Landscape Initiatives Address Urban Growth

Regional Plan Association and America 2050 have published urban growth projections for the Northeast Megaregion through 2040. These maps are part of our Northeast Landscape Initiatives Atlas, a larger mapping effort to help landscape initiatives succeed in their conservation efforts.

Based on our growth projections, we know that development of new urban and suburban acres will proceed in many metropolitan areas of the northeast at an unprecedented pace and intensity.  The long-term health of critical wildlife habitat, water resources, agriculture and forestry economies, and recreational areas are all at stake. 

While landscapes will be challenged by urban growth on many fronts, landscape initiatives offer an important platform for addresses these challenges.  Landscape initiatives work across jurisdictions, which is often the necessary scale for implementing smart growth policies, and their members tend to think systematically about managing ecological and watershed processes.  

Here are three landscape initiatives that are directly addressing the challenges resulting from increased urban development:


Raritan Piedmont Wildlife Habitat Partnership

According to our build-out model, central New Jersey will be built out by 2040.  Urban sprawl and development from both Philadelphia and New York City is a significant threat to farming, water quality, and habitat in this part of the state.  The Raritan Piedmont Wildlife Habitat Partnership has a three-pronged approach to conservation in the Central Piedmont Plains region of New Jersey.  Working with local and state government, several non-profits joined together to adapt New Jersey's State Wildlife Action Plan to the unique demands of the area, resulting in regionally-tailored grassland, forestry, and riparian conservation plans.  The partnership also uses fee simple acquisition of strategic properties and performs ecological restoration projects on important habitat in order to protect the integrity of the Central Piedmont Plains region.

Click to see the Partnership's profile in the Landscape Initiative Atlas

Lehigh Valley Greenway Conservation Landscape Initiative

Urban development in the Lehigh Valley is expected to increase between 45% and as much as 65% in some parts of the valley by 2040.  The Lehigh Valley Greenway Conservation Landscape Initiative, a partnership between 25 local and state agencies and non-profits, is taking a novel approach to addressing changes in the region.  By thinking about the character of the entire valley, including both natural and developed areas, open spaces and towns, as a whole, the initiative has made significant progress accommodating new waves of population while maintaining its unique character.  Through educating the community, preserving greenways and trails that connect natural areas to urban populations, planting thousands of trees in the region's towns, acquiring land for conservation, and working to implement regulations for environmental protection of natural resources, the imitative has begun to mitigate the threat of urban growth in the region.

Click to see the Initiative's profile in the Landscape Initiative Atlas

Boston Harbor Islands Partnership

Starting in 2020, the Boston metropolitan area will reach complete build-out, meaning all viable land will be developed to 95% capacity.  Finding ways to protect landscapes that are within a densely urban area is a unique challenge.  The Boston Harbor Partnership brings together government agencies and non-profits in order to find ways to create "restful solitude within an urban area".  The Partnership is focused on preserving habitat while maximizing public access--a reflection of the dual demands for both habitat protection and open space in response to increasingly crowded conditions.

Click to see the Partnership's profile in the Landscape Initiative Atlas


Don't forget to check the site frequently for updates, new initiatives, and additional content including the upcoming conservation and development context maps for the northeast.  A report on our findings from this research and an upcoming conference inviting landscape professionals to discuss shared challenges and opportunities will follow.

In the Northeast Megaregion, complex urban development patterns and high demand for land and resources pose particular challenges for conservation. RPA / America 2050 is working across political jurisdictions to produce a comprehensive inventory of landscape conservation initiatives that protect watersheds, wildlife habitat, and other natural processes at the appropriate geographic scale. The project was launched in November, 2010 with the support from The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and the USDA Forest Service Northeastern Area.

Visit the website to see the urban growth maps and to learn more about the project: Northeast Landscape Conservation Inventory