Is There a Common Vision for Sustainability?

An Inventory and Scan of the Region’s Plans and Policy Documents

The following report presents an inventory and analysis of the plans, policies and programs that exist in the 13-county New Jersey Transportation Planning Authority region. These counties include Bergen, Essex, Hudson, Hunterdon, Middlesex, Monmouth, Morris, Passaic, Ocean, Somerset, Sussex, Union, and Warren Counties. In addition to the county plans, this report includes the master plans of the Highlands Council, the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission, and the New Jersey Pinelands Commission, the cities of Elizabeth, Jersey City, Newark, New Brunswick, and Paterson, as well as other specialized state, regional and local plans.

The purpose of this report is to determine to what extent a common vision for sustainability and livability has already been articulated by the various jurisdictions in the NJTPA region and which sustainability topics are addressed by which plans. The report is presented in two parts:

  1. As a basic inventory of existing plans, policies, and programs; and
  2. As a gap analysis of the goals of the various plans, policies, and programs reviewed and their relationship to sustainability.

The Gap Analysis of Goals attempts to determine whether, and to what extent, the governing plans of the above entities set goals to achieve sustainability in their communities. The goals of each plan were identified and organized into individual reports by the twelve sustainability topics outlined in the NJSCC project overview. These topics include Land Use and Urban Design, Housing, Transportation, Natural Systems, Energy and Climate, Asset-Based Economic Development, Industry Sector Development, Workforce Preparedness and Training, Business Environment and Entrepreneurial Support, Health and Safety, Education, and Arts and Culture.

Presented below is a working definition of sustainability used for this analysis, how this definition relates to this report, the methodology for the analysis, and a brief summary of each analysis, organized by topic, including a link. 

Defining Sustainability

Sustainability has different meanings to different communities. The American Planning Association defines it as:

 “…the capability to equitably meet the vital human needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs by preserving and protecting the area’s ecosystems and natural resources. The concept of sustainability describes a condition in which human use of natural resources, required for the continuation of life, is in balance with Nature’s ability to replenish them” (American Planning Association, Policy Guide on Planning for Sustainability).

According to HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan speaking at the Office of Sustainable Housing and Communities 2011 Grant Announcement:

“For HUD, sustainability means tying the quality and location of housing to broader opportunities, like access to good jobs, quality schools, and safe streets. It means helping communities that face common problems start sharing solutions. It means being a partner to sustainable development, not a barrier.”

–        Secretary Shaun Donovan

The term “sustainable communities” is defined further by HUD as:

“urban, suburban, and rural places that successfully integrates housing, land use, economic and workforce development, transportation and infrastructure investments in a manner that empowers jurisdictions to consider the interdependent challenges of:

  1. economic competitiveness and revitalization;
  2. social equity, inclusion and access to opportunity;
  3. energy use and climate change; and
  4. public health and environmental impact.”

These three definitions of sustainability provide a framework that this report will use to define sustainability. Sustainability in planning ties methods to goals. A sustainable condition in its most basic sense is one where the use of resources never exceeds the ability to regenerate resources. The method of achieving sustainability in planning requires understanding what HUD refers to as “interdependent challenges.” Addressing the sustainability of resources requires an understanding of how various policy fields and topics affect one another and further, how these fields can best operate in conjunction so as to facilitate the best possible outcomes for these fields in whole. 

Sustainability and the Gap Analysis

The multiple definitions of sustainability presented as well as HUD’s livability principles establish the paradigm of sustainable and livable communities for this report. This report views sustainability in a broad sense, concerned mainly with the viewpoint that sustainability is primarily concerned with recognizing how various policy fields affect one another. Additionally, how an understanding of those relationships can help move communities towards a sustainable condition.

The interconnectedness of systems is critical to the principle of sustainable communities. By understanding the goals of the various plans governing the entities within the NJTPA region, we hope to understand where and how sustainability is addressed within these various communities.

The goals described in each plan of the three regional planning organizations, thirteen counties, and five cities of the NJTPA region were synthesized into a smaller number of composite goals based on both their frequency of appearance and relationship to the concept of sustainable communities. Once the composite goals for each topic were determined, the original goals from the various plans were analyzed in order to determine which plans align with the synthesized goals and where there are gaps. A chart displaying these gaps is including at the beginning of each topic report. The remainder of each topic report communicates the specific language used and the location of matching goals.  

Gap Analysis Methodology

Plans were collected for the purpose of analyzing the governing documents of the regional planning bodies, counties, and cities of the NJTPA region in terms of whether, and the degree to which they deal with the topic of sustainability. In all, just over 100 plans were collected through the use of online research, government websites and personal contact. An attempt was made to collect a master plan from each of the governing bodies reviewed. Plans that relate to the sustainability topics outlined in the RFP were also collected.

The purpose of the gap analysis is to assess where and to what extent the governing plans of the various entities within the NJTPA region have addressed topics of sustainability. The first step in this process was the preparation of a master list of all the goals related to each individual topic. This was achieved by carefully reviewing all the plans collected from various county and city administrations and regional organizations.

Upon completion of the master list, goals were grouped in order to identify common themes in different plans. For example “Promote land use patterns which facilitate use of alternative modes of transportation including walking and the use of bicycles.” (Highlands Council RMP) and “Foster the availability of various efficient transportation choices with emphasis on mass transit and the improvement of existing transportation facilities.” (Meadowlands Commission Master Plan).

Once identified, a list of composite goals was prepared and each of the jurisdictions plans were assessed as to whether the goal was addressed in their plan. ‘Composite Goals’ used generalized language. For example, the above two goals were expressed as “Promote a variety of modes of transportation” (Gap Analysis Composite Goal).

After composite goals were identified they were cross compared to the original plans in order to determine which plans addressed each individual composite goal. This data was then organized, by topic, into a table for presentation. These tables are presented here in addition to a comparison within each topic report that displays the original language of any goals that were determined to match the composite goals. 

 

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