Participatory Planning for a Promised Land: Citizen-led, Comprehensive Land Use Planning in New York's Adirondack Park

Ann Hope Ruzow Holland (2010)

New York’s Adirondack Park is internationally recognized for its biological diversity. Greater in size than Yellowstone, Everglades, Glacier, and Grand Canyon National Park combined, the Adirondacks are the largest protected area within the Northern Appalachian/Acadian Eco-Region and within the contiguous United States. Ecologists, residents of the Park, and others are concerned about rapid land use change occurring within the borders of the Park. Almost half of the six million acres encompassed by the Park boundary is privately-owned, where 80% of land use decisions fall within the jurisdiction of local governments. The comprehensive planning process of one such local government, the Town of Willsboro, New York, was the focus of a Participatory Action Research (PAR), single case study. Using a PAR, mixed methods approach, community-led comprehensive planning integrated natural science, technology and citizen participation. I evaluated the role of PAR in helping to transform conventional land use planning practice into a more democratic, environmentally conscious, and durable civic responsibility.Stakeholder viewpoints about the local environmental setting revealed deep connections to nature. Findings of the research indicate that comprehensive land use planning capacity increases when citizens increase their scientific and ecological literacy, especially when tools such as Geographic Information Systems (GIS) are used for data collection and analysis. Applying ecologically-based comprehensive planning utilizing a PAR framework improved citizen’s confidence in land use decision-making and also expanded science literacy. PAR holds great promise as a methodological framework to bring together ecologically-focused natural science with citizen-led collaborative land use planning. Areas of further research identified during this study include assessing age-specific gaps in stakeholder participation, evaluating the relationship between plan recommendations and regulatory implementation, and investigating factors that contribute to a culture of community engagement. Local land use planning decisions have important cumulative impacts on protected area land development at the local and regional scale. A comprehensive plan can reflect an emergent process, where the primacy of community self-determination and consensus-building yields recognition of the link between, and sanctity of,nature, home, and homeland.

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