Did We CONNECT Our Future? A Look Back

An important part of any planning process is the periodic evaluation or assessment of accomplishments and the identification of activities that remain. To that end, Centralina is pleased to announce that we are embarking on a five-year review of our region’s groundbreaking growth plan, CONNECT Our Future. Over the next months, we will be evaluating accomplishments and highlighting data and local and regional successes for the purpose of informing our future priorities. 

What is CONNECT Our Future?

CONNECT Our Future answered the question, “How do we grow our communities and the region while improving and protecting what we value and love and also remain economically competitive?” Many Centralina communities face similar challenges related to mobility, unemployment and lack of housing choice. They also share the desire to build strong downtowns, provide quality open space and attract and retain a talented workforce.

Consistent with Centralina’s mission to lead regional collaboration and spark local action, the plan established an overall framework to help communities decide how to best utilize limited resources to serve the growth that is anticipated through 2050, taking an intentional approach to growth based on the CONNECT core values:

  • A strong, diverse economy
  • Enhanced social equity
  • Increased collaboration among jurisdictions
  • A safe and healthy environment
  • Sustainable, well-managed growth
  • High quality educational opportunities

Between 2012 – 2015, communities, businesses, educators, non-profits and individuals from a two-state, 14-county region participated in an intense process to identify shared solutions for a variety of challenges and develop recommendations for how to advance these core values. Supported by a $4.9 million HUD Sustainable Communities Grant and $3 million in local public and private resources, the plan involved two councils of government, four metropolitan planning organizations, a 95-member project consortium and 119 local governments. 

The plan encouraged us to address issues together, recognizing each community must focus on local issues while providing a regional context for those issues that is best addressed on a regional or multi-jurisdictional basis. The three-year process forged genuine relationships and partnerships between groups that will be relied upon for decades.

The Retrospective

But what was actually accomplished between 2015 – 2020 and why should the region remain interested? What should Centralina do now to keep the momentum going and best serve our communities? Answers to these questions will inform Centralina’s priorities and help us determine the actions that can benefit our members.

What Can You Expect?

Centralina and its consultant partner, City Explained, Inc., will inventory and evaluate accomplishments in the region that tie back to CONNECT Our Future and highlight specific data and stories that may inform new actions or priorities for Centralina staff as they continue to support local initiatives that implement the region’s priorities.

The work will be grounded in data and analysis, but shaped largely by the thoughts, comments and opinions gathered from stakeholder interviews with the people most associated with specific projects or initiatives that followed CONNECT Our Future. Some project examples will demonstrate a direct connection to the regional effort, while others will determine if the combined actions of local governments, advocacy groups, private businesses, etc. positively influenced one or more of the broad goals from CONNECT Our Future.

Our efforts will be focused on: 1) Land Use — where the region is growing and what form development is taking, 2) Transportation — changing attitudes toward travel behavior and how state, regional and local transportation organizations are working together to meet future transportation system needs and 3) Community Health ― convenient access to parks, recreation and healthy food sources throughout the region. In addition, the investigation team will evaluate all three focus areas in the context of existing or emerging equity issues observed in the region and highlight some of the tools or policies being used to track conditions or address community concerns.

Starting in March, a monthly newsletter will be shared with the region, summarizing information collected for one of the three general focus area topics. The information for each month will also be combined into a comprehensive report at the end of the project and a dashboard with identified benchmarks to measure and track regional progress towards CONNECT Our Future goals. Stay tuned. We look forward to our time reflecting on the CONNECT Our Future initiative and the influences it had on the region and sharing those stories with you to reinforce the benefits of thinking regionally and acting locally.

We Need Your Help

Let us know if your community completed a plan, study or initiative that credits some portion of its start to CONNECT Our Future. We would like to hear more about it and potentially share your experiences with the region in our future news articles.

Our first news article will address issues related to land use, growth and development in the region. Please send an email to Michelle Nance (mnance@centralina.org) before February 14, 2021 if you have something to share with us.

Written by: Michelle Nance