The Piedmont View


Dear Friends,

What do the Western Bypass, uranium mining, transmission lines and the regulation of farm wineries all have in common? Each is an example of our communities facing a tough choice as to what we want the future of our towns, our counties, and our region to look like.

These are all land use choices; decisions as to how we are going to move forward in our relationship with the land that sustains us. With the national presidential campaigns in full-swing, it is easy to tune out the news concerning local zoning issues, revised ordinances, transportation funding, and comprehensive plans. Yet, these are the issues and decisions that will directly shape our communities and our day-to-day lives, on both physical and functional levels.

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Photo by Tom Lussier

This fall in Charlottesville and Stanardsville, PEC is screening Green Fire—a recently-released documentary that explores the life and legacy of famed conservationist Aldo Leopold. Leopold understood that land use decisions directly impact the health of localities and of the land that they depend on. He emphasized the importance of “thinking communities” that develop a “land ethic:”

“...The individual is a member of a community of interdependent parts. The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants and animals, or collectively the land.”

Since its founding in 1972, PEC has been active in policy and land use decisions that impact the Piedmont. Fully embracing the notion of a land ethic, the founding members of PEC’s Board of Directors knew that this region would be faced with a broad range of difficult choices concerning land use, infrastructure, economic development, and conservation of natural resources; and they knew that PEC would have to be involved at many levels.

Our founders believed that PEC should be proactively articulating possible futures for the region; assisting with comprehensive planning; and providing perspectives on everything from viewsheds to highway design. They also understood that PEC would be needed as an advocate, even to the extent of lobbying and litigation.

Our role in the 9-county region is multifaceted. First, we try to find common vision for the future of the region, and find ways to articulate that vision. This is why we make maps; hire consultants to analyze demographics and model future traffic; simulate the build-out of rural areas and growth areas; and show the views from various angles of proposed developments. We are constantly working to understand what the future might look like based on our communities’ decisions, and to share our findings with our members and decision-makers.

Yet, PEC does not only envision—our professional staff also analyzes how decisions could impact us in the here and now. PEC works to define objective measures to determine whether a decision is in line with the common vision of the region and what it’s impacts will be. We consult outside parties and research extensively—analyzing the details, evaluating the multiple values involved, and weighing pros and cons.

PEC then uses its expertise and institutional knowledge to help constituents determine who the decision-maker is in a given situation. Is it the individual? The local or state government? A large, multinational corporation? It’s not always simple; there is often more than one decision to be made, involving many decision-makers—but PEC works to pinpoint which decision-maker will have the greatest impact. We then let our members and the general public know what action can be taken with as much clarity and detail as possible.

As we enter the final stages of election season, it is worth considering the importance of participation— not only on the national level but within our local communities. PEC as an organization can not advocate for specific candidates, but we can help frame a shared vision, the decision process, and the measures of performance. It is the members of PEC who can participate directly, and many do. It is important for all elected officials to know that maintaining a land ethic is important to voters, even when issues of the economy dominate the debate. Leopold put it best:

“Examine each question in terms of what is ethically and aesthetically right, as well as what is economically expedient. A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”


Chris Miller



This article was featured in our Fall 2012 Member Newsletter, The Piedmont View



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