Op-Ed Series: Mike Kane and Mike Artim

Life-Sustaining Landscapes

By Mike Kane and Mike Artim

The Vision 2025 framework focuses on three key areas: a strong sense of community, life-sustaining landscapes, and a vibrant and open local economy. Today’s piece focuses on “Life-Sustaining Landscapes.”

Imagine you decide to sell your house. What would you do first? Maybe you would paint, and maybe fix the crooked porch steps or patch the screen in the front storm door. You would probably make sure the front bushes were trimmed and the lawn mown, the sidewalk swept and the broken tile in the kitchen replaced, the one you’ve been meaning to get to for years.

You even might decide to do some big things, like put on a new roof or waterproof the basement.

You make these improvements because you want the place to be attractive to people who might come into your home. You’re thinking, if it’s all fixed up it stands to reason you will get a better price for it. It will be more attractive, so people will pay more. It all seems pretty simple, really–but the trick is the work must be done. And after it’s completed, you find yourself feeling pretty proud of the place. It has appeal.

In the Johnstown Vision 2025 Framework, the Carnegie Mellon University authors noted that Johnstown has “one of the most remarkable urban settings in the U.S.” They were referring to the way our town, especially the downtown with its interesting variety of architecture, is tucked into the green hills. We agree. It’s always nice to hear someone from outside the community noticed.

But they also noticed some other things: deteriorated, underused and vacant property; unfriendly public spaces and infrastructure; lingering pollution; neglect. Unfortunately, we have to agree with this, too.

Johnstown is our home. And, just as with the example above, we know our home will be more appealing and valuable if we make the effort to fix it up.

Johnstown Vision 2025 is a framework for engaging and advancing the entire community in a number of ways, but chief among them is creating what the authors refer to as “life-sustaining landscapes.” This is the understanding that both natural and built environments are most vibrant when they are designed to work together. This refers to watershed management but also refers to the creating of stroll districts, greening blighted areas, trails that connect people to amenities in ways that promote healthy living, and clean rivers that attract people and make them want to care for them.

True life-sustaining landscapes impress visitors, attract businesses and investors who want to be in such places, and bring natives back home. But we also want to improve our natural and built environment for those of us who are already here. We don’t want to fix up things because we’re selling. We believe that together we can make Johnstown all we think it can be. We have a vision and we’re working toward it. In other words, we’re not selling, we’re buying.

So what exactly are we going to do to fix up our home? Projects will move forward in 2016 and beyond. Just as with the example of the house, some are quick fixes but others are bigger. We support the formation of a land bank to assist with blight issues, and look to form a team to work on the reuse of vacant land. The creation of a regional watershed and complementary river revitalization strategy that includes naturalizing the river banks while maintaining flood control is essential to our landscape. We’d like to connect trails in a way that leads to our inclusion in the national-scale September 11th Memorial Trail, line our neighborhoods with appropriate types of trees and green spaces, encourage more activity on our rivers with an expanded Whitewater Park and other water access, and more.

These projects are just some of the ideas that community-minded people have brought to the table. They will be discussed in more detail with our Life-Sustaining Landscapes Circle work group that meets later this month. At the meeting we will discuss organization, present a model action plan for moving projects forward, and find out how resources can combine to make good things happen.

A lot of people in the community have already signed on at previous Vision 2025 meetings to be part of the effort. Over 250 people have signed up for the three circle group meetings. If you haven’t done so yet, please do. You are welcome to join, even if for now you just want to listen.

Think of it as what you would like to do to fix up your house—then let’s get together and get to work!

Make plans to attend the Life-Sustaining Landscapes Circle Work Session on Tuesday, January 26 at 5:30 p.m. at the JAHA Heritage Discovery Center, 201 6th Ave. And learn more about Vision 2025 by visiting http://www.johnstown25.com and liking Johnstown’s Vision 2025 on Facebook.


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