Open Space Preservation Helped By Weak Housing Market

One positive outcome of the struggling economy could be the preservation of open space. That’s what John Hasse, Director of Environmental Studies of the Department at Rowan University, said. He spoke with NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider about development and open space in New Jersey.

Hasse said the housing market is often linked to the strength of the economy because of the amount of jobs it creates, but he said when open space is developed into housing, it can potentially impact the environment.

“What we see with the downturn in the economy and the slowdown in the development rates, is actually a side benefit that we are using up farmland and forest land and other open spaces at not as rapid of a rate, so there’s a bit of a breathing space here for that,” Hasse said.

New Jersey is in danger of running out of open space, Hasse said, citing ongoing research by Rutgers and Rowan University over the past few decades. “Between 1986 and 2007, New Jersey has developed about 324,000 acres,” he said. “That’s over 500 square miles of land that went from undeveloped to developed and at that rate, we’re talking only a few decades before we would actually run out of open space to develop.”

While highways have been influential in development, Hasse said local roadways and zoning ordinances are more likely to impact development today. He also said mass transportation would prevent sprawl to rural areas because it would encourage community development.

“Mass transit and having non-automobile options allows for a more compact development pattern, a more mixed-use development pattern, more of the types of communities to be developed that are not your spreading out sprawl in the rural countryside. That you have to have a car for,” Hasse explained. “Trains and buses help to preserve those open spaces by allowing towns to develop in a more concentrated and more community-centered pattern.”

Hasse has high hopes for redevelopment. “New Jersey’s great frontier for developing in a better pattern is redevelopment,” he said.

He explained that many areas throughout the state could use revitalization. He said Glassboro is currently undergoing a $300 million redevelopment project for its downtown. The project is a public/private partnership between Rowan University and development interests.

“I think that’s really the trend for the future, … looking at how to revitalize areas that are already developed and take the pressure off the more rural areas that we really should be protecting,” Hasse said.