Newton planners recognized by MIT

COVINGTON -- Newton County is being spotlighted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for its planning practices.

Newton native and MIT graduate Ruth Miller won a grant from the Department of Urban Studies and Planning's new Community Innovators Lab to produce a four-part video series on the county's comprehensive planning process. The series features members of the Newton County Leadership Collaborative discussing their experiences in developing the 2050 Plan and offering advice to planners, residents and representatives in other communities.

Miller has worked as an intern at The Center for Community Planning and Preservation, which facilitates the Leadership Collaborative.

"When given the opportunity to highlight any community or project in the world, I didn't hesitate to use this opportunity to bring the spotlight to The Center," said Miller, currently at work on her master's degree in planning at the University of California, Berkeley. "Sometimes it feels like academic planning is quick to write off small towns as unplannable and irrational. I love being from such a strong counterexample. Newton County and its cities are pioneering in this field, and it was a real treat to have this excuse to talk to people about it."

Though Miller has had more exposure to the planning process than the average citizen, she said she was surprised to learn just how long officials have been planning long-range.

"Planning, zoning and transportation aren't things they teach in high school. Most people just experience them without knowing about the machinations going on behind the scenes," she said, adding she wants people to realize, "There are smart people in my town that I don't even know talking about how to help preserve the quality of life. Just knowing those conversations are happening is key. People outside Newton County are impressed and are looking at us as a model."

Miller said she hopes the series will bring attention and possibly grant money to The Center, so that it "can keep the lights on" and continue to do the work to implement the 2050 Plan. The plan identifies key strategies for Newton's future including protecting clean water, creating communities and corridors and coordinating public investments in comprehensive and economic development and land conservation. The plan could save the county as much as $3.3 billion over 40 years, Miller said she was surprised to learn during her research.

The series has been recognized by the National Resource Defense Council and the Atlantic Magazine's Cities Blog. It can be viewed at http://colabradio.mit.edu/category/citizen-planning-in-newton-county-georgia.