Forbes magazine recently noted that Raleigh had the second-highest overall population increase and the third-highest job growth over the past two decades in the U.S. As residents of the Triangle, we know the many benefits of this growth – a stable job economy, affordable housing, a vibrant local food movement and beautiful, natural lands to explore.
The growth of our metropolitan region parallels the national trend of people moving from rural into urban communities. Just over 100 years ago, North Carolina was 80 percent rural and 20 percent urban. Today, those numbers are reversed, and it is projected that as many as 1.3 million people will move into our region in the next three decades. While these newcomers will bring innovation, camaraderie and diversity to our businesses, classrooms, community centers and religious centers, they will also require and demand new services: housing, water supplies, sustainable modes of transportation, parks, shopping centers, utilities, great schools and outdoor recreation opportunities.
This urban boom presents our government leaders and community with a wonderful opportunity to be creative in helping our region flourish while also preserving the quality of life that draws employers, employees and retirees here.
Indeed, the time for thoughtful and strategic planning to protect open space and safeguard our water supply is now.
Hiking, biking, running, paddling or playing in the great outdoors rejuvenates the spirit, promotes healthy lifestyles, connects folks to the land and fosters a sense of place – a place that is also home to vibrant natural communities of flora and fauna native to our region. Open space planning – be it in creating public nature preserves on the outskirts of our urban centers or developing urban public green spaces like Dix Park in Raleigh – needs to be at the forefront of public discourse and government affairs. At this rate of growth, we cannot put off planning and financing this work.
Protecting the streams and reservoirs that supply our drinking water is absolutely vital to our quality of life. Over the past eight years, Triangle Land Conservancy and other land trusts of the Upper Neuse Clean Water Initiative have strategically sought out and placed conservation easements on lands critical to protecting our region’s drinking water. Established by visionary government officials in Raleigh, this watershed protection initiative now serves as a national model for other metropolitan areas.
The Triangle’s farmers markets are hailed throughout the country as outstanding. In fact, Martha Stewart Magazine named the Carrboro Farmers’ Market one of the six “Great Markets” in the country. Fresh, local produce connects us as a community, preserves our agricultural heritage and supports our region’s farming families. Access to local food contributes directly to healthy eating habits, can help lower obesity rates and addresses other diet-related illnesses. Protecting farmland with conservation easements supports farming families financially; ensures a steady, resilient, local food supply; and keeps our most productive farming communities in production. A great example of this is the 1,000 acres of farmland that TLC has protected on multiple farms in Chatham County’s historic Silk Hope farming community.
Given the ongoing predictions of rapid growth in the Triangle, the staff, board of directors and thousands of volunteers and members of Triangle Land Conservancy believe not only that we need to maintain our great quality of life when it comes to clean drinking water, natural habitats, public parks and preserves and farm fresh foods, but also that we need to work together as a region to improve and enhance these aspects of our quality of life.
We connect as a community when we see children run through forests, prepare meals with local produce, hear our native songbirds welcome spring from a grove of trees and quench our thirst with a tall glass of delicious local tap water. It’s about building and sustaining our community. We hope even more community members and leaders will join us, as they have the first 30 years of TLC’s history, to work to protect our special open spaces and secure the lands that protect our region’s major water supplies.
Chad Jemison is executive director of Triangle Land Conservancy.