By Julia Corrigan
New Jersey is projected to be the first state to reach “build-out,” according to Rider’s sustainability studies program director. This means every piece of available land will be developed as soon as 2030.
New Jersey’s dense population and sustainability issues were among the topics discussed at the sustainability studies program spring event, Local Challenges and Opportunities for Sustainable Land Use, on April 15 in the Mercer Room. The event included five panelists in eco-friendly fields who shared their ideas on the challenges and opportunities for sustainable land use.
“The importance of events like this is to get these ideas to the forefront of students’ minds,” said Dr. Daniel Druckenbrod, director of sustainability studies. “It is important to know we live in the state with the highest population density in our country and we are the first state to reach build-out.”
The first panelist to speak to the audience of Rider faculty, staff and students was Paul Larson, chair of Lawrence Township’s trails, open space and stewardship advising committee. Larson focused his discussion on Lawrence Township’s preservation of open space and farmland.
“The township actually preserved more than 25 percent of its land for farmland and open space,” Larson said. “There are 31 named parks around Lawrence Township.”
In addition to the named parks, there are four privately-owned parks, four county parks, one state park and two national park affiliate units, said Larson. In fact, Lawrence Township exceeds the National Recreation and Park Association’s recommended green space-to-person ratio.
“The National Recreation and Park Association recommends 6.25 to 10.5 acres of green space per 1,000 people,” Larson said. “Here in Lawrence Township, we far exceed that. We have 118.37 acres per 1,000.”
Pam Mount, chair of sustainable Lawrence; chair of the Lawrence green team; board member of sustainable Jersey; and owner of Terhune Orchards spoke about her experiences and the issues she faces owning a farm in Lawrence Township.
“In the ’60s, the state decided that farming was essential,” she said. However, instead of zoning farmland as farmland, which is “actually a taking because farmland is of a lesser value than land that can obviously be developed,” the state made farmers pay hefty land taxes based on the development of their land, according to Mount.
“One of the major issues in New Jersey is that all land is ripe for development,” she said. “A lot of people have the view that any land is fine for any type of development.”
Vice President of D&R Greenway Land Trust John Watson Jr. began his discussion with his “hope for sustainability in the state and across the nation.”
“Some of the most fantastic news that some organizations like mine are hearing is the trend that young adults and folks of my generation are wanting to move back into the cities,” he said. “They say by 2050, 70 percent of our population across the nation will be living in the city.”
Watson believes this is good news because the development of new suburbs takes away from open green space. With his job, Watson focuses on making cities greener and more eco-friendly to keep people from moving to the suburbs.
“Now that we have migration back into our cities, we need to create green infrastructure like parks, open space, urban farms and agriculture,” he said. “In fact, my organization was selected to receive a 2016 New Jersey Future Smart Growth Award for our capital city project we are developing right now. We are very grateful for the partnerships that have been developed as a result of creating this two-acre space in the capital city in New Jersey next to the soup kitchen. We would love to see more agri-hoods.”
Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club, stressed that the planet is in deep trouble.
“Sustainability isn’t enough,” he said. “We are in the middle of a climate crisis. The state climatologist said after Tropical Storm Lee and Hurricane Irene that it was a millennium event. A year later, after Superstorm Sandy, he said it was a millennium event. That’s two millennium events in one decade.
“According to Rutgers, 9 percent of our state will disappear in the next 20 or 30 years. A lot of our key infrastructure and communities are in those low-lying areas that flood not only when there’s a big storm but when there’s a high tide. We have serious problems. One day when the Giants play the Dolphins at the Meadowlands, it is going to be real dolphins.”
The last panelist to speak was the eastern grassroots organizer for Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Travis Hammill. He brought up the point that any person who has a job and pays taxes owns land in Utah.
“You own land in Utah,” he said “That’s what public land is. It is land that is owned by citizens of the United States, and it is held in trust by the federal government.”
The congressional delegation from Utah and many of the legislators in the state are “extremely uninterested if not completely opposed to wilderness protection, or even just any sort of preservation or conservation of our public lands,” Hammill said.
Hammill was at the panel discussion to raise awareness of the public land in Utah which is not being maintained by the delegation and state legislators.
Sophomore environmental science major Timothy Forrest attended the event and was pleased to hear from professionals who are working toward a more sustainable planet.
“It’s good to hear people talk about how they work in the field to really fix the issues,” he said. “People make little changes, but to really make a difference, we have to shift the whole paradigm of country into building everything more sustainable.”