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Open Space Institute, Thrive Regional Partnership Launch Program to Help Communities in the Southeast Prepare for Climate Change

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (May 26, 2022)—The Open Space Institute (OSI) and Thrive Regional Partnership (Thrive) have announced the launch of a new collaborative initiative to empower vulnerable communities in the Southeastern US to plan for and respond to the increasing effects of climate change. The “Resilient Communities” initiative will harness cutting-edge data and science around land conservation and other environmental protection strategies, to better safeguard the public from destructive floods, dangerous heat waves, and other climate effects.

Under the first stage of the Resilient Communities initiative, OSI and Thrive will roll out a preliminary pilot program, under which they will work directly with up to four communities to build out land protection and other nature-based solutions that address climate challenges. Together, the partners will develop visioning models and employ climate-based planning that can eventually be scaled up to participating communities in Thrive’s entire 16-county focus area across Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee.

Specifically, the Resilient Communities initiative will focus on aiding low-income, economically underserved, and racially diverse communities, which are most vulnerable to climate effects.

“The Open Space Institute is proud of its role in proactively harnessing land protection and other nature-based solutions to address climate change, one of the most pressing issues of our time,” said Joel Houser, OSI’s Southeast Field Coordinator. “After years of planning, we are excited to launch the pilot program to officially work with and learn alongside communities in this region. OSI thanks Thrive for its tireless efforts to help residents of Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee live better lives and look forward to a more hopeful future.”

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Members of the Thrive Regional Partnership conduct a planning session.
Image Credit: Thrive Regional Partnership

“Thrive is proud to be a part of this collaborative initiative alongside the Open Space Institute and the communities across the tri-state region,” said Rhett Bentley, Strategic Communications Director for Thrive Regional Partnership. “From flooding to extreme weather events, the effects of climate change are felt locally by families, business owners, and neighborhoods. We have a real opportunity to dive into these challenges here in Southern Appalachia by putting local residents ‘in the driver's seat’ of the planning process to address these challenges within, and alongside, their own communities. We look forward to learning with all partners at the table and discovering tangible solutions together.”

Like other communities across the country, residents of the Thrive region are experiencing heightened impacts from climate change, including more frequent and destructive floods, harmful urban heat, and increased landslides. To understand and address these climate impacts, OSI and Thrive aim to equip these communities with natural solutions, such as land protection, that can be used to protect from fast-moving floodwaters, reduce urban heat island effects, and control erosion to prevent landslides.

Under the Resilient Communities initiative, OSI and Thrive will employ a planning process to identify and address residents’ climate concerns; introduce communities to climate resilience concepts and planning approaches; provide technical assistance; and offer competitive seed grants for park planning, outreach, or other projects related to natural resource conservation. Additionally, communities can have the option of connecting with local conservation organizations that can support them in meeting their climate resilience goals.

Thanks to the Merck Family Foundation and the Footprint Foundation, the Resilient Communities program is offered at no cost to participating communities. Any group of community stakeholders within the 16-county Thrive region is welcome to apply. Participants can expect a hands-on, 12-month program in the community, alongside experts in environmental science, planning, and placemaking. Potential applicants can learn more and apply here.

Since 2007, OSI has helped protect more than 40,000 acres in the region. Building on a rich history in the region, launch of the Resilient Communities initiative is OSI’s latest effort to help communities in the Southeast prepare for climate change. In 2021, OSI launched its $18 million Appalachian Landscapes Protection Fund (ALPF), which focuses, in part, on protecting key forested sections within the Cradle of Southern Appalachia in Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama.

Harnessing the carbon-capturing role of forests to combat climate change, the funding is part of the ALPF’s larger effort to conserve 50,000 acres along the spine of the Appalachian Mountains, which contain the world’s largest broadleaf forest, are responsible for storing a majority of U.S. forest carbon, and provide essential climate refuge for plants and animals.

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