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    Guest Blog: A Funder’s View of a Well-Developed Plan

    Lauren Taylor


    Image courtesy of Jen Andrews


    In 2008, the trustees of the Hyde Family Foundations formally created a “Greening Initiatives” funding area, aimed at supporting a quality, interconnected green space, park, greenway, trail, and bike lane system in Memphis. Since that time, our community has witnessed rapid development of an improved, better-connected system, the protection and improvement of Shelby Farms Park, including implementation of innovative master plan projects; the Shelby Farms Greenline; new segments of the Wolf River Greenway trail; the Overton Park Conservancy’s enhancement of Overton Park; community gardens throughout the city; major federal funding to create a bike and pedestrian pathway over the Mississippi River via the Harahan Bridge; and miles and miles of bike lanes cropping up throughout the city. Thrillingly, citizens have flocked to these outdoor treasures to walk, cycle, run, play, and reflect. And they are asking for more. Credit for this success is fully due to the citizens and many public and private partners who have labored for decades and will continue to answer our community’s call to knit the green vision into a whole.

    The Mid-South Regional Greenprint planning process, now underway, is a vital next step toward fulfilling the community demand. It invites citizens from throughout the region to look beyond their immediate communities and the projects they have waiting in the wings to agree on a bigger, greener picture that will pay huge dividends to the economy, health, environment, and quality of life in the Mid-South. From a funder’s perspective, this is an incredibly important endeavor. With any effort or project—no matter what issue it addresses—potential funders must understand its position within the larger system it seeks to impact as well as how it connects to other projects and how its leader coordinates with other stakeholders. The Greenprint will define these relationships. With enormous participation from citizens and representatives from various sectors, the planning process also validates the Greenprint as a priority of the larger community—another important requirement for many funders.

    The Greenprint Subplanning Awards are an exciting phase of the planning process, nurturing the Greenprint another step closer to reality. These grants enable Consortium members to advance Greenprint recommendations by conducting green space, neighborhood, and sustainability planning projects. The Subplanning RFP outlines a set of requirements for proposals, just as our Foundations require grant applicants to submit specific information when requesting funds for their projects. After years of reviewing proposals for projects that fall within the realm of the Greenprint, one application requirement stands out among all of the others: the project plan.

    Infrastructure projects require serious planning, and fully dissecting a project from start to finish is the most important effort a Consortium member can undertake before applying for a subplanning grant or any other funding source. While a single organization might not be responsible for every element of a project’s delivery, the project leader must identify those elements and flesh out who might undertake them.

    Planning, community engagement, public input, marketing, design and engineering, construction, and eventual operations and management are major pieces of the puzzle. Which public and/or private groups will assume responsibility? Given varying degrees of involvement by the stakeholders, what will each stage cost? Defining the roles and responsibilities of all parties participating in a project is critical, and one or more contracts will likely be required to formalize these relationships. A well-defined and documented collaboration is much more likely to receive funding.

    If a project involves improvements to land, it is a good idea to analyze potential right-of-way issues as part of planning. If the lead organization does not own the public or private land where the project is located, it must understand permissions required for all stages of the project. Once the project is completed, who will ultimately own the improvements and the land where they are located? The answers to these questions will help define how a project is designed, built, and operated.

    Beyond the basic components of the project plan, do not forget to contemplate evaluation. How will the applicant eventually measure the stated impact of the project? The project plan and budget should include evaluation activities. If undertaking a trail project, for example, evaluation activities might include user surveys and counts, assessment of adjacent property values, and tracking of other benefits that the future trail might afford. Ultimately, accumulating and showcasing this information is essential for ongoing support for the project or for future projects.

    The Shelby Farms Greenline is a good example of a public/private partnership that has required careful planning by all stakeholders to yield a high-quality trail experience.  For many years, citizens advocated to convert an abandoned railroad into a trail corridor. The Greenline property was purchased from a railroad by Shelby County, utilizing private funds that were raised by the Shelby Farms Park Conservancy. The County accessed local and federal dollars to conduct environmental testing, complete design activities, and build the trail. Today, the Greenline is operated by the Shelby Farms Park Conservancy, which raises funds to cover management costs.

    Given this example, project leaders should remember not to reinvent the wheel. Consortium members and Mid-South Greenways steering committee members have experience with planning and implementing these types of projects. They are our partners and community members, and can offer excellent free guidance. The success of individual projects leads to the success of our regional system.

    This post is not at all to suggest that project leaders overlook or undervalue other application requirements of RFPs or funders. However, without understanding the project plan, it will be difficult to clearly estimate most other aspects of a project. Given that many of the recommendations and projects included in the Greenprint are in their nascent stages, it is completely reasonable for project leaders to possess plans that are full of gaps. Proposed subplanning grant activities might also help to answer some of the unknowns. Now— as Consortium members apply for funds to conduct the initial stages of their projects—is the perfect time to fully map out the entire project scope, so that someday our region’s citizens can enjoy and benefit from all that it will offer.

    Lauren Taylor is the Program Director for Livable Communities at the Hyde Family Foundations, a private family foundation that is committed to building a better Memphis. The Foundations’ mission is to empower the people and programs that are making real differences in the community, and to provide leadership on public policy issues that will transform Memphis into a world-class, 21st century city. The Foundations identify, create, and support high-impact initiatives in Memphis, focusing on three priority areas: Transforming Education, Positioning Authentic Assets, and Livable Communities.