Waco focusing on sustainable development, poverty reduction

Waco city officials have developed a draft of a city plan designed to improve the physical development of Waco for 2016. The plan will focus on sustainable development, or expanding the city with minimal harm to the environment, and decreasing poverty and educational gaps.

The draft was created by the City Plan commission and has been led by current Plan Commission director Clint Peters and former Plan Commission director Bill Falco. Falco said the commission placed specific emphasis on poverty reduction in the plan due to results of the study conducted in May by researchers from the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment.

“We used the economic development strategy prepared by Upjohn that showed poverty a major problem for local economy. One of the grasps was the high percentage of people living at 200 percent or less of poverty, which is considered to be the livable wage, “ Falco said. He reported that currently 20 to 30 percent live below the poverty line while 60 percent live at or below what is considered to be the livable wage.

Falco also spoke to the issue of unemployment, saying that according to the Upjohn study most of the current workforce is not in Waco.

Downtown Neighborhood Association board member Andrew Lopez has already suggested specific critiques to the commission. He feels that the plan should focus more specifically on education reform.

“I am going to be the squeaky wheel about this particular problem and say if we take care of education, it will take care of most of the other problems on the list of issues. It’s another way the poverty level will reduce,” Lopez said.

Lopez said he feels that education reform is going to take eight to 10 years to see results, and if the city doesn’t address it, soon the city will be 20 or 30 years behind the problem. He urges the Commission to place bolder emphasis on education within the plan’s draft.

“I have never heard someone say they want to move to Waco because of the school district. We need to provide a level of education above the level it is today, ” Lopez said.

The goal of the 2016 Plan is to build a development that meets the needs of the present without compromising future generation’s ability to meet public needs. Specifically, the plan will address several sustainability components.

The current draft calls for a more efficient use of scarce resources, fiscal sustainability improvement, healthier and safer communities, better protection of the environment, preservation of open space and improved mobility.

The Plan Commission has been working on this draft since fall of 2014. The staff met with many civic clubs, professional groups and neighborhood assemblies. They surveyed, questioned and developed pertinent maps of these groups and areas.

They came up with many key issues in the city of Waco. Some of the key problematic areas suggested the need for poverty reduction, workforce development and education improvements.

With the data collected from Upjohn, advisement and models from the Waco Chamber of Commerce, and specific public input, Waco officials drafted the current plan and developed the new goal of improving the city’s sustainability.

The Plan Commission has created iconic plans in its past that have generated a great deal of success and support. Previous plans have focused on inner-city redevelopment, a new image for Waco, improvement of the quality of development, and preserving and improving the quality of life. Most recently the Plan Commission has focused much of its time on the Imagine Waco plan. This was designed in order to create a greater downtown area.

The current draft is open to public comments and critique. The full 2016 draft plan is available on Waco’s city website and the public comments will be heard for the next two months. There will also be three meetings throughout the month of October that the public can attend and comment on. Dates are yet to be determined. The Waco City Council will take official action on the plan in November.

“We are ready to get started, but we want to make sure everyone has a chance to look at it and have their voice in it,” Waco City Mayor Malcolm Duncan Jr. said.