MORPC Matters: Shaping sustainable, resilient future requires proactive planning

Brandi Whetstone
Guest columnist

At times, it can be overwhelming to do anything but react to the daily challenges brought on by the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic because our worlds have been turned upside down in so many ways.

For many of us, our experience has been intensified by economic uncertainty, political divisiveness and racial and social injustices that have been further exposed.

Brandi Whetstone is sustainability officer at the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission.

As we navigate these uncertain times, it is important that we find common ground around the sustainable solutions that protect the health and well-being of all residents in our communities, guided by underlying principles of resiliency, equity, public health and collaboration. All this is to ensure sustainable impacts reach all communities within our region.

According to “Ohio’s Executive Response: A Plan of Action to Advance Equity,” half of the factors that affect our overall health and quality of life are related to social, economic and environmental conditions.

These social determinants of health include quality of housing, access to transportation, education and employment opportunities, crime and air quality. Minority populations are more likely to be negatively affected than other populations.

To create an equal playing field for all, we must ensure that all residents are equally experiencing benefits of a healthy, clean environment and everything that our natural resources have to offer.

Making sure everyone has access to clean air, clean water, healthful food and safe housing is a great start.

It includes providing energy-efficiency programs to reduce energy costs of low-income residents or installing renewable energy to support local jobs and energy generation.

Expanding transportation options that improve air quality while serving the community’s needs is a critical part of the equation.

And growing our system of parks, trails and outdoor spaces that increasingly are in high demand is important for the physical and mental-health benefits they provide during the pandemic.

Inclusive community engagement and outreach will be crucial to identify the needs and solutions.

Some neighborhoods need safe options for walking and biking, some might need increased access to parks and trails and others might need information and resources translated into multiple languages. Some neighborhoods significantly lack shade from trees and all the associated benefits, such as cooling our homes or filtering air pollution.

Sustainable solutions also increase the resiliency of our communities when there are major disruptions or severe weather caused by climate change.

Trees, flood plains and green infrastructure practices can help manage local flooding.

Microgrids that combine renewable energy and battery storage provide clean and reliable energy solutions at the local level.

And a multimodal transportation system allows for better access to shelters or other amenities.

With all the sustainable solutions, we must account for impacts on our most vulnerable populations during disasters and ensure the proper plans and resources are available to help everyone weather the storm.

The Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission, along with our local government members and regional partners, is in the process of updating the Regional Sustainability Agenda to create common goals that guide the sustainability-focused work in central Ohio.

There’s more work to do, but we are committed to bringing together diverse individuals and communities across the region to support a common vision that advances sustainability, equity and resilience.

Let’s have the important conversations at the local level to plan proactively for the types of community we want to live in now and many years to come. We invite you to join us in this effort to help shape a future where everyone can thrive.

Brandi Whetstone is sustainability officer at the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission. MORPC’s purpose is to bring communities of all sizes and interests together to collaborate on best practices and plan for the future of the region.