State of the Region Metrics Finalized!

The South Mountain Partnership reached a milestone in May for the eagerly anticipated State of the Region project. The year-long initiative, resulting in the first-ever report card, interactive maps and recommended actions, will provide a snapshot of how we are doing in our region around nature, recreation, agriculture & food, history & culture and public health and what we can do to preserve and promote them. The report card is designed to provide recommendations that can serve as a guide for the greater Partnership to work collaboratively to improve. The process has engaged partners of many kinds; residents, subject matter advisors, the PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR),  and planners of the four counties that are within the South Mountain footprint.

Over the past few months, 17 measurements (metrics) have been identified. These metrics provide the framework for the remainder of the work due in September 2023. Each metric will be evaluated in the Report Card, mapped on interactive maps, and help identify regional challenges that will be addressed in recommended actions.

  • Acres of preserved land
  • Acres of forested land
  • Miles of impaired streams
  • Acres of wetlands preserved
  • Miles of riparian buffer
  • Acres of farmland
  • Acres of preserved farmland
  • Acres of orchards
  • Number of historic resources
  • Acres of public open space
  • Miles of trails & bike routes
  • Walking proximity to trails & parks
  • Driving proximity to trails  
  • Driving proximity to water trails
  • # of days exceeding EPA air quality standard for particulate matter
  • Extreme heat days
  • Extreme rain days 

Determining Regional Challenges

The regional challenges are the lynchpin of the State of the Region initiative; they represent the collective opportunities for improvement across the region in a meaningful way. To gather as many insights as possible, the South Mountain Partnership employed various engagement methods, including a questionnaire to the Steering Committee members and SMP committee members, a Partners Survey, an extensive review of relevant county plans, and presentations at the Partners meetings in the fall and winter. Through this methodology, an extensive list of 35 regional challenges was compiled. The Steering Committee determined that we should focus on the top 3-5 challenges to be effective in this initiative. So, the list was vetted by the Steering Committee using a poll and discussion to determine the top 3-5 challenges facing the region. The top regional challenges are:

  • Smart Growth (and the balance between growth and preservation)
  • Water quality and stormwater management
  • Public health
  • Recreation (including access, quality of experience, supply and demand and connectivity)
  • Loss of resources (including farmland, historic/cultural, habitat,  and open space)

How Metrics Were Selected

The determination of metrics was vital to the process and subsequently, to measure the health of this unique region. Several regional challenges have been identified through this process: smart growth, water quality and stormwater management, loss of farmland, open space, forest, habitat, and historic resources, public health, and recreation. The metrics needed to align with these challenges, to ensure a robust framework to measure our regional landscape. In selecting the metrics, the data needed to be available in all four counties to establish regional benchmarks to use in the future. Comparative data for each metric also needed to be identified to provide context. In doing so, South Mountain Partnership has a definitive starting point that can be measured regularly to illustrate and track progress around a single metric, or all areas identified in the Report Card. The documentation of these findings will be a vital tool for planners, policy makers, partners and of course, residents of South Mountain in making decisions about how to protect and steward our valuable landscape and resources.

The analysis of the regional challenges combined with metrics are the backbone of the initiative; combined with interactive maps that illustrate the findings, the South Mountain State of the Region Project provide a comprehensive presentation that has never been done before.

Spring Meeting Provides Preview

Last month, attendees at the SMP Spring Meeting were invited to a “sneak peek” at the findings; the event afforded and opportunity for participants to weigh in on the metric performance data. Conversations were lively; the audience enthusiastically reviewed and rated the metric performance data. Katie Hess, Executive Director of the South Mountain Partnership noted “ sharing the metrics generated great conversations among attendees and fostered ideas for solutions. It’s clear that residents and partners in South Mountain are passionate about the future of the region. Attendees asked lots of questions like “how many trees do we need to plant to offset bad heat days” or “how do we support smart growth while preserving land?” “ Is it possible to grow multi-model connectivity?” She went on to say “There was a real sense of curiosity and excitement about what we will learn from the South Mountain State of the Region Report Card.”

The South Mountain Region is complex with an abundance of resources, but South Mountain Partnership emphasizes that to understand that the health of our region, it is important to gather information and data around our shared resources that can provide decision makers and planners data to make the best choices for our communities. Policy makers and planners look at the big picture to help prioritize projects that serve their constituents and communities. The South Mountain Partnership State of the Region initiative can help guide decisions based on the information provided.

Next Steps

Over the next few weeks, the steering committee and various stakeholders will finalize the State of the Region Report Card and fine-tune information and data point to develop interactive maps. The interactive maps allow users to overlay the maps to illustrate how the metrics and indicators interface with each other, to provide a comprehensive picture of the health of South Mountain. Finally, a set of recommendations will be developed to address the regional challenges that face our region, to continue the work to protect and promote the agricultural, natural, cultural and recreational resources here in South Mountain.