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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

Reality Check II Confirms Need for Collaboration in Developing Regional Strategic Plan

Three hundred civic leaders gathered at Old Dominion University on May 17 last year to discuss the next 25 years of growth for the region in an innovative program known as Reality Check Hampton Roads.

Almost exactly a year later, many of the participants gathered on campus again, on Thursday, May 16, to discuss the collective plans they had formed share ideas on how help make them a reality.

The key findings from the 2012 Reality Check exercise were presented Thursday at ODU's Ted Constant Convocation Center. Sponsored by the Urban Land Institute Hampton Roads District Council, ODU's E.V. Williams Center for Real Estate and Economic Development (CREED) and the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission, the event was an attempt to move forward from the Reality Check exercise with guiding land-use principles.

Reality Check Hampton Roads: Advancing the Vision also featured a panel of experts from the stakeholder groups that hosted last year's session, as well as a guest speaker from Utah, Robert Grow, who detailed how that state has made progressive changes to manage its own explosive growth.

Grow, president and CEO of Envision Utah, gave a 45-minute address in which he said he sees many of the elements in place for Hampton Roads to enjoy its own smart-growth boom. "This is a spectacular place," Grow said. "I can just see and feel the energy and pride you feel in your home."

Grow said regional visioning - the ultimate hoped-for result of events such as Reality Check Hampton Roads - is a powerful tool to help create enduring communities. He said Utah's Quality Growth Strategy has resulted in the construction of a complete light rail system in populated areas; nearly 2 million of the state's residents live within 1,000 steps of a light rail stop.

The Advancing the Vision panel included Chris Bonney, chair of the Hampton Roads Center for Civic Engagement; Dwight Farmer, executive director of the Hampton Roads District Planning Council; Florence Kingston, director of the Department of Development for the city of Newport News; John Peterson, vice chair for mission advancement with the Urban Land Institute; and Bob Fenning, ODU's vice president for administration and finance.

Fenning told the audience that the university is eager to be part of the search for sustainable solutions in the region. He said ODU can act as a host for events such as Reality Check, provide expertise to help solve the region's problems and help to implement solutions that work for the long term.

During the 2012 Reality Check program, participants representing different community organizations gathered around tables in groups of 10 and debated how to "add" 350,000 residents - the projected growth of the region over the next 25 years.

It should come as no surprise that the No. 1 issue participants identified as a challenge to Hampton Roads was transportation.

It was one of six key tenets that Reality Check participants hope civic leaders keep in mind when planning growth for the region. The others were regionalism (thinking of the entire region as a whole, rather than discrete communities) quality of life, business and economics, land use patterns and the environment.

The guiding principles established at last year's Reality Check will be considered in the creation of a regional strategic plan. The key to all of this is collaboration.

Reality Check Hampton Roads participants said that regional collaboration will provide the most effective and sustainable solutions to accommodate and promote future population growth. Leaders from the public, private and nonprofit sectors indicated their support for regional collaboration to develop sustainable land-use strategies and a preferred vision to guide future growth.

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