July 2020 – SNS Newsletter

Returning to our community’s shared vision

The SNS Regional Plan reflects community’s vision for more resilient, equitable region

When development of the Southern Nevada Strong Regional Plan began back in 2012, the region was in the early stages of beginning its recovery coming out of the Great Recession.

These were still uncertain times for a region that was among the hardest hit during the housing market collapse.

Less than a decade later, we find ourselves again in a similarly uncertain time. No one could have predicted that 2020 would see the Southern Nevada community hard hit by another economic crisis, this time brought on by a global pandemic.

Of course, this isn’t just an economic crisis, but a public health crisis as well. And one that’s taking place at the same time as our country again confronts historical and current social injustices.

While we’ve made great strides over the past decade to diversify the economy and invest in our communities, we’re again faced with the reality that our region is particularly susceptible to external shocks. And as is the case nearly everywhere, there’s no escaping the fact that disadvantaged and underserved communities in our region are bearing the brunt of the burden.

As we continue to navigate these uncertain times and begin the process of planning for our region’s recovery, let’s not look past the SNS Regional Plan and what it offers.

Though it was completed and adopted five years ago, the plan’s vision and overarching goals – and the process used for developing them – are as relevant today as they were when the plan was created. Maybe even more so.

The plan was written, in large part, to guide a long-term recovery from the last economic crisis, aiming to make the region stronger and more resilient to shocks, as well as more equitable and inclusive.

It reflects very broad community and stakeholder involvement, which means the goals and objectives reflect what Southern Nevadans said they wanted in the aftermath of the Great Recession.

At the core of the regional plan are three elements: People, the economy, and infrastructure. When these elements – and all the things that make them work – are strong and supportive of each other, then the region is, too.

The top issues in a 2013 poll conducted for the SNS project were jobs, economy, and schools. These became the long-term recovery-focused issues that the regional plan focused on. These same priorities are critical components to overcoming the current crisis.

The most relevant and applicable goals for both the 2013 recovery and now include:

  • Ensure that Southern Nevada offers a range of place types to attract and retain future workers, visitors, business and entrepreneurs
  • Enhance the role of small businesses and entrepreneurs as leaders in economic diversification and revitalization
  • Increase collaboration between the state government, local governments, and the region’s higher education institutions to align economic development and education efforts
  • Encourage an adequate supply of housing with a range of price, density, ownership, size and building types
  • Support access to healthcare, healthy food, parks and community services

Now is the time to return to our shared goals and vision as a reminder that when facing the worst economic crisis of modern time, our community had the imagination to define a future for all Southern Nevadans.


Regional planning team begins new research projects to examine extreme heat, housing, sustainability plans

Just as the work-from-home orders were being issued for Nevada back in mid-March, the RTC’s regional planning team was in the process of initiating work on a new regional work program that was formally adopted in February 2020 by the RTC Board of Commissioners.

Among the new projects were a trio of research projects, which are summarized below, that further implementation of goals found in the Southern Nevada Strong Regional Plan.

The new workplan allows the team to do much of what we’ve done in years past, such as tracking data and engaging communities, but also includes several new projects aimed at helping address pressing regional issues.

And while the workplan is fairly well defined, it does allow the team to be nimble and responsive to emerging regional needs, and to adapt to account for COVID-19 impacts.

EXTREME HEAT VULNERABILITY

Southern Nevada has been identified as one of the fastest warming regions in the U.S., and recent research indicates a substantial risk of heat-related deaths from an increasing number of extreme heat events in the valley. Despite the history of adverse health impacts associated with extreme heat in our region, experts hold that many of these outcomes are preventable. Reducing future adverse outcomes will require developing effective and coordinated responses, as well as improving the awareness of public health officials and the general public about the health risks associated with extreme heat. This is especially critical in areas with high concentrations of those most vulnerable during extreme heat events.

RTC’s regional planning team will be conducting research to:

  • Identify local demographic and environmental factors that increase vulnerability to extreme heat
  • Assess relevant data to pinpoint areas in Southern Nevada with high concentrations of at-risk populations
  • Identify targeted responses and interventions that could help save lives during extreme heat events

By providing this research to local governmental partners in planning and emergency management, our community can improve awareness of the health risks of extreme heat and develop coordinated responses to heat events. As a first step, we’re working to identify populations in our region that are most vulnerable during extreme heat events by developing a regional extreme heat vulnerability index and map, which we hope to have ready soon.

For additional information on this project, click here.

INVENTORY OF SUSTAINABILITY PLANS

Over the course of the past year, there has been substantial discussion about the need for environmental sustainability planning in Southern Nevada. Many of these discussions have been a response to recent legislation – executive order 2019-22, SB 254, and SB 358 – as well as conversations and public input at local and county levels. In response, the regional planning team decided to research how environmental sustainability planning is occurring in other regions, the results of which can inform potential future planning efforts in Southern Nevada.

The regional planning staff conducted a robust literature review on environmental sustainability planning, including a review of sample sustainability and climate action plans from local and regional agencies. Interviews with peer communities across the country that have recently completed similar planning efforts were also conducted.

The result is an inventory of different approaches, best practices, and lessons learned in environmental sustainability planning. A draft of this research was then shared with a technical advisory group, which provided feedback on the findings and additional recommendations for completing the research.

This input is now being incorporated into a final report, which will be available to the public in the coming months. In the meantime, more information and early findings can be found online on the Inventory of Regional Sustainability Planning Tools and Techniques project webpage.

FUTURE HOUSING FORECAST

Southern Nevada has been among the nation’s fastest growing regions for the better part of the last three decades. This rapid rate of development brought prosperity and opportunity to many, but it also created challenges. Much of our development has occurred on the edges of the region, and most of these new homes offer limited access to employment hubs and public transit. Additionally, in recent years, housing development has failed to keep pace with our population gains, which has led to growing affordability concerns. And the economic impact of the pandemic only stands to worsen affordability issues.

Maintaining an adequate supply of housing with a range of price, density, ownership and building types is key to ensuring our region can meet the needs of a growing and changing population.

The regional planning team will be analyzing housing and population data to get a sense for whether Southern Nevada is on track to meet these future housing needs. The research aims to:

  • Use population and land use forecasts to estimate future needs for the region
  • Identify whether, based on forecasts, our region is expected to experience a shortfall in needed housing units
  • Analyze how future housing shortfalls or surpluses may impact future affordability
  • Assess how housing preferences could affect future housing demand

This analysis should give our region a sense for whether housing affordability issues and traffic congestion will persist, and will allow our region the opportunity to plan accordingly.


 SNS Community Engagement Toolkit webpage updated with additional resources

Updated data map, resources for holding virtual meetings among new tools

Even before the coronavirus pandemic changed the way social interaction could be conducted, the regional planning team at the RTC of Southern Nevada was in the process of compiling new resources to include on its Community Engagement Toolkit webpage.

With virtual and digital tools being increasingly deployed to host public meetings and engage communities in recent years, the regional planning team wanted to add resources to its online toolkit that provided guidance on how to ensure these new tools were used in a manner that enhanced equitable representation, involvement and transparency in public engagement processes.

This took on greater importance in recent months, as virtual and digital tools have become the only safe option for public engagement.

The updated collection of tools and strategies focus on ensuring that outreach and engagement remain inclusive and equitable even in these trying times.

New additions to the toolkit include resources that can help project managers prepare for any type of meeting (whether digital or in person), host an engaging online meeting or event, and consider accessibility and equity when using virtual or digital tools.

“The team reviewed countless resources to fully understand their purpose and determine if they provided practical and useful solutions for today’s challenging conditions,” said Rae Lathrop, the manager of regional planning at the RTC.

Additionally, the Southern Nevada Community Data Map was also updated using a new online mapping platform. The refreshed tool includes new features, as well as updated data, which can guide and inform engagement efforts by helping users better understand target audiences and the demographic makeup of communities in Southern Nevada.

The Community Engagement Toolkit, which was initially launched in 2018, continues to build on the foundation of extensive engagement that underpins the SNS Regional Plan, which received a national planning award for outstanding community engagement and public input efforts demonstrated throughout the planning phase.


Updated transportation plan aims to enhance mobility for vulnerable populations

After almost a year-long process, a planning study aimed at improving mobility for seniors, people with disabilities, and low-income individuals is nearing completion.

The “Southern Nevada Coordinated Public Transit-Human Services Transportation Plan” helps address federal transit laws and the American Disabilities Act, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this month.

The federally required plan brings together public, private, and non-profit transportation and human service providers to:

  • Inventory existing transportation services
  • Identify transportation needs, duplication of services, and regional service area gaps
  • Assess existing and potential funding sources
  • Develop goals, strategies and an action plan

The plan is updated every 4-5 years, and a lot has changed since 2015. Southern Nevada’s population has increased by 9 percent and more seniors now call Clark County home. The number of low-income households and persons with disabilities in the region has also increased.

Since the project kick-off in September 2019, the project team has heard from or met with more than 400 service providers, organizations, and members of the public, and has consulted with a stakeholder advisory committee throughout the process.

This extensive outreach helped identify several barriers, including funding shortfalls for transportation providers and limited funding for paratransit and specialized services, as well as gaps in the existing transit network.

To eliminate some of the transportation barriers that vulnerable populations face, the plan produced the following goals:

  • Expand mobility options and resources
  • Increase awareness of transportation options
  • Leverage available technology
  • Improve connections to transit facilities
  • Expand regional collaboration among entities and social service organizations

After a public comment period and final committee review, the plan is set to go before the RTC Board of Commissioners for approval in August. The stakeholder advisory committee will also reconvene to begin implementation of the strategies developed to achieve the goals set out by the updated plan.

As the federally designated Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), the RTC of Southern Nevada is responsible for overseeing the transportation planning process for Southern Nevada.

To read more on the strategies and what’s next, visit the project webpage.


News Beyond the Valley

Here are a handful of stories that have caught our attention. Each article highlights how innovative, forward-thinking regional planning, policies, and initiatives can have tangible community impacts.

How the ’15-minute city’ could help post-pandemic recovery

A new C40 Cities report touts Paris’ model for locating essential activities within a 15-minute walking or biking distance as an economic boost for COVID-ravaged municipal budgets.

 

The dying mall’s new lease on life: Apartments 

As the pandemic hastens the retail apocalypse, some developers are betting that empty malls can mix housing with stores and community space.

 

London’s trees are saving the city billions

Shady trees mean less air conditioning and increased worker productivity in the summer months.