Long-term Planning

Long-term Planning
December 6, 2023

Cold temperatures have come, the garden has frozen, the leaves are falling, and outdoor activities are coming to an end. It may be a good time to start planning.

Long term planning is very important to communities. I’m not just talking about a comprehensive plan that is required for grant applications. I’m talking about planning on what you want your community to look like in the future.

Long term planning is difficult. It takes time, and it really takes the ability to look into the future and not worry about the problems you are facing today. It becomes very easy to manage a community by complaint. The people that come to the village board meeting are the loudest voices in their community and if they are complaining about trees, chickens, dogs, vehicles, etc., it is easy to make a new ordinance to address each of those issues. As you concentrate on today’s complaint, it is easy to forget about the future.

Imagine you have a community meeting (perhaps facilitated by an RPN Extension educator) that encourages your community to dream about the future. You come to a consensus that your long-term goal (10-20 years) is to become a physically healthy community. Since you have a community consensus, you have a basis to solve each problem based on the goal of being a healthy community.

The first complaint is about trees in the community. Perhaps there is a danger to the health of the community from the tree falling down. Easy solution: the tree gets taken down by the tree owner or through the nuisance abatement process. The next complaint is also about trees, specifically fruit trees. The complaint is that birds are eating the fruit, and their droppings are covering cars and the sidewalk. The complainant would like fruit trees outlawed. This actually is a health issue. Having a source of fresh local fruit is healthy for the community. Fruit trees stay in the town due to your long-term goal of being a healthy community.

At the next meeting there is a grant available to create a giant chocolate fountain in the center of town. It is easy to say no to this in the light of the fact that you want to be a physically healthy community. The grant is not applied for. But you do have another grant available to make your community into a walkable neighborhood. There is some match money needed for the grant, but it is easy to come up with due to the new focus on being a physically healthy community.

Over time your community makes small changes to be more physically healthy. There is a complaint about chickens—someone wants them banned. A compromise is created—roosters are banned, but hens are allowed due to their production of healthy eggs.

Now we come to a difficult one. Someone is complaining about parked cars in residential areas. They can be a nuisance. Does this have anything to do with health? Perhaps the solution is to make it so that cars must move every day. Does this conflict with the goal of being a healthy community? The community just spent a lot of money becoming more walkable, and now the community is contemplating a law to make people drive more. The healthy solution is to encourage people to walk and let cars sit. The health of the community improves.

Many of these complaints are common, and much of the time the solutions are separate, with no overall guiding principle overseeing the solutions. It makes a community have spending priorities and ordinances that conflict. We used a grant and local money to build a walking trail, but we decided to outlaw planting fruit trees. We have a walkable community, but you must drive your cars every day. It is very easy to make decisions on a complaint basis, but it takes work and long-term planning to create a long-term framework for community decision making.

If your community could benefit from any of the Rural Prosperity Nebraska ideas that I’ve discussed in this column, please reach out to me. I’d love to speak to your community about these topics. You can reach me at jason.tuller@unl.edu or at the Thayer County office at 402-768-7212.

Jason Tuller is an Extension Educator for the University of Nebraska – Lincoln. He works in the Rural Prosperity Nebraska program and covers ten-county area including Kearney, Adams, Clay, Fillmore, Saline, Franklin, Webster, Nuckolls, Thayer, and Jefferson Counties.