If you missed the RhodeMap RI open house on Monday night, there is still a chance to provide input on Gov. Lincoln Chafee’s plan to make Rhode Island a better place to live and work by improving economic development, housing options and growth centers within communities. The information and two surveys regarding the plan will be available online until May 23.
Monday night’s event held at the Warwick Public Library was the fourth of six open house events hosted by the Department of Administration in an attempt to get feedback on the plans from various facets of the population. Attendees were invited to provide feedback on the plan created for economic development and housing through a survey.
“The state wanted to make sure the public saw everything available,” said Craig Pereira, spokesperson on behalf of Horsley Witten Group, the prime consultant for RhodeMap RI. Over the past year, the team behind RhodeMap RI has been developing plans to strengthen the state’s economy, create vibrant neighborhoods and plan for future growth.
“First and foremost, we are using this opportunity to make sure we’re on the right track,” said Jared Rhodes, chief of the Division of Planning Statewide Planning Program. “Also, it’s an opportunity for folks to tell us what we’re missing.”
Rhodes explained this is the first time the state has had this level of input from the community, with a number of community involvement opportunities since the RhodeMap RI process began.
“It’s really a huge opportunity for us,” said Rhodes, adding that goals will be prioritized based on responses to the survey. “Rhode Islanders have an opportunity to tell us what the priorities should be.”
Pereira explained that when all is said and done, the RhodeMap RI plans for housing and economic development will become public policy. The next step after finalizing the plans will be to create performance measures related to the goals of each plan; they will also be updating performance measures for the Land Use 2025 and Transportation 2030. Those plans will all work into the overall RhodeMap RI plan.
In terms of economic development, the team behind RhodeMap RI identified eight themes that need to be addressed to improve Rhode Island’s economy.
Those themes are assets and attitude (getting citizens to look at what we have in the state instead of what’s gone), changes in the demographics of our state, access to talent for high-skilled jobs and entry-level jobs, improving access to capital for individuals looking to start businesses, alleviating tax burdens, improving the regulatory environment for businesses, investing in infrastructure, and policy coordination and implementation across the state.
“We’re coming at it from a perspective of how to employ more people,” said Darlene Wynne, co-writer of the economic development plan and a sub-consultant of RhodeMap RI with 4ward Planning. “Rhode Island is a strongly small business state, so we’re encouraging that.”
Wynne also listed determining jobs of the future, establishing a strong infrastructure to support the economy, and playing to Rhode Island’s other strengths.
“All those things that make it easier to do business,” said Wynne. “We’ve identified the things that make Rhode Island unique.”
A key element of RhodeMap RI is connecting the plan for economic development with the plan for future housing. If the goal is to bring more jobs and businesses to the state, there needs to be a variety of affordable housing options for all.
Amy Rainone of Rhode Island Housing was on hand at the open house to discuss the housing part of the plan. She explained much of it has to do with providing the right type of housing for the state demographics, including aging, those living with special needs, low-income and supportive housing options for the homeless.
“Do we have the right housing mix for those people?” said Rainone.
The cost to rent also needs to be addressed.
“A quarter of renters are spending over half of their income on rent,” said Rainone.
As a result, individuals are not moving out and starting households on their own. In other cases, families are doubling up because many families cannot move out on their own. A delay in starting new households also causes a decline in the construction business.
“It has a lot of impact on the economy,” said Rainone.
Rainone applauded the RhodeMap RI process by having different agencies and the public collaborate to come up with a variety of ideas for improvement.
“It’s an opportunity for folks to comment on what they think the state should be doing,” she said.
As for the work done regarding Growth Centers, areas for development or redevelopment versus conservation, the data collected through RhodeMap RI will be turned into a tool kit for city and town planners. Individual cities and towns will be able to use the information to determine what type of development or conservation is best for their individual communities.
“Our Growth Center component had a pretty robust community involvement,” said Pereira.
Through a series of community events last fall, the RhodeMap RI team gathered data on what areas of cities and towns are ripe for development and what areas need to be conserved. During those workshops, the public identified different areas as different categories of growth centers: commercial/mixed use, corridor, downtown, hamlet, main street, neighborhood, new village, traditional village and transit station.
Using data from the community and city and town planners, an interactive map of the state was created so the final workshop could participate in the Growth Center Game. The map was also available at Monday’s open house and online. Users can read descriptions of the different growth centers and can identify communities across the state that fit in each category.
Peter Flinker, a consultant with Horsley Witten Group who developed the map, explained that there was resistance at first, with community members feeling very strongly that their area didn’t need to change.
“It’s not about turning these historic villages into something it’s not,” said Flinker. “It’s about finding the right fit so this growth occurs naturally.”
By providing data, case studies, examples and descriptions of the various growth centers to city and town planners, Flinker said that those planners would have everything they need to determine future steps for their areas.
“Towns don’t often do planning to that level. They start planning when a developer shows up,” said Flinker. Using this tool kit, towns and cities can develop a future plan for their communities.
The series of six RhodeMap RI open houses ended last night in Woonsocket, but the virtual open house will be available online at www.RhodeMapRI.org until May 23. Pereira explained all of the documents and information available at the open house are posted online, along with the surveys regarding economic development and housing. The team is encouraging the public to look at the information and take the surveys to provide feedback.