6% of their overall energy costs); but when you are taking steps to conserve and limit your usage to begin with (e.g., replacing incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent ones), it helps to net everything out. Here’s a list of resources small business owners can use to explore green energy alternatives:

• The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Green Power Partnership

• National Grid’s Renewable Energy Page for Business Owners

• If you’re interested in pursuing the installation of your own solar array, send an email to and I can forward you a list of local resources.

Energy Efficiency
Waste not, want not, right? Just like at home, businesses can take steps to use less energy to begin with. Replace old bulbs with CFLs, insulate hot water heaters on premise, insulate. Again, some resources:

• National Grid’s Energy Efficiency Page for Business Owners

I know of one business in Tiverton who has embraced renewable energy. Citizens Union Bank (on the corner of Bulgarmarsh and Crandall) installed solar panels as part of their original design. What a statement.

Are there any others? Are you a small business owner interested in learning more? Leave a comment. Committing to more sustainable practices can even be a marketing tool. Many communities across the U.S. have created affinity programs in order to promote and reward green businesses. Just look at San Francisco’s Green Zebra Book or Bellingham, Washington’s Where The Locals Go Coupon Book.

We need Sakonnet area business owners to step up to the challenge. Who wants to take the lead?

Friday, March 2, 2007

Event Notice: Tiverton Land Trust Community Forum

I received a notice from the Tiverton Land Trust that I wanted to pass along.

The TLT is hosting a community forum entitled, "Planning Tiverton's Future", on Wednesday, March 28th. Guest speaker is Chris Spencer, the new Tiverton Town Planner. You can read more about Chris and his new role in this ProJo article from February.

The TLT is a wonderful organization that has done incredible work to preserve the rural character of the town. Please take a moment to learn more about them, their efforts, and how you can help.

Event Details:
"Planning Tiverton's Future"
Wednesday, March 28, 2007 at 6:30pm
St. Theresa's Church
265 Stafford Road
Tiverton, Rhode Island
(Google Map)