Three Cities Pledge to Work Together for Sustainable Future- With Video

Municipalities are getting the message loud and clear: Find ways to work together to cut costs, or suffer the consequences. Rochester, Rochester Hills and Auburn Hills are taking that one step further. With help from Oakland County, the three communities will design a template for future partnerships for community and environmental sustainability.

At a kick-off open house June 2 of the Tri-City Sustainability Planning Project held at the Auburn Hills Community Center, residents from the three cities suggested ways of working together for social, economic and environmental sustainability. Tables were set up around eight broad topics: economy and education, public service and infrastructure, land use and transportation, health and wellbeing, natural resource assets, waste and recycling, energy and community, and recreation, history and culture. Participants jotted down their long-term visions about what they would like to see in the community in each area.

Rochester Mayor Jeff Cuthbertson said the cities are already recognized as leaders in regional cooperation, but more needs to be done.

“All three of us have a great track record on collaboration; that’s something we can be proud of,” he said. “Having said that, we have to now work on what’s next, what are our next opportunities. … So having everyone here this evening to help get some additional public input into this is very important.”

Joel Howrani-Heeres, a consultant on the project, said the idea is to think more broadly about the ways “people, prosperity and the planet” come together.  It starts with creating the vision, then moves on to setting goals and the specific actions needed to achieve them.

“This is a huge process,” he said. “We’re eating an elephant. We need to start with one little part of it. … We can’t really achieve these vision and goals without the support of all the organizations in the community.”

Some of the participants’ visions were big: improved door-to-door transportation; electric charging stations; a water consortium; every school building energy certified; mass transit; increasing social gatherings. Some were more targeted: larger recycling bins; safeguarding historic destinations; eliminating junk mail; greenhouses in schools.

Project manager Nina Ignaczak, a senior planner with Oakland County Planning and Economic Development, said that in this early stage of the process, the sky is the limit.

“Right now we’re not trying to limit our scope of what we are attempting to be,” she said. Though some of the visions are costly, “At this stage, that’s OK,” she said. The goal is to discover, “since there are scarce resources, how can these three communities work together.”

The process began with the appointment of an advisory board representing major organizations within the three cities, including the Clinton River Watershed Council, Rochester-Avon Historical Society, the Community Foundation, Oakland University, Rochester College and Crittenton Hospital. The consulting team includes the WARM Training Center, a Detroit nonprofit, and the Grand Rapids-based firm Fishbeck, Thompson, Carr and Huber.

The next step, Howrani-Heeres said, is to set up strategy-area workshops to address suggestions gathered at the open house and come up with sustainability plans for each community, plus a template the county can use for other communities.

“This is kind of a test case,” he said. “We’re looking forward to applying that elsewhere as well.”

Rochester Hills resident Lorraine McGoldrick attended the open house “to have input.

“I think this is a good process,” she said. “I’m most concerned about the historic preservation of Rochester Hills. They say one thing and reverse previous decisions to benefit developers. I believe in expressing my opinions and I believe everybody should get out and vote.”

Photo special to the Oakland Press/ANNETTE KINGSBURY

At a recent open house at the Auburn Hills Community Center, residents study one of eight subject areas that will be the focus of coordinated planning by the cities of Auburn Hills, Rochester and Rochester Hills. 

By Annette Kingsbury

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