Greenways: Connecting People and Places

05/04/04 by Staff Writer

Greenways as infrastructure

This is an edited transcript of a presentation by Chuck Flink, president of Greenways, Inc., and co-author of Greenways – A Guide to Planning, Design & Development in Trails for the 21st Century.

Catawba College Center for the Environment Clean Air Lecture Series


I’d like for you to think of one common thing as I go through my presentation tonight, and that is: What kind of community do we want to live in? What comprises that community and how do we interact with it and what are the contributions that we can make? I think those are the central questions for most American communities today.

We put a lot of burden on our elected officials to make some very difficult decisions for us, but there are some things that we can do as landowners, as business owners, as residents of a community, each and every day in our lives that will make a difference.

So one of the first things I’d like to talk about with regard to greenways, is the fact that the movement – the American greenway movement in this country – really began as a recreation pursuit. If you go all the way back to Frederick Law Olmsted, the designer of Central Park and many park systems throughout the United States, and the inventor of our national park system, that’s really what in the 1800s was the call of the day.

We had large urban centers that were very unhealthy; they were unfit for people to live in. The creation of public spaces at that time was all centered on public health and well-being: the need to create areas within the city of natural green space. When we follow the greenway movement all the way up to the last 20 years, it really has sided itself with the recreation movement.

But during the past 20 years, we’ve seen it really evolve very dramatically to address a host of other things that are very important to communities, such as growth management, flood plain management, the protection of water and water quality, economic development, transportation, and the stewardship of our natural resources. And I think that is the foundation from which greenways have been built that is so important and so relevant for many American communities today.

Now I want to talk about how I see greenways being an element of green infrastructure. Webster defines infrastructure as being the basic installations and facilities on which the continued growth of a community, state, etc. depends, such as roads, schools, power plants or power supply, transportation, and communication systems.

Largely, when we think about growing our communities, that’s the kind of infrastructure we talk about. I refer to this as the “gray infrastructure.” It is the infrastructure that certainly defines our quality of life in a very positive way. If we have good roads, if we have good access to those roads, if we’ve got cable TV coming into our home, or now if we’ve got wifi networks throughout our downtowns, we’ve got good infrastructure. We’ve got a good quality of life.


But there’s another type of infrastructure and that’s the “green infrastructure” -- the natural green spaces which define Rowan County as different from Denver, Colo., or Las Vegas, Nev. All of us have natural infrastructure in place in the communities we live in: the creeks and streams and forested lands and the prairie lands and the ridge lines and the wetlands, and the habitats for plants and animals. In a very real way, green infrastructure defines our sense of place. It gives us the home that we all desire and that we crave for.

I think for a lot of people in communities, the green infrastructure, the landscapes that we live in, are very critical to the quality of life that we enjoy. Green infrastructure goes on really to define our quality of life, can help shape our growth patterns, can protect our water resources, absorb flood waters, and clean our air. It’s home to all of our native species, and as I’ve said, defines our identity. I want to talk about a few of these with this presentation.

The first thing that I think is so critical to understand why a sense of place is important today is to look at the population of this particular country. We are not one of the fastest growing countries on the planet. We have a pretty moderate growth rate compared to other continents and countries. But, nevertheless, if we look at this map, which was put together by the National Geographic Society, it shows statistical metropolitan areas of a million or more people in red as of 1990, and the growth of those areas essentially by the year 2000, and you can see how rapidly within the 10-year period our country has grown. Twenty million people in the last decade.

Twenty million is roughly larger than the population of New York City, in the New York metropolitan area, and we are growing at a very fast rate, a very fast clip. As a matter of fact, the projections are that the U.S. population in the next 40 years will increase by 100 million people. We are currently over 300 million, so we’re talking about over 400 million.

I would submit that the real issue that faces American communities today isn’t whether you want to grow or you don’t want to grow. The question is how do you want to grow, and what kind of community do you want to live in in the 21st Century. These are decisions that are placed before us, and we are empowered to make those decisions -- not necessarily to burden our local elected officials with those decisions, but to be part of that decision-making process. How do we want to grow, because we are going to grow. It’s pretty much a fact.

When we look at the history of growth in America, if we just go back the last 50 years, and we profile what’s happened and how we’ve responded to growth, we see patterns in the landscape. These patterns are very clear. This is Jefferson County in Louisville, Ky., and this pattern is reflected all across America. This is a signature pattern of growth.

Prior to 1940, Louisville was pretty much what we would refer to as a “nodal” community. As a matter for fact, it was somewhat compact and it was centered around a downtown along the river. It had the history of having Olmsted come in in the early 1900s and lay out a park and parkway system so it had green space incorporated into the community, but after World War II with the advent of the 1950s, a lot of policy and programmatic changes went on in America -- everything from the rise of the automobile to the change in the GI bill.


All kinds of things occurred that fueled a pattern of growth that today we define as “sprawl.” You can see sprawl in Louisville, Ky., and what you see immediately is that we have these red lines that come out from the center like tentacles on an octopus, and those are the extensions of the main street out for miles and miles, and then what you see along with that is strips of residential and other complimentary development.

So you can see this pattern everywhere. We’ve seen strip development occur all across America. One of the things that planners have known for years is that communities do not grow well when they grow in strips. We grow well when we grow in nodes -- when we have a form of compact growth, a form of growth that is more radial and linear.

There are social implications for that. There are physical implications for that, and a lot of the stresses that we feel today on community growth and a lot of the difficult decisions that communities have to make about how they grow are directly related to the pattern of growth. So if we conclude that we are going to grow and we conclude that we want to figure out how to grow, we have to understand how we have grown and what choices we have to make.
For the most part, the green space has really not been an integral part of how we’ve shaped growth. As a matter of fact, I would challenge you to go look at comprehensive plans all across the United States and define any community that really laid out what I’m going to call a “greenprint” for growth -- deciding where it wanted to conserve its valued resources, its green infrastructure.

I see some folks here in the room who probably grew up in neighborhoods where they could bike and walk. We see this all across the United States. As a matter of fact, we work with communities in which that’s the memory people have as a child. And yet how many of you would encourage your children or grandchildren to bike or walk today in their community? Almost nobody.

So in our lifetime, this has changed, and it’s not a change that is welcomed by most people. And the change has happened for a lot of different reasons. The question is, “Can we stop that kind of growth? Can we go back to growing communities and not just neighborhoods?”

I would submit that we can and I’ll talk about how we can do that, but there are really four or five major things that green infrastructure responds to in terms of growth. The first is saving our land; the second, protecting our water; the third, linking us to community resources; the fourth, defining our quality of life; and the fifth, establishing a legacy of stewardship.

Will Rogers said, “Land, they’re not making anymore of it.” So we have to recognize that we are the stewards of the land. The decisions that we make do have impact. We are land owners in this country, which is a very unique concept in the world. We are private land owners, and we take that right very seriously and we’re willing to fight over it and argue over it.

Real estate in the United States is the one thing that has defined this country as different from all other countries in the world. There has been more economic generation from real estate than all other things combined in this country. We have benefited tremendously from the fact that we’re private land owners.


We haven’t done a good job of stewarding our land, and we are facing a lot of crises throughout the country in terms of how we use land in the future or what kind of land we’re going to have to use in the future. There are communities right now that are doing greenprints. Greenprints essentially are taking stock of the natural resources of a given area and figuring out ways in which you can grow and yet conserve the things that you value.

It’s not an anti-growth kind of measure; it’s a pro-growth measure, but it sets a future course of development and activity. The quote that I want to leave you with is, “Just as you would not build a house without a blueprint, we should not consider growing our communities without greenprints.” We ought to have an understanding of where those outer limits of growth are and how we balance conservation and development together.

This is Cherokee County, Ga., whose battle cry is, “We don’t want to be like Gwinnett County.” That is the reason they did a greenprint. They saw what happened with Gwinnett County, and they said, “We don’t want to be like Gwinnett; we don’t want to use up our entire natural resource base and get to some point in the 21st Century and wake up and realize, ‘Oh my gosh, we’ve made a mistake and we need to go and rectify that mistake, because we’ve destroyed everything that we cared about in our county.’”

We just happen to be under contract in Gwinnett County to go back in and begin that process of re-evaluating and reassessing what happened in Gwinnett County in about a 30-year period of time. We were brought in by Chairman Wayne Hill of the county commission. Commissioner Hill was admittedly someone who really thought that growth and development was the only way that Gwinnett County could succeed in the later part of the 20th Century. Now he wakes up one morning and he looks out his window and he says, “I’ve lived in Gwinnett County all of my life; this is not the county I remember...What happened?”

And so he said we need to take stock of what’s going on and figure out how to save what’s remaining. Well, by the time we got into Gwinnett County, which was a couple of years ago, this was about the only portion of land that was left that had not been developed. Less than 30% of the entire county land mass was not wall-to-wall development.
The chairman asked us to go out and begin meeting with land owners and talking about conservation strategies. Just about every land owner that we talked to said, “That’s all fine and well, but you know what... I’ve got plans for what I’m going to do with my 30 or 40 or 100 or 200 acres, and it involves development. Why should I be the one to not be able to have that right everybody else has?”

So the challenging part of what’s going on in Gwinnett County right now, which sits right outside of Atlanta, is they are spending upwards of $260 million to go out and compete in the private real estate market and buy open space and protect it. That money has to come from someplace and it’s being generated by a special option local sales tax.

There is another county that has been in a similar position in a different part of the United States and that is Montgomery County, Md., which is about the same size and almost the same configuration. This is a county that in the 1960s decided to do a greenprint.

They said as part of Maryland’s open space program, we want to actually decide where we want to protect agricultural land, what kind of riparian buffers we want to protect, how we want to be connected to our outdoor resources, where we want to have the ability to go fishing and hunting and ride a bike, and visit a state park or visit a local park, etc. So they laid out in the 1960s a greenprint for how they wanted to grow. Even though they sit right outside the city of Washington, D.C., one of the fastest growing metropolitan regions of our country, this greenprint is in place and has been a very effective tool for them to preserve the places that people care about.

I think it’s reasonable to ask the question, “What kind of community do we want to live in?” You are not unwitting victims of growth and development. The power rests with you as citizens of your county and your communities to decide your future in growth and development.


Greenways have been very effective in shaping those patterns of growth; they can be used to define the edges of the environment that remains natural as we look out behind here and see the way Catawba College has done that.

We are currently doing a plan, if you can believe this, for northwest Las Vegas. Las Vegas is the fastest growing community in the United States today. In the region that we have been given by the mayor and city council, the growth rate is 2,000 people a month. We have been given 10 months to complete our plan because by the end of that period, there will be 20,000 new people in this region.

If you go into northwest Las Vegas, you will see that there are about a 1,000 housing units under construction. They are all bought and paid for and there’s a waiting list for people to buy houses. It is growth run amuck. The kind of housing that they’re building you would not want to live in. It is warehousing people because the market dictates it’s purely a financial consideration.

The mayor, Oscar Goodman, and the city council see what’s going on in Las Vegas and say, “That’s not the kind of community that we want to grow. We don’t have to put people in that kind of development condition. We don’t have to subject children to playing in concrete streets in front of their houses without access to green space and parks and trails. We can do better than that.”

So right now, we are beginning the process of taking stock of what the residents of Las Vegas really like about the community that they live in. They identified one model place in the entire Las Vegas valley that they thought really began to approach the kind of growth and development that they’d like.

It happens to be a community called Summerlin. It’s a community that was planned into this an extensive network of greenways and green spaces in a desert environment. It’s a way for the residents in this particular area to be connected to the natural resources, to schools, to the downtown areas, to each other. It is the most desirable place to live in Las Vegas and when it first opened up, economically it was on par with every other community in Las Vegas. Today, it’s the most expensive place to live.

That is what happens in a capitalistic society when demand outstrips supply. Prices go up. That is what has happened with Summerlin. What they did with Summerlin was take stock of all the natural resources of a desert environment. They took advantage of the arroyos and the washes and the delicate vegetative patterns throughout that area, and they’ve created a wonderful greenway system inside of Summerlin.


Another issue that is becoming very important in this country and really throughout the world is water supply. What we’re seeing is the degradation of water quality, and, again, it has to do with the way in which we have grown our communities and the values we’ve placed on the green infrastructure.

The Centers for Disease Control estimate now that more than 900 people will die from drinking polluted water in this country. Those numbers continue to escalate every year. We are subjecting more and more people to polluted water. It affects not just people in communities; it also affects habitat and wildlife and resources of our communities. When we degrade our streams and our water resources, lots of things get degraded in our local communities.

Right here in North Carolina, we’ve worked with a large community that has come to grips with the fact that water quality is a critical measure of quality of life. Mecklenburg County has learned that the streams that emanate from the county are streams that have been polluted by residents and businesses and activities of Mecklenburg County. They don’t support water contact recreation; they don’t support quality habitat of any kind; they are very much in severe degradation.

We were contracted a couple of years ago to develop a greenway master plan for them that focused principally on how the water quality of Mecklenburg County could be improved through the development of a greenway system. One of the first things we did was take a map and show them that there are literally hundreds of sub-watersheds in Mecklenburg, all of which are receiving various types of pollution, and that’s what’s leading to the degradation. Everybody inside of Mecklenburg County is really part of the solution for how you improve streams -- not just certain groups or certain people, but everybody. If you’re a home owner, the impact you have on a sub-watershed is actually pretty significant. Mecklenburg County has set up a program called S.W.I.M. (Surface Water Integrative Management) in which they invite everybody inside the county to participate in improving the water quality of that county. Interestingly, the mountain island lake reservoir and the entire water system on this side of Mecklenburg County supplies about 10% of North Carolina’s drinking water. That reservoir is basically slated to go into pretty full degradation in the next 20 years if collectively – not just Mecklenburg County but the counties that immediately surround it -- do not do something to begin to change the impact they are having on that reservoir.

So what are the choices we have in front of us? We can continue to go about developing our communities and our counties in the way we’ve been doing in the last 50 years and watch that reservoir system go into degradation, or we can begin to make changes that will prevent that from happening. If we take the first option, we’re still going to get clean water because we’re going to figure out ways to use chemicals to treat it. That’s what Chicago has been doing for the past 50 or 60 years, and they’re beginning to detect a specific cancer that’s emerging in the Chicago metropolitan region that is directly linked to the chemicals that are being used to treat the water supply in the Chicago metropolitan area.

We can opt for end-of-the-pipe treatment and say that’s the solution, or we can opt for a natural solution which harnesses Mother Nature to clean the water before it gets polluted in the first place. That’s the solution that Mecklenburg County is opting for. Using greenways and repairing buffers is a way to do that. We have seen stream systems that have been fully degraded come back and be restored to life.

This is the Silver Bow Creek in Butte, Mont., which was one of the most polluted rivers and streams in America and today is a very healthy ecosystem. We can bring streams back to life. They can be very valuable systems and resources for communities.

This is San Creek in Denver, Colo. Right next door is a Texaco oil refinery, which has been polluting this particular stream for a number of years. But they are bringing it back to life with the help of Texaco and other corporate partners. They are doing stream restoration practices which now look like this. So, it’s not a lost cause; we can do things, but they are very expensive, they are very time consuming, and if we have the smarts and the options not to do those things in the first place, we probably should take those options.


The other thing that we’ve seen nationally over the last 10-to-15 years is the impact that flooding is having on American communities. It’s probably the biggest destructive force of all the natural forces that hit our communities, whether it’s fire or tornadoes or even hurricanes. Flooding is the number one natural disaster in the United States in terms of loss of life and property damage. We are taking the issue of flooding head-on with greenways around the country.

The metropolitan district of Louisville, Ky., hired us 12 years ago to look at the way they have been managing their flood plains for the past 60 years. What they essentially concluded was that with their engineering practices, they were not doing any better job today of managing flood plains in Jefferson County and Louisville than they were 60 years ago. They were basically in the same position. They had made no progress.

It is because they had adopted the wrong way, the wrong approach to how they manage flood plains. We came in and said the highest and best use of flood plains in Jefferson County, Ky., is for the storage of flood waters, not for the building of homes or businesses or for locating any kinds of things that involve human activity. When we look at these places, we realize that’s where the greatest loss of life and the greatest amount of property damage is occurring.

Now, we’ve sort of attached ourselves to a philosophy that was first introduced by the federal government in the 1960s and early 1970s called a FEMA flood plain -- the Federal Emergency Management Agency definition of a flood plain. What FEMA did in the early 1970s was look at the flood damages that were occurring in the United States. They said, “Boy, if we could keep people out of the primary conveyance zone of a 100-year storm, we would do a lot to reduce the amount of flood damages that are occurring in American communities.” They were right.

What they did is they allowed people to come and fill and develop in what we call the storage zones, not the conveyance zones, but the zone right next door, which is where a lot of flood water still goes in flooded conditions. So, in a 1990 study that was completed by the Army Corps of Engineers, they looked over a 10-year period in communities that had been flooded throughout the United States, and they concluded that the greatest loss of life and the greatest amount of property damage was occurring in the zone that the federal government was encouraging people to still build and live and have businesses in.

And so now they have concluded that the best thing for American communities to do is really not to encourage people to develop in these flood plains. They figure out a way to work with land owners and people who need to develop and want to develop their land to preserve that land for the storage of flood waters. That is economically the best thing that communities can do. This is another part of green infrastructure that is really paying dividends in American communities.


Now on to the issue of air quality. This is becoming sort of a flash point for America - - how we are connecting ourselves with the world that we live in, the neighborhoods and the communities. Today, essentially, our link to the outdoors looks something like this At least it begins like this.

If we pull out of our driveways and out of our neighborhoods and we get into the system that’s been
provided for us to link to the rest of America or to the rest of our community, it looks like this. It’s not a very safe landscape; it’s not a very attractive landscape; it’s a pretty inefficient landscape in terms of the amount of fuel and the amount of energy that we’re using inside of these particular quarters.

Now the philosophy that we’ve used to get from where we were as a nation in the 1940s to where we are today obviously has a lot of twists and turns. A lot of people look at the decisions that were made about building and developing all kinds of communities that look like this all across America. We really have to go back and look at that again and ask ourselves, “Do we want to continue to build this model everywhere?”

A lot of people feel trapped. They think we don’t have any choice; this is the only way we can go; we only have to continue to widen our roads and build more of them and pave more of the landscapes that we live in. But I think we have some choices.

The first thing we have to look at is who is being served and not served by the transportation system that we’re creating. We have pretty much eliminated children from the use of the transportation system today. Children are the largest underserved population by the transportation system that we’ve built.

As a child growing up in the Midwest, everybody we knew rode bikes everywhere without thought because our communities were bikeable; they were walkable. But that has changed obviously, in my lifetime, and I’m 44 years old. We also look at the elderly; they are very challenged in today’s transportation environment. There are questions that abound as to whether we really want some elderly people within the transportation system that we’ve created. It clearly is not very safe.

When we get to the air quality question, and we look at the degradation of air quality nationwide, we don’t see a pretty picture. In North Carolina, Hugh Morton at Grandfather Mountain has devoted the better part of the last 20 years of his life to cataloging the devastating impact that air quality is having on the North Carolina landscape -- the deforestation of our mountains. This photo was taken from atop Grandfather Mountain.

The EPA has pretty much concluded now that 50% of all of the air pollution that is generated in this country is coming from mobile sources. This isn’t limited to just automobiles. It also includes a lot of the two-cycle engines that we use to mow our lawns or to use weed eaters, or whatever. There are a lot of mobile sources that are contributing to pollution. Fully 50% of the air pollution concerns that we have today are generated from that.
In Louisville, we were brought in by the industry council to study the air quality caps that EPA had put on industrial growth in Louisville. They felt those air quality caps were misguided. The fingers were being pointed at industry, and industries didn’t think they were generating any excesses in air quality emissions. What we found was that the excess air quality emissions were coming from mobile sources. It was the opening of the new shopping mall in St. Matthews that generated the spike in emissions in Louisville that created the air quality cap on industries. So it’s completely unrelated to industrial growth. What it did was cap the ability of Louisville to grow its industrial base.

So we really have to look very seriously at how we’re growing our communities and how we’re going to continue to grow them in the future. One of the real solutions is to look at the number of vehicle miles that people are traveling in their daily trips. Is there anything that we can do to reduce those vehicle miles traveled.


Greenways and bikeways begin to offer some solutions. And the reason they offer solutions is if we study the pattern and number of trips that Americans are making in our daily routines, we discover that there’s a fairly substantial number of those trips that are occurring within a mile or two miles, or even five miles of where that trip began. So, a circuit trip of say a mile or two miles, or three or four miles, is a trip that we’re beginning to look at in terms of greenways and trails.

Now, are we going to be able to convince Americans to get on bicycles and walk to complete those trips? That is pretty challenging. We’ve studied how far Americans will walk. Most of us will walk about a half mile, max. There are some of us who will walk further. If we’re just performing that trip for a transportation function, there may not be enough in it for us to leave our automobile behind and to perform that trip. First of all, we’ve made it incredibly easy to get into our cars and complete that trip. The highest quality trip generator in American society is the automobile. Some of the lowest quality trip generators are bicycling and walking.

As a matter of fact, it’s considered dangerous by most Americans to complete that same trip by bike or by walking. People consider it to be dangerous. They don’t consider it to be dangerous to get in a car and complete that trip. Some of the statistics bear that out, but not really. Nearly 50,000 Americans lost their lives in the last 12 months in vehicle accidents, so it’s not necessarily the right conclusion that it’s a safer trip, but it’s the convenience of the trip.

I’m not standing here saying to you that I’m doing that. I’m in the same boat as everybody in this room. I do that trip by automobile. So the question is can we begin to change that. Can we provide an equivalent quality choice for Americans to begin making those trips in a different way?

We see different groups responding to this. For example, a private developer in Birmingham, Ala., approached us and said, “You know, I’m going to be building a residential subdivision between a commercial shopping center and Hoover High School. I would like to build a greenway system because I think it’s pretty logical to actually have some of these trips performed by bike and by walk. It’s a reasonable distance to both destinations from the neighborhood that I’m building. Furthermore, from an economic standpoint, I think if I build a greenway system, it’s going to be an attraction for people who really want that kind of lifestyle choice. People are going to move into my residential subdivision, and they’re going to buy my lots and they’re going to build houses in my subdivision.”

And he was right. To further accentuate his point, he charged $10,000 premiums for the lots that backed up to the greenway. And all those lots were the first ones to sell. So, this is the power of just thinking differently -- of shifting the paradigm and saying, “What if we create a different reality? What if we create a quality choice for people to make? Will they take the initiative to make the choice?”


In Birmingham they’re doing that; they are making the choice to live in a community and to transport themselves in a way that involves walking and biking. We can do that, but we can’t do it given the current paradigm that we live in today. And I’ll be perfectly honest: Our society has an addiction to oil. The addiction is as severe as any other addiction that you want to talk about. And we’ve got to do something about the addiction to oil because it is shaping the country that we live in, the policies and programs and decisions that we make as a country and how we view other people around the world.

I have driven an SUV for nearly 10 years. I’m going to buy a hybrid vehicle and it’s probably going to be that Ford Escape -- as soon as they come out with it. They’ve been delaying themselves, but I think if each one of us asks that question of ourselves – “Is there something we can do to be part of the solution?” – then we can begin to make an impact. If we wait for policy and program to be the catalyst for change, we’ll still be waiting 10 years from now.

There’s one thing very clear in a capitalistic society: The consumer dictates what goes on, and if we decide that hybrid vehicles are the best solution for each of us to participate in reducing our dependence on the addiction to oil, we’ve got a chance for all of us to make a difference, and collectively this nation can make a huge difference. Through this change, we can begin to change the policies of the world, the programs of the world. We can really affect how things happen throughout the planet. Those are the kinds of things that we face as a country and as communities today -- looking at how our communities grow and the decisions we all make in terms of how we want to grow our communities.

Hybrid vehicles have been proven to be something that car manufacturers can build and supply to us. They are not supplying the numbers because they aren’t sure about the demand. You can’t get the Toyota Prius because there’s too much demand so demand is outstripping supply. And Ford right now is projecting about the same thing for its Escape. The demand is going to outstrip supply, so we’re going to see the ballpoint pen theory at work. When the ballpoint pen first came out, it was the most expensive thing you could buy. Now you can buy it for 29 cents. The same thing happens every time new products get introduced. When the computer first came out, you couldn’t afford it. Today, you can buy it for 700 bucks.

That’s what happens in American society. We, the consumers, begin to change the communities that we live in and the products that we use and the lifestyle that we lead. We can do that with this subject as well. We don’t have to wait for public policy to make that change. And I think that we’re already beginning to see ways in which we can integrate this philosophy into everything we do.

For the past seven years we’ve been working at the Grand Canyon National Park doing a new transportation initiative that is happening principally at the Grand Canyon. The idea here is to get all the vehicles out of the park, because the vehicles are degrading the visitor experience. They’re detracting from the way people visit and enjoy the Grand Canyon. There are people who are getting in fights over parking spaces at the Grand Canyon in the summer. There are lines of vehicles that go out all the way down to the village which sits about six miles outside the park. So, the Grand Canyon came to us and said, “We have an idea in our general management plan. We would like to build a greenway system inside of a national park with the principal objective to change the transportation patterns inside the park.”

So, we’ve been doing that for the past seven years. We’ve raised over $9 million – over half of that from the private sector which believes this is the right thing to do for our national parks. And now we have a system of greenways that connects you to some of the most valued destinations inside the south rim, and now we’re beginning on the north rim. So when you go and you visit the park today -- this is Interior Secretary Gale Norton walking just a year ago with Superintendent Joe Austin on one of the completed phases of the Grand Canyon greenway -- you can park your car in one location and walk to all kinds of destinations without ever having to get back in your car. You have a chance to actually stroll along the rim of the Grand Canyon and listen to the wind come up against the walls or watch the birds fly or enjoy the sunshine -- really be a part of the experience of the Grand Canyon, the most visited national park in the system.

One project that we did, since we’re sitting in a building that was built out of recycled materials, was to build a greenway completely out of recycled trash. Just about 95 percent of the greenway was built out of recycled post- consumer and post-industrial waste. The asphalt that we used to pave the trail came from milled asphalt off the streets. We combined it with shredded rubber tires and roof shingle tabs.

We got with Carolina Power and Light and we substituted the mined rock that we would have had to use for the stone base under the trail with coal-fired bottom ash, which CP&L was paying the State of North Carolina a dollar a ton to get rid of. Now CP&L charges $22 a ton to sell it to people who want to use it for this very purpose. We created a market for the coal-fired bottom ash. We used recycled aluminum cans to build all the educational signage. The posts here come from recycled waste from the manufacture of baby diapers. The plastic that comes out of the leg holes goes into a big extruder machine and out comes these posts.

My point in saying this is, again, the importance of decisions that we make as a community. We have a chance to use all kinds of products to build various facilities that we’re going to use in the future.


One of the questions that people really want to know is if there is financial reward in making greenway systems. This is San Antonio river walk. It’s today regarded as one of the most financially successful greenways in America. It has about $1.5 billion in economic revenue that’s generated from the operation of the river walk. It’s so successful that the city of San Antonio decided to expand the river walk to capitalize on the economic impact that it’s having on its community.

In Kansas City they’re developing these green space communities because they realized that’s what people want to buy; they want to buy property that’s adjacent to green space. They want to be in an area that gives them access to nature.

This is up in Apex, N.C. This is another developer who developed a subdivision that incorporates a greenway right through the middle of it. This is what the greenway looks like. This is the back of the home. Here, it’s probably about 50 feet from the back of the home to the greenway trail. The developer discovered that if he went ahead and built similar sized homes with similar amenities, that he could actually charge a $5,000 lot premium on the one on the greenway, and it would sell faster than the one across the street with the same package.

So it’s clear from the real estate perspective that we can be successful in attracting home buyers to these kinds of areas. The National Home Builders Association has done this study all across the United States. In the last five years, they’ve done two studies that come up with the same thing: Proximity to green space increases the value of residential homes conservatively 10 per cent, more like 20 per cent.

What about the ability to attract businesses and industry? The Research Triangle Park has been our client since 1984; it’s almost 20 years now, and they’ve been developing a greenway system which now extends for about 16 miles throughout the community. They had a company, Rickle Chemical, which brought 700 new jobs to the Research Triangle Park, which is a pretty big announcement in today’s climate. And Rickle Chemical did a five-state search looking for the right manufacturing site. They picked the only sight that offered them access to a community greenway system, which was the Research Triangle Park.

The spokesman for Rickle Chemical said, “Never mind the airport, which is RDU, and the universities, Duke, Carolina and State, and the fact that the area is friendly to chemical developers. We wanted access to the jogging trails. That was the final straw that made us decide where to move.” So we called them and we said, “Why is it so important for you to have access to a greenway system?” They said, “We have an employee-sponsored healthcare program, and healthcare costs are the biggest wild card we have in terms of controlling our costs with our employees. So we wanted access to a site that gave us access to a greenway system, where our employees could exercise and be healthy.

Liz Rooks, who is the Vice President of Development for the Research Triangle Park, basically says that the greenway system in the Park helps them to compete internationally for businesses all around the world. It is one of the few commercial parks in the United States that has a greenway system.

We’ve even seen communities do this. Chattanooga, Tenn., was rated 15 years ago as the worst place to live in America, period. The bottom of the barrel. The air quality was so bad in Chattanooga that you had to drive around in the middle of the day to see. As a result of the air quality going so bad, industry was leaving and people were leaving. They were all fleeing Chattanooga because they couldn’t stand to live there.

So the city council and the community leaders and the business community got together and said, “What can we do to reverse the fortunes of Chattanooga? We don’t want the city to just wither away to nothing.” They decided to adopt a green space philosophy and clean up the city and develop parks and green spaces and re-develop the river front. As a result of doing that, in the last 15 years they have attracted more than a billion dollars of private sector investment to this community, and they now call themselves “the environmental city of the South.”

They are a model for communities all across this country, and they’re taking their message worldwide. They get invited all the time by communities around the world to tell the story of how they went from being one of the worst places to live in America to one of the best places in America. And they will admit that greenways were a huge key to their success. They’re adoption of the greenway philosophy changed their economic fortunes.

We’ve seen this happen even in the small towns. I mentioned earlier tonight in our presentation about Hartsburg, Mo., which was a town that virtually disappeared when the railroad pulled up tracks and left town. Today because it’s on the 400-mile Katie Trail that connects Kansas City to St. Louis, economic life has returned to Hartsburg. There are bed & breakfasts; there are retail shops; there are restaurants. There are all kinds of activities in a town with a population of about 500 people. So economic impact can be seen in American communities as a result of the development of greenways. We conservatively say that for every dollar a community invests in its greenway system, you’ll see about three dollars in economic return. And that’s what we’re seeing in communities that have done this, including Chattanooga.

We were working in a community that created a 2,000-acre greenway between the two cities of Grand Forks and East Grand Forks. One of the first big economic plums that happened was that Cabella’s decided to locate its first store in a downtown area in the United States on the Red River Greenway. And they did that because they felt there was a tremendous positive relationship between the products that they sell and the landscapes that they would be located in. Heretofore, all those stores were located on interstate highways. In the first year of operation, they brought about two million people to that store. And it’s had a huge economic impact on the communities of Grand Forks and East Grand Forks.

So, what we conclude in looking at the economic argument for greenways is that it’s very positive. There are all kinds of things that can generate revenues from greenway development. We can live in cleaner environments, we can enjoy safer places to walk and bike, and we can derive economic benefit from that as well. We calculated about $16 million in economic impact from the development of the Grand Forks/East Grand Forks greenway. I am very confident that today the operation of that greenway generates far more economic value for that community than $16 million dollars.

Ray Ervin, who is the director of Indianapolis’ Parks and Greenway System, says more than two million people used the city’s greenway system last year. That’s more than all the people who go to see the Colts, the Indians and the Ice and Pacers combined in a single season. The City of Indianapolis has spent hundreds of millions of dollars through the years building stadiums, providing tax breaks and tax incentives for these franchises to stay in their community, and Ray Ervin is trying to point out, “You know what...we derive as much benefit as we do from all the people that go and see these sports franchises from our greenway system."


What kind of community do we want to live in? Are there models out there today that suggest things that we can do as individuals to make a change? My assertion is that if we remain an automobile-oriented community and society -- and we pretty much have concluded that it’s not a sustainable thing to do, at least under the current paradigm – we won’t be able to make the changes that are necessary to live sustainably. If we change the fuel option, it’s maybe more sustainable. And we really do need to integrate biking and walking back into our communities to make them more sustainable.

If you don’t believe that assertion, more than 50% of Americans that were surveyed in 1998, said they preferred to live in a village-type community. Well, village-type communities were the predominant communities that most people lived in in the 1930s and the 1940s; they were compact communities. They provided places where people would walk and they would bike; they were certainly sustainable communities.

We’ve moved away from that, but now we’re having a renaissance; we’re getting back into that. Celebration, Fla., which is a Disney product, shows how we can do that.

The conservation subdivisions are certainly the rage today. There are a number of communities that are really looking very seriously at how that can be done. It’s just a different way in which we do development. We have the same yield as we would in conventional development patterns. We just arrange it on the land in a different way. We take stock of the natural green infrastructure of each and every parcel of land and we work to protect it.

This is the house that I was born in 44 years ago, 1959, in the village of Greendale, Wis. The village of Greendale is a green belt community that was originally envisioned in the 1930s and was implemented in the 1940s and the 1950s. And today, when I go back to that community, the green space and greenways that were implemented in the 1930s and 1940s are still there today. You can still leave the house that I was born in, get on a bike and ride or walk to all of the important destinations in that community. The local schools, the downtown business center, places where people work, places where people congregate to socialize -- everything is connected by the community greenway system that was implemented 70 years ago. So, everything old is new again.

This is the current place that I’ve just moved into. It’s a conservation subdivision that was designed by Randall Arendt, and it has the same philosophies that were envisioned in the 1930s for the village of Greendale. It’s a bikeable and walkable community that’s all connected. It has pods of development so it’s sort of a hybrid of the traditional models that we’ve been developing for the past 30 or 40 years and models that we’ve seen have been very successful throughout history in terms of how we grow our communities.

One of the things the Centers for Disease Control are promoting is what they call ACES, active community environments. They have concluded that the biggest health problem in America today is the fact that we have a very sedentary lifestyle. I have a very sedentary lifestyle, I have to tell you, because I sit in cars, I sit in airplanes, I sit in meetings, I sit in hotel rooms; that’s a part of my life and it’s something that I battle.

Moving into an ACES community like we’ve done helps that out. I’ve got a trail right in my backyard. It’s 25 feet from my back door. I can be on my community greenway and using that on a daily basis when I’m home. We’ve also moved into an office that is right next to the American Tobacco Trail, so oftentimes at lunch, myself and my employees get on the American Tobacco Trail, and within 15 minutes we’re in a shopping center where we can grab lunch, we can go to a drug store, we can go to a grocery store, we can perform some of the activities that we would normally do by car by just walking 15 minutes down the greenway.

The Centers for Disease Control say if Americans could get 30 minutes of active exercise every day, we would go a long way in improving our quality of life. We would reduce hypertension; we would reduce our blood pressure; we would eliminate some of the cancers that are occurring in American society. There are things that we can do to increase the activity in our lives. But part of it is the environment we live in.

We can make these choices of how we live in our communities and how we build our communities to address problems that are related to heath management. The Surgeon General has just basically come out and said these are very important things for American communities to do. And the President’s Council on Physical Fitness agrees: The best thing Americans can do -- American communities can do -- is build more trails to improve the health of the population.


What are some things that we all can do to be part of a future that’s more sustainable, that offers us more a livable environment? I think there are five major things that we have to address as a society.

The first that I’d like to talk about is a unified goal of how we interact with the environment. I think we need to promote a sustainable development pattern; we need to improve our knowledge of the environment to foster economically viable communities for the 21st century, to educate and inform Americans of the link between healthy environment and quality living. I think that’s an essential goal that we should have for how we grow and build our communities.

We have to really look at the so-called American dream, because what has been practiced in the landscape we’re realizing is not a very healthy environment to live in. We’re not connected, it’s not sustainable, and it’s causing problems with community growth. We have choices. We need to have both a suburban model and an urban model. We need to have an urban model that talks about vertical stratification of how we live and how we work and how we interact in urban communities, and we need to have a suburban model that is based on conservation.

I think we’re having those models introduced today. As a nation of consumers, we need to understand the balance between consumption and stewardship. We’ve never really had a very strong stewardship ethic in this country. And we’re not in imminent danger, but we certainly need to think about the future -- to think about the kind of resources that our kids and our grandkids and other generations are going to have access to. Are they going to have access to the resources that we’ve enjoyed as kids and adults? That’s a very serious question.

At the current rate of consumption, they’re not, because the rate of consumption is outstripping the resources that we have. So it’s an essential question we have to ask. We need to assign value to green space; we need to understand that green space, in and of itself, has serious economic value. If we see a piece of open space, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re going to increase the value by putting a building or some sort of activity in it. There’s a tremendous amount of value in just leaving green space as it is -- economically and to the quality of life that we enjoy.

As we come out of the 20th century and into the 21st century, we’ve got serious conflicts going on, but at some point in time, human beings, as a species, need to understand that this is our home -- this is our only home. If the mission to Mars told us one thing, it told us that there’s no other place for us to go. If we mess this one up, we don’t have another world waiting for us to get on a spaceship and go to. We’re certainly not going to ship people off to Mars. I mean it’s exciting to be there; it’s exciting to understand the history of that planet. But we’ve got our own history in the making here, and we really need to dedicate ourselves to understanding how we can better live within what nature provides us as a resource.

So, I really think at its fundamental basis greenways talk about how we can be connected with each other and how we can be connected with the places that we love and we cherish and that are essential for a really good quality of life.

*** Chuck Flink is president of Greenways, Inc., and co-author of Greenways – A Guide to
Planning, Design & Development in Trails for the 21st Century.

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