Over the past three years of this project the Flint Hills Regional Council and the Flint Hills Frontiers has been instrumental in developing a shared sense of regionalism in the seven-county service area surrounding Ft. Riley. The Flint Hills has added regional transportation planning through the Flint Hills Metropolitan Planning Organization, regional transit planning through the Flint Hills Regional Transit Administration, regional economic development planning through the Flint Hills Economic Development District, as well as, the continued support of the Regional Development Partnership, a private-side gathering of the Geary, Pottawatomie and Riley County Chamber and Economic interests. These regional collaborations are the institutions that will provide the lasting impact of the Frontiers work and continue to develop the resilience for future growth.
The success of any plan is measured on its adaptability. As an increasingly wide regional community uses the plan to inform their cooperative strategies, the plan will need to reflect progress and the latest thinking on specific tools, projects and policies. The format of Flint Hills Frontiers is primarily web-based, though each webpage is designed for easy printing, if the user so desires. This web-based interface allows the Flint Hills Regional Council to maintain and update the interface, and distribute notifications of update. This platform gives each and every regional user peace of mind that they have access to the most up-to-date plan information at any time, and an accountable party to respond to their updates as their communities test tools and find new ways to work together and share resources.
The metric dashboard shows a number of measureable outcomes in each issue area that may be compared within the region, to the state averages, and also to national averages. This feature is another dynamic component of the plan that is updated at least once a year by Flint Hills Regional Council and can be updated whenever regional partners make progress on a major issue together, such as transportation, communications, conservation, or invasives management, among many others. The dashboard will also provide the region with an opportunity to measure itself against other SCI region’s to see if the Initiative is having lasting impact on these regional efforts.
Reporting progress that is comparable over time not only shows that the hard work of the region is paying off, but it also show the interconnectedness of the many strategies underway, and provides up-to-date data for all partners to use in reporting the value of their work and leveraging this value for additional support and funding. The SCI commitment has always been about building transparency in the process and identifying common goals. Metrics provide the region a benchmark for data driven decision and support for policy development.
While the creation of a regional plan gives a broad framework for regional consensus on goals and best practices, the Flint Hills Regional Council has also initiated detailed studies and convened regional partners on a number of specific topics including the Fair Housing and Equity Assessment, and Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy described below. With each study and each expert consultant, the assets and partnerships that inform the growth and health of the region of the region expand; the trust and cooperative capacity of the region also grows through having up-to-date information and reliable analysis to inform local decision-making and attract new investors regionally.
The Fair Housing and Equity Assessment/Regional Analysis of Impediments (FHEA/RAI) is a required deliverable of the Sustainable Communities Planning grant. It provides an opportunity for diverse stakeholders in the greater Manhattan Kansas area to develop a shared picture of the housing, infrastructure, and economic dynamics that enhance or limit opportunity, and to develop forward-looking strategies and partnerships that can address some of the region’s greatest challenges. A candid and broadly shared assessment of residential opportunity, Municipalities, and regional entities can identify objectives and priorities for future investments to enhance equity and access to opportunity and address the needs of communities facing the greatest challenges.
The FHEA/RAI is both regional and local in scope, requires engagement, and considers issues of fair housing in a broader framework. The resulting FHEA/RAI can be used for communities to challenge existing impediments to fair housing at the local level; for developing partnerships across multiple sectors and issue areas to create a shared understanding of equity and opportunity; and to help local policymakers make informed and targeted decisions about policy and investment to advance fair housing opportunity throughout the region.
The Economic Development District includes Chase, Geary, Lyon, Morris, Pottawatomie, Riley and Wabaunsee Counties. This is a complimentary study to the Economy and Opportunity study and the tools in the Flint Hills Frontiers that take a closer look at the region’s economic health and drivers. The analysis identified new industry opportunity for the region that connect existing strengths while diversifying the economy from current drivers which are Beef Cattle, Education, and Military. The economic action plan in this report has identified strengths and opportunities, as well as how to address the major threats: dependence on external institutions, the aging and declining population, and the growing urban-rural divide.
The creation of a plan library allows for all regional partners to easily access the most recent comprehensive, strategic and infrastructure plans that counties, municipalities, and organizations around them are adopting, thereby promoting cooperation on and consolidation of comprehensive planning processes where possible.
In many rural communities, GIS data is in its early stages or non-existent therefore creating inconsistencies in the level of detail that analysis and measurement can occur throughout the region. Development of the GIS Framework with Urban Ontogen (formerly LEAMGroup, Champaign-Urbana, IL) will allow members of the Regional Council to access to a communal library of data layers for use in mapping and analyzing patterns of development, infrastructure, and participation among many other attributes.
The Flint Hills Regional Council has been trained in the The Strategic Doing methodology of creating accountable networks (in partnership with Kansas State University’s Advanced Manufacturing Institute, Kansas Association of Regional Development Organizations and Purdue Center for Regional Development), and is now training new trainers throughout the region. The Strategic Doing process leverages the power of networks to answer the two major questions of development - “Where are we going?” and “How will we get there?” - through a four-phase approach that moves communities to a pathway project that develops along a disciplined path of “What could we do?”, “What should we do?”, to “What will we do?” in a measured and accountable 30-day timeframe. The network and habit that this process creates helps diverse partnerships to form based on fundamental principles of common interest, common resources, efficiency, and trust.
Emporia and Clay County have taken advantage of the USDA funded Capacity Building program to host Strategic Doing workshops in their areas that address economic changes and strategies at a community scale. This Capacity Building project will inform the implementation process of Flint Hills Frontiers.
The Flint Hills Regional Council is beginning a new service delivery model that will allow them to provide regional planning and support services to all of their member communities. This could range from the research, analysis, and public process necessary for communities to implement specific tools such as development guidelines, to convening region-wide partners in creating telecommunications networks while using the power of networks and fellow KARDO partners to assist communities across the region and Kansas. As projects, programs and resources coalesce, the Regional Council can adapt to fill the expertise needed.
The Flint Hills region must continue building, weaving, and maintaining its networks into the future. Where the tallgrass prairie builds resilience through a vast network of rhizomatic shoots, the Frontiers project has been and will continue to be a process of seeking new connections and developing new resources. While this plan is a summary of work completed to date, as well as a plan for the short and long-term future, the Flint Hills Regional Council will continue championing the goals, facilitating a community conversation about the issues, and maintaining the Flinthills Frontiers project website (www. flinthillsfrontiers.org), which will continue on as a living document of the work being conducted by stakeholders across the region right now.