PLUS: ‘Planning Land Use with Students’ is a Local Land Use Policy That Showcase the Geosciences

Friday, 19 December 2014
Margie Turrin, LDEO of Columbia University, Palisades, NY, United States
Land Use decisions in the local community are well represented in geoscience topics and issues, and provide an excellent opportunity to showcase a wide range of geoscience careers to high school students. In PLUS (Planning Land Use with Students) we work with youth corps, volunteer agencies and the County Departments of Planning, Transportation, Public Health, Water Resources to run a program for high school seniors to engage the students in the complex layers of decision making connected with land use as we showcase geoscience careers (http://www.ldeo.columbia.edu/edu/plus/index.html). How development occurs, what resources are in use and who makes these decisions is both interesting and relevant for students.

We develop case studies around current, active, local land use issues large enough in scale to have a formal environmental review at the County and/or the State level. Sections of each case study are dedicated to addressing the range of environmental issues that are central to each land use decision. Water, its availability, planned use and treatment on the site, brings in both a review of local hydrology and a discussion of storm water management. Air quality and the impact of the proposed project’s density, transportation plans, and commercial and industrial uses brings in air quality issues like air quality ratings, existing pollution, and local air monitoring. A review of the site plans brings in grading plans for the project area, which highlights issues of drainage, soil stability, and exposure to toxins or pollutants depending on the historic use of the site. Brownfield redevelopments are especially challenging with various monitoring, clean up and usage restrictions that are extremely interesting to the students.

Students’ work with mentors from the community who represent various roles in the planning process including a range of geosciences, community business members and other players in the planning process. This interplay of individuals provides a realistic look at the forces that move land use decision-making in a community. Discussion of impacts and mitigations highlight the intersection of policy and science. Debate arises on how much science should guide policy and how much land use policy decisions require science monitoring, pushing new scientific developments.