Focus on sustainability

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By John Barnhart

Region 2000 chose Bedford’s Bower Center as the site for its Sustainable Communities Workshop earlier this month.

    What is sustainability?

    Bart Warner, Bedford’s assistant city manager, said that this is a community’s ability to meet its citizen’s needs from generation to generation. Robert White, deputy director of Region 2000, said that it’s important for a community to make sure it doesn’t paint itself into a corner while making current decisions.

    According to White, Bedford was chosen as the site of this workshop because it is an attractive community that is part of Region 2000. The city is a good example of a community that is striving to position itself for the future.

    The workshop consisted of panel discussions. One was on using energy and reducing energy consumption. White said that local governments can provide leadership in the wise use of energy while also being more fiscally responsible.

    Water was another topic. White said the state requires all localities to prepare a water plan. Localities are to look at anticipated growth for the next 30 to 50 years and see if there are gaps in their ability to meet the water needs this growth will bring. The plan calls for them to find options to fill any gaps they identify.

    “Region 2000, as a whole, is water rich,” said White. The issue is figuring out how to get that water to where it’s needed.

    A third area was open space and historic preservation. White said that historic preservation is important because it is part of understanding our past and valuing it. He points to Bedford’s National D-Day Memorial which reminds us of the contributions and sacrifices of an entire generation.

    Matt Braud, a member of the Bedford County Economic Development Authority, was on the panel discussing “last mile” broadband connectivity.

    “It is a way to build our economies,” Braud said.

    Braud said that having access to broadband Internet gives people access to higher education. It also opens the door to people being able to operate businesses from their homes or telecommute. Broadband gives medical facilities the ability to use remote diagnostic services.

    The issue is to figure out how to get this service to areas that don’t have it. Braud said that Virginia allows localities to set up broadband authorities which make public/private partnerships possible. A broadband authority has access to grants and existing public infrastructure and can issue bonds. The authority can also calculate local demand for this service and potentially use this to attract broadband Internet providers.

    The issue of demand, itself, is something localities need to address, according to Braud, by promoting computer literacy. People in rural areas are slower to sign up for broadband service even when it’s available. Braud said that education can drive demand and make a locality more attractive for broadband providers.

    The workshop ended with a walking tour through Bedford’s Centertown, led by Warner.