On September 21-22, 2016, more than 25 urban planners and conservation professionals met in Atlanta to engage with the American Planning Association (APA) and the South Atlantic LCC to help set the stage for future Conservation Blueprint revisions in regard to urban environments. The South Atlantic Urban Conservation Summit focused on how urban planners are working on natural resource conservation and further identifying opportunities for conservationists and planners to collaborate more closely in the future. The Summit was part of a larger project with the APA’s Green Communities Research Center to improve integration of the natural and built environments into the Blueprint.

The need to convene this Summit arose from a number of factors affecting conservation and urban planning, including:

  • Urbanization and the rise of the “Southern Megalopolis” are major transforming drivers of the landscape in the South Atlantic region.
  • Many of the traditional approaches to urban green infrastructure do not adequately incorporate considerations for conservation of the natural environment.
  • Likewise, traditional approaches to natural resource conservation may not be appropriate for application in the urban environment.
  • Improving the data informing the South Atlantic LCC’s Conservation Blueprint in regard to urban areas is identified as a high priority for Blueprint users.

img_0245_edit_smallThe Summit was also a “convening across sectors,” which brought together professionals from distinct occupations and at a range of scales having similar interests but lacking a strong history of organizational collaboration. The meeting was successful in providing the foundation and network for improved relationships between urban planners and other conservation professionals, and will be a springboard for future collaborative efforts.

Through a series of breakout activities, participants considered:

  • challenges and barriers to incorporating natural resource conservation into urban planning,
  • setting priorities for conservation action,
  • identifying opportunities for collaboration and integration, and
  • defining metrics and measuring success.

Here are some of the common themes that emerged from the discussion:

  • Values centered around wildlife, habitat, and ecological integrity can be translated to the values of communities, like economic development, quality of life, clean and plentiful water.
  • Conservation professionals and planners are both designing landscapes at different scales, so we need to design together.
  • We must be careful not to lose sight of equity. Urban conservation provides an opportunity to help underserved communities—which requires that we listen and foster participation to empower communities to create solutions that address their needs.
  • Planners can help conservation professionals identify science needs, and implement science in a way that creates effective and beautiful urban conservation solutions.
  • There’s a need to developing a shared vocabulary and improve effective communication both between conservation and planning professionals, and with elected officials.

In recognition of that last point, summit participants began compiling a glossary of definitions to help establish a common language to overcome communication barriers between conservation professionals and the planning sector. Participants further agreed to work on a guidance document for conservation professionals to become more familiar with urban planning processes and engagement opportunities.

The Urban Conservation Summit was one task in a 15-month project that will recommend and evaluate refinements to the Blueprint’s urban open space indicator and related ecosystem indicators.