Solutions Both Big and Small

02/08/04 by Salisbury Post

February 8, 2004, issue of the Salisbury Post

Mention air pollution and most people think cleaner auto exhausts and tighter controls on coal-fired power plants and smokestack industries. They think about state rules and federal regulations.

Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory thinks about those things, too. When he ponders how local governments, businesses and individuals can help reduce pollution, he also thinks about sidewalks and street grids, red lights and greenways, land-use plans and regional transit systems. In a talk kicking off the Clean Air Lecture Series at Catawba College, McCrory described how those things have a direct bearing on our air, our water and ultimately, the health of our local economy.

They’re all interconnected, he stressed. Efficiently designed road systems, with inter-connected neighborhoods and a minimum of traffic bottlenecks, reduce congestion and exhaust fumes. Neighborhood sidewalks encourage people to walk more and drive less, while greenways and woodlands act as natural filters to help purify the air as well as the water. Good land-use plans enhance the accessibility of neighborhoods and business areas and discourage sprawl, with its soulless expanses of strip development and tract housing and its interminable commutes.

Viewed in isolation, some of those elements might seem inconsequential. But if Rowan County can bring them together, along with other clean-air strategies, it can make a difference locally while setting a regional standard for proactive, responsible action on our ozone problem – which the American Lung Association recently identified as one of the worst in the nation.

In introducing McCrory, Dr. John Wear, who heads Catawba’s Center for the Environment, emphasized that Rowan County needs to step forward on the issue, not stand back and wait for others to take the lead. Even though significant portions of our air pollution may waft in from other parts of
the state and country, that can’t be an excuse for inaction. To be in a position to call for changes elsewhere, whether across county lines or state borders, Rowan has to tend to its own backyard. Taking ownership of the problem is the first step in moving toward solutions.

Fortunately, local leaders are stepping forward. The Center for the Environment has shouldered a large role in coordinating the clean-air initiative here. It, in turn, has received vitally important financial support from local businesses who realize the implications of economic growth. The Rowan County Commission, in establishing an air-quality task force and moving forward with a countywide land-use plan, is also stepping up. Another group, the Rowan County Sustainable Community Development Commission, has established a strong track record in its work on farmland preservation, green-way development, water protection and other issues affecting the overall quality of our lives.

Ultimately, this isn’t just about changing Rowan County’s rating on an ozone list. It’s about believing that the county has the vision, creativity and leadership to meet this challenge and exert a progressive influence on its regional neighbors. It’s about realizing that environmental issues, land-use decisions, economic development and growth are all pieces of one big puzzle. It’s about believing that civic leaders and ordinary citizens can be a powerful force in putting those pieces together and guiding their own destiny, regardless of which way the winds may blow.

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