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Valley Conservation Council book touts better development models

Better Models for Development in the Shenandoah Valley 2010, just released by the Valley Conservation Council, has a clear message: When the next development cycle starts up, let’s try for something better.

Using more than 300 full-color images, the book showcases innovative projects from the region and beyond. Organized along “Six Principles for Better Development,” the book lays out concepts in simple terms and illustrates them through actual projects. VCC is hoping to raise awareness of the choices in development and help establish a new paradigm.

VCC executive director John Eckman feels the timing is right for that discussion. “The economic crisis makes development very difficult, but it also gives us a chance to think through the best way to do it. We have not yet built many of the buildings that will be in use in 20 years. This is an opportunity to reshape future development,” Eckman said.

The book’s author, VCC planner Sara Hollberg, notes that recent development patterns have spiraled along a path that can not be sustained in terms of local and state finances, household budgets, and consumption of energy, water, and farmland.

Communities are wrestling with how to maintain water quality in their streams, how to build in ways that encourage health for all ages, and how to make communities not only attractive and safe, but also efficient and affordable. Surveys show people want different things too, like less time in the car. Younger and older generations seem to be more interested in smaller units convenient to amenities.

“Fortunately,” Hollberg said, “since the design of development has been part of the problem, it also can be part of the solution. Trends are converging toward designs that are more efficient to serve and that have spin-off benefits for the environment and for quality of life.”

An example is compact, mixed-use projects that offer housing choices to varied ages and income. When designed well, these developments can provide convenient access to everyday needs by walking and transit. Plus, the Valley’s largest industries, agriculture and tourism, can benefit when new development does not take up farmland.

In fact, the book’s “Conserve as You Grow” theme highlights how conservation can be a valuable (and cost-effective) part of development decisions. The book shows strategies for conserving not only rural landscapes, but also protecting natural assets and offering outdoor recreation in growth areas.

Those interested in the look of development also will find plenty in the book. The “Respect Local Character” chapter shows copious examples of projects — from franchises to big boxes to gas stations — that use their own designs instead of cookie-cutter models.

The book takes a positive approach. Development does not have to destroy what people love. What most people value about the Shenandoah Valley is its extraordinary beauty and its productive farms. Every community has special places and features. What are we building today that will be valued by the next generation? Where are the vibrant neighborhoods, the beautiful public spaces? Better Models shows that we can build such places again.

Better Models 2010 updates the original publication that Hollberg co-authored in 1999 as a joint production by VCC and The Conservation Fund. Since then, VCC has recognized dozens of outstanding projects through its annual Better Development Awards. Many of these are pictured in the book, which includes examples from n early every community in the Valley.

VCC will distribute the Better Models book to localities throughout the region. The organization also will offer presentations to local groups or interested parties. For information or to get a copy of the book, call 540.886.3541 or go to

Edited by Chris Graham. Chris can be reached at