Last month, the Greenbelt Alliance released a list of some of the 3.5 million acres of undeveloped land that it believes needs to be protected from urban sprawl. That list, which appears in the Alliance’s “Golden Lands, Golden Opportunity” report, was the result of a two-year study conducted by the Alliance and more than one hundred “open space” experts, including wildlife biologists, and local land trusts and open space districts.
“Together, we took a look at the undeveloped land, pretty much acre-by-acre, and went, ‘Okay, what makes this particular piece of land important?’” explains Greenbelt Alliance Executive Director Jeremy Madsen. According to Madsen, the reasons to protect each piece of land were as varied as the types of land themselves. Naturally, parks made the “to be protected” list, but so did farmland, watershed areas and other open spaces. What these areas all have in common, he says, is that they make the Bay Area a great place to live.
“I think what brings people here is the quality of life. That’s why I moved here,” says Madsen, whom the San Francisco Chronicle recently named one of the nation’s top green leaders. “We live in this vibrant metropolis, and, right outside our back door, we have redwood forests, beautiful coastline and wine country.”
Madsen points out that, in addition making the Bay Area a great place to live, this treasure chest of natural resources also makes the region one of the world’s most popular travel destinations.
“Tourism is a major piece of our local economy,” he says. “Not only are these open spaces beautiful to look at, they also help fuel our economy. When people come to San Francisco, what do they want to see? They want to shop in Union Square, they want to see the Golden Gate Bridge and they want to walk in Muir Woods. How many regions offer all that? Not many.”
With “Golden Lands, Golden Opportunity,” Madsen says the Greenbelt Alliance and its partners hope to catch the ear of those who influence and shape land-use policy. Thanks to a slow economy, unprotected land is enjoying a temporary reprieve from the threat of urban sprawl. But Madsen says it’s only a matter of time before developers begin eyeing unused land for new projects.
“We need to establish a clear definition of what’s available and what’s off limits,” he explains. “Now is the time to do that, while some of the pressure is off. Now is the time to start building public awareness of why open space is so important and putting a plan in place to protect it. Now is the time to acquire these lands before developers sweep them up.”
To help facilitate the creation of the new land use policies that the Alliances says are key to protecting the Bay Area’s quality of life, “Golden Lands, Golden Opportunity” spells out for decision-makers how to safeguard remaining open spaces from mankind’s seemingly inherent desire to spread its wings, often to the detriment of essential open spaces and the non-human species that call them “home.”
Madsen is proud to live in a region whose leaders believe in the idea of sustainability and act upon those values. The challenge, as he sees it, is trying to get those leaders to balance their green inclination with values that may seem to compete with it. “Let’s say you have a piece of land. One group says, ‘Let’s build affordable housing on it.’ Another group says, ‘No, let’s leave it .’ What do you do? That’s a difficult position to be in. Balancing those two interests is hard, but it can be done. It has to be done, for the wellbeing of our region.”
For more information on the Greenbelt Alliance and its “Golden Lands, Golden Opportunity” report, visit www.greenbelt.org.