13 August 2008

Is Manville aware as Monroe builds?

One of the many municipalities in Millstone River Watershed is Monroe Township. And, while it is very far from Manville, much of the rain that falls in Monroe ends up going through Manville (and occasionally the streets and homes of Manville). However, since we often don't treat watersheds as singular cohesive units, there is a limited regulatory or planing connection between the upstream development and the impacted landscapes downstream. The most recent changes in stormwater rules have attempted to address the problem on a site-by-site basis, but the watershed approach is left to NGOs and and a small unit within the DEP.
(Disclaimer: I am claiming to have deliberately posted a less attractive map of the watershed, to leave more options for my students to freely design attractive ones this fall)

For example, Monroe Township just approved a new village-style town center that sounds like the smart growth that planners have been pushing for throughout New Jersey. The developer says the village along the banks of the Millstone River will be small and dense (possibly limiting impervious surface) and it will be tree-heavy. According to the Star-Ledger, the Township thinks of the developer as environmentally-friendly:
In 2003, the Verde Group started work on a residential development in Monroe, named Windhaven, building around existing farmland and preserving it without using state preservation funds.

"He is the most environmentally conscious developer we have," said Riggs. "He understands all the environmental regulations better than anyone I know."

The buildings in the shopping center would be situated to maximize natural light and minimize energy consumption, said Ochsner. The center also would have underground stormwater drainage systems.

"We plan projects around the environment, not through it," he said.

And maybe that is an accurate reflection of the matter. If development is inevitable, this sounds far preferable to someone more controversial. But even if the stormwater rules do limit downstream impact, should we keep making decisions impacting Manville without their participation? Of course, Manville residents are welcome to attend the planning meetings in Monroe, Millstone, East Windsor, West Windsor, Princeton, Plainsboro, Hightstown, Cranbury, Hopewll, Montgomery, Franklin and Rocky Hill. Is that fair? That is a lot to ask of a small group of citizens from a small borough on the receiving end of some big floods.

An interesting twist would be to consider how the isolated view might be a more American perspective. In a very recent NY Times column, David Brooks mentioned some sociological research that highlights how this might connect with a difference between Americans and Asians:
If you show an American an image of a fish tank, the American will usually describe the biggest fish in the tank and what it is doing. If you ask a Chinese person to describe a fish tank, the Chinese will usually describe the context in which the fish swim.

These sorts of experiments have been done over and over again, and the results reveal the same underlying pattern. Americans usually see individuals; Chinese and other Asians see contexts.

When the psychologist Richard Nisbett showed Americans individual pictures of a chicken, a cow and hay and asked the subjects to pick out the two that go together, the Americans would usually pick out the chicken and the cow. They’re both animals. Most Asian people, on the other hand, would pick out the cow and the hay, since cows depend on hay. Americans are more likely to see categories. Asians are more likely to see relationships.

While Brooks applies this to larger geopolitical perspectives, I think we can really see it play out in local decision-making. It is easier for us to see how the economics of Monroe connect with the open space of Monroe with the policies of Monroe with the voters of Monroe. It is harder for us to see how the headwaters connect with the floodplain. Some of that is just an interesting phenomenon. But some of it is a lack of awareness that is costly and keeps getting us in trouble.

We'll be talking about this watershed this fall, so you can expect to hear more about some of the different upstream and downstream goings ons here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Information on how the flooding in Manville is being addressed:

Information on why land use in New Jersey is not based on watersheds: