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Where Are We Going? - How To Get Started

Where Are We Now? | Where Are We Going? | Where Do We Want to Be? | How Do We Get There? | Let's Go!

Step Two
Trends Analysis

Tips for Success

Use charts, graphs, maps, and tables to illustrate trends. Keep descriptions clear, concise and easily understandable.

Have a local artist depict the possible scenarios using either hand drawn or computer graphics.

Trends are predictions, not certainties. Make sure that your report and maps indicate the uncertainty. For example, rather than showing that a particular wetland will definitely be developed, develop categories of high, medium, and low risk of development.

Quantitative data is not always required; often qualitative data meets the need.

Remember your audience. If you expect to present information to a planning commission or business association, try to include quantitative data.

Take the next logical step. For instance, if you see that increased population will mean more cars on the road, consider impacts on infrastructure costs, commuting time, and air quality.

Be creative about asking for help. People don't have to have formal training to do a great job-- this is a learning opportunity!

You can't address every possible trend. Consider focusing on issues that are in your local paper. Crime? Flooding? Parking problems? Open space? Jobs?

Throughout the Green Communities Toolkit, we'll discuss indicators. Indicators are selected bits of information that highlight what is happening in a larger system. They tell us the direction of certain aspects of our community, economy or ecosystem: forward or backward, better or worse, larger or smaller, staying the same. One familiar indicator is the Dow Jones Industrial Average, which measures the health of the stock market. It attempts to represent trends in the market without measuring the value of each stock.

Bulldozer clearing lot of debris

If you have completed the Community Profile (Community Assessment), you have the baseline knowledge and information which will be used to evaluate trends in your community or watershed and predict what is in store in the near future. Now the task is to project that baseline into the future and learn "Where Are We Going?"

Get People Involved!

Keep the "Where Are We Now?" team involved. Add special expertise as needed. Stakeholders may include:

Organize them in teams. Include effective leaders. Plan to create a report that will be clear to the average citizen. Keep the public informed of your progress.

As your team looks at the data collected in the community profile "Where Are We Now?", they may be overwhelmed and not know where to start. Remember that in most cases, human activity will be the driving force for change. Evaluating change in population, employment and economic activity is often a good starting point. The sections that follow provide more guidance on these categories. See the Case Studies to learn how other communities have completed this process. Go to the Tools section to learn how to collect more detailed information for these projections.

To get you started, here are categories of trends you may wish to consider:

Click here for information on how to create a "probable scenario" to illustrate your community trends.

A probable scenario takes the individual projections you've developed and weaves then into a picture of the future. The scenarios you develop may influence your community to seek a more sustainable future.

Measures of Socio-Economic Trends

Projections on population, employment, income, housing, and poverty should be available from your local county planning office or state planning or economic development offices. See the sources listed in "Where Are We Now?". For each of these topics, you should ask about the assumptions that were used in making the forecasts. You may find that projections are unrealistically optimistic, or based on state-wide estimates of growth that may be slower or faster than in your community.

If the assumptions seem unrealistic, you should look to other sources of information. Regarding housing, you might want to speak to real-estate agents, builders, or mortgage lenders. For information on the trends in poverty, talk to charitable organizations, homeless shelters, teachers and school guidance counselors.

Your local government may offer projections on taxes, services, and municipal budgets, but, again, these projections need to be reviewed carefully for assumptions that may mask future trouble spots. If your community is growing, what are the needs for infrastructure such as schools, roads, solid waste disposal, water supply, and wastewater treatment? Here is a good place to make linkages to natural resources. If water quality is not great already, what might happen when 100 more septic tanks are added? Can the water treatment system handle more houses? What about the stormwater system? Don't let big expenses sneak up on you!

If your community has a stable or declining population, other questions apply. Can you afford to replace the wastewater treatment system when it reaches the end of its usefulness? Can you maintain roads adequately? Can you afford to wire the high school for computers?


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Measures of Environmental Trends

Land use and development patterns are among the key trends to measure. If your community has a zoning and subdivision ordinance, you can predict the future of your community through a build-out analysis. A build-out analysis uses the zoning categories to predict how many houses, offices and shops could be built, where they will be located, and where open space and farmland will be preserved. When you use a build-out analysis, consider the planning commission's history of granting variances to the zoning ordinance. If variances are common, then your predictions will be less accurate. Check out How To Do A Build Out Analysis.

If your community has no zoning ordinance, then the pattern of development is less predictable. Your predictions will be based on evaluating factors such as the historic patterns of development and redevelopment, what land is on the market, availability of infrastructure, and employment patterns.

Your goal in doing either a formal build-out analysis or something less formal is to create maps showing probable or possible land use scenarios for 5, 10, or 20 years in the future. Then you can use this information to evaluate how changes in population and land use will affect natural resources. For instance, if your predictions show that commercial development is extending along a particular highway, look for wetlands or sensitive habitats in the area. Are they protected? If not, you may wish to mark them as vulnerable to development. Also consider the potential for upland areas to be developed into houses, the need for roads to be widened, and impacts of stormwater on streams.

Maps of the future scenarios will be based on maps of current conditions. Changes can be indicated by using plastic film as an overlay, or by coloring-in changes on copies of the original maps. Be cautious about how you show the risk of development. Some landowner may be sensitive about other people predicting the future of their land! Consider using categories such as high, moderate or low potential for development.

Some of the natural resources indicators you may wish to evaluate are listed in the accompanying box. Tools for predicting the quality, status, or quantity of some of these resources are included in the tools section of this question. For some of the indicators, models or other predictive tools are not available. The best approach for these is to look closely at past and current conditions, consider trends in population and development, and use your head!

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Measures of Civic Participation

By assessing your community and developing a trends analysis, you are creating a positive trend toward citizen leadership, volunteerism, and visionary planning. Congratulations!

When you examine environmental and socio-economic trends, you only have part of the picture of your community's future. The other part is understanding how people work together. Have you ever noticed that smart people and a good product don't necessarily mean that a business will be successful? Only when people work together well can a business or a community prosper.

Evaluating trends in community involvement requires simply looking at your community and talking to people. Clergy-people, leaders of nonprofit organizations, teachers, students, artists, and your neighbors are good people to ask about their perceptions of how people are working together to support the community. Some of the measures you might want to track are:

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Measures of Sustainability: Making connections between economic, social, and environmental trends.

The goal of evaluating economic, environmental, and cultural trends is to integrate them into an overall evaluation of the sustainability of your community, watershed, or region. The key is to consider how these separate issues are related, and to think of the long term. As you study your community, look for key indicators that provide an integrating function. These will vary in each community. Perhaps vehicle miles traveled, or volunteerism in schools, or water consumption will be among the key indicators that integrate the many bits of information you collect, and will help you evaluate if you are heading toward sustainability.

If you're like most communities, many of your trends are unsustainable. Let this be a catalyst to grow, rather than a signal to give up! Achieving sustainability is an incremental process, not an overnight transformation. If we start now, achieving sustainability will be a less painful process for future generations.

Developing "Probable Scenarios"

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