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Land use institute to focus on the ‘Next West’

These are exciting times for land use planning.

While that may be the first time “exciting” and “land use planning” have shared a sentence, the creators behind the Rocky Mountain Land Use Institute’s 20th annual conference can make that case. As the nation emerges from financial crisis, as markets coil to rebound from recession, and as optimism and hope for growth build, these are indeed exciting times for land use planning.

This year’s conference, which is March 3–4 at DU’s Sturm College of Law, is dubbed “The Next West: Livelihoods and the Future of the Rocky Mountain Region.”

William Shutkin, executive director of the institute, says the event offers planners, entrepreneurs, business investors and scholars a platform to look back on two decades of struggle to develop sustainable policies and to look ahead and shape the future of the Rocky Mountain West. Through discussion, crowd sourcing and social media, attendees will even frame the very questions and problems facing the region and set the agenda for future conferences.

“What we’re seeing is the emergence of a new kind of West, the ‘Next West,’” Shutkin says. “This year’s conference theme is what awaits us as we grapple with the recent economic collapse, climate change, population growth and increasing constraints on our natural resources, among other forces.”

The conference’s intentionally wide-ranging program promises a conference that will challenge traditional thinking and encourage new ways of thinking about old problems.

Speakers include James Balog, director and founder of the Extreme Ice Survey; Gary Bridge, senior vice president of Cisco Internet Business Solutions Group and Rick Bass, author of 25 books including Why I Came West.

Individual sessions will confront the realities of a country and economy that has been reshaped in the first decade of the 21st century. Topics include, “Now that we’re Poor: The New Economies of Land Use,” “Sustainability as an Economic Driver in the ‘Next West,” “Affordable Housing and Transit Oriented Development,” and “Putting Sprawl on a Diet.”

One key to understanding the role of land use policy — what Shutkin calls “the neglected stepchild of environmental policy” — is to understand that while government agencies don’t label their work “land use planning,” they guide land use every day through zoning rules, economic incentives and even things as seemingly unrelated as transportation funding. Putting lawyers, planers, policy makers and entrepreneurs together will help direct those seemingly unconnected efforts into a purposeful movement.

“This is a singular opportunity to redefine and rebuild not just the region but the nation,” Shutkin says. “That’s what this year’s conference is about — engaging the tough issues of the day with an eye toward tomorrow’s opportunities for innovation and entrepreneurship in the way we use our land and natural resources and the way we develop our communities and economies.”

The full two-day program — which also includes sessions on rail transit, water use, conservation and the role of government policy in shaping development — is at the Rocky Mountain Land Use website.

The event is hosted by the institute, Sturm College and the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy. Sponsors include The Home Depot Foundation; Otten, Johnson, Robinson, Neff & Ragonetti; and many others.

Shutkin says with an anticipated attendance of more than 400 professionals in an array of fields all communicating via social media platforms as well as in formal and informal gatherings, the conference will be an important driver in future policy making.

“From technology and transportation to housing and economic development, the land use playing field is vast and full of exciting opportunities for those willing to chase them,” Shutkin says.

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