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Tim Norton: Planning effort helps shape region’s future

  • Published Sunday, April 28, 2013, at 12 a.m.

I’m actively involved in the regional community initiative on how to affect the viability and sustainability of south-central Kansas. This planning effort is trying to understand the housing, transportation, environmental, water resource and economic needs of the area and begin to develop ideas, policies and decisions that promote an affordable and sustainable infrastructure and a vibrant and growing economy.

This is not the first time our region has worked together. As a matter of fact, we formalized a collaborative relationship in 1997, with the creation of the Regional Economic Area Partnership. I was at the very first meeting of this new entity when I was mayor of Haysville. I felt it was important then and feel it is even more so now. Today 34 local governments in south-central Kansas belong to REAP. Our region is home to more than 770,000 people, representing one-quarter of Kansas’ population.

South-central Kansas no longer competes just regionally for jobs and economic development. We are competing against others nationally and globally. To be economically competitive in a world marketplace and to ensure that our children and grandchildren enjoy the quality of life we want for them, we must work together to identify a vision for our future and design a toolbox of strategies to achieve it. That work can no longer wait. It must start now.

It’s an open process. Everyone in the five-county region is encouraged to participate in the South Central Kansas Prosperity Plan. Its success is contingent on robust community engagement, because only in that way will we develop a shared understanding of what we want our region to be.

To help guide the plan, a leadership team has been established, with representatives from throughout the region and from all walks of life and experiences. I sit on that leadership team and am actively involved in the dialogue and debate that accompany this kind of work. They are being supported by six work teams, which will focus more specifically on areas of interest.

The process is financed with federal and local dollars, but each community controls its own destiny. We recognize that each of our communities and counties is unique. We must preserve each community’s culture and heritage, while identifying strategies that enhance local and regional quality of life, create jobs, and develop infrastructure to support it all.

This is not about any one governing body or level of government imposing or mandating what we should do. It is about what we decide collectively is best for our region and then choosing to make it happen.

Sustainability is the guiding theme of the plan, but what is sustainability? Sustainability is defined in different ways and has many different aspects, and its definition is unique for each community. The stakeholders, partners and citizens in this region will define what sustainability means for us.

I am totally supportive of and committed to this planning process. This is an effort to understand future needs and develop a comprehensive, inclusive, thoughtful set of guidelines and policies that conserve resources, best develop and utilize infrastructure, address growth and land use, and understand that decisions we make today, or fail to make, can have long-term, profound effects on the communities we care about and on future generations.

Tim Norton is a Sedgwick County commissioner.

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