The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation recently awarded a $125,000 grant to the Municipal Land Use Center (MLUC) at the College. The grant is to be used for an educational and training program for local municipality leaders in Hunterdon, Somerset, Middlesex, Monmouth and Mercer counties, according to the College’s press release.
The training program will target leaders and certain citizens and teach them to manage growth and transportation in their respective communities. The foundation’s goal, according to its Web site, is “to improve the health and health care of all Americans.”
MLUC is located on the outskirts of campus in the McCauley house. Its mission, according to its Web site, is to “encourage more compact, walkable, aesthetically attractive and less automobile-dependent new development and redevelopment patterns,” as well as solve land use and transportation problems in surrounding communities.
“There is a direct relationship between our built environment, available modes of travel and public health,” Martin Bierbaum, MLUC director, said.
According to Donna Drewes, community planner at MLUC, one of the health issues that the foundation focuses on is obesity. She believes that MLUC can help to fight obesity by helping to lower the use of automobiles and promote walking.
“When we create more walkable communities that reduce our reliance on cars, we’ll create healthier citizens,” Drewes said. “We’re here to help provide some guidance to municipal leaders on these issues.”
Additional funding from the foundation will be used to develop several case studies of innovative land use and transportation projects in New Jersey. These studies will be posted on the Internet to increase awareness of land use and transportation issues.
MLUC hopes this will help improve roadway connections in the five-county area. “You can’t just build your way out of congestion,” Winnie Fatton, executive assistant at MLUC, said. “There’s not enough money to build more roads.”
MLUC held a workshop Tuesday night called “Building Sustainable Communities in New Jersey” in Forcina Hall. People from throughout New Jersey with an interest in community development – including mayors, council members and other government officials – attended.
The workshop taught community leaders to develop “sustainable” communities, including maintaining the economy, social equity and, most critically, the environment.
Bierbaum said at the beginning of the workshop that he hoped to “move municipalities to action” in the fields of transportation planning and land use.
The workshop included presentations by mayors Ken Pringle and Meryl Frank, who spoke on their sustainable practices in their respective boroughs of Belmar and Highland Park. Chief among their efforts was the involvement of citizens in improving sustainability and the state of the environment, and forcing new developers to adhere to stricter environmental standards.