Local Decision Maker: Helping Indiana Communities Plan Their Future
Fish provide key nutrients for growing young minds and healthy bodies of all ages, but some are contaminated with pollutants that can have serious health effects, particularly on babies and children. Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant (IISG) has made it a priority to inform critical audiences about eating fish wisely.
In Indiana, it has become much easier for local officials to consider natural resources as they develop land use plans for their community. Local Decision Maker (LDM) is a GIS-based online resource rich with research data on environmentally sensitive areas, open space, streams and rivers, and potential sources of contamination.
“Now when local planners strive to balance growth with natural resources, they have tools necessary to make informed choices,” said Rick Farnsworth, Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant associate director of extension.
The LDM project began as an effort to address the need for natural resource information in counties along Lake Michigan. The concept expanded and LDM is now more comprehensive in its geographic range and in its scope of information. In addition to natural resources, local planners throughout Indiana can go online and find data and maps on economic development, labor markets, schools and other critical planning components.
In this decision system, land use planners can find up-to-date information specific to their community. They can view multiple maps of information at the same time to see where potential problems or opportunities exist. And they can compare their community with neighboring communities or the larger county or state.
“Developing an inventory of a community’s existing conditions has typically been a costly part of the planning process,” said Farnsworth, who is also a Purdue University natural resource economist and a leader in creating the site. “That money can now be used for developing better plans.”
By asking key questions, LDM helps planners determine the type of growth– urban, recreational, or agricultural–that complements their natural, human, and economic resources. For example, how will new development impact the existing sewer, water, and transportation infrastructure? And how will new development impact the flow of services coming from the community’s natural resources?
“Almost half of a county’s tax revenues go to school corporations,” said Larry DeBoer, an economic development specialist at Purdue University. LDM provides questions for communities regarding local schools on topics such as expenses and taxes, the number and size of schools, and the rate of community growth. “In working through these questions, planners get a good idea whether schools may need to be added or closed and the implications on school budgets, based on actual and projected growth in the region,” said DeBoer.
LDM also provides an economic diversification index, employment data, commuting patterns, and demographic data to assess existing economic conditions.
Three Indiana counties that are in the process of developing or updating comprehensive plans are pilot testing LDM. “These counties have very different challenges,” said Farnsworth. “Porter County is facing rapid urbanization; Jasper County is focusing on agricultural-based businesses as part of their economic development; and Brown County is looking to recreation as a component of their economy. As these counties create their development strategy using LDM, they are helping us fine tune the site.”
LDM was developed with funding from the Purdue Center for the Environment, Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant, Purdue Center for Regional Development, and Purdue University College of Agriculture. Faculty and staff from Purdue’s Departments of Forestry and Natural Resources and Agricultural Economics were instrumental in collecting data and developing maps for the project.
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