Current Research

Ongoing Zoning Research Project

During the spring semester of 2005, in her capacity as research assistant, graduate regional planning student Cana McCoy assisted the Center for Rural Massachusetts revival effort in a number of key efforts. In addition to providing assistance in creating a new CRM website and various smaller tasks, Cana's principal research project involved the completion of the first stage of a large ongoing study of the creation, application and effectiveness of advanced zoning and site planning techniques.

Specifically, she conducted analytical research in the 351 cities and towns of the Commonwealth to identify the following:

  1. Those communities that had adopted conservation subdivision and related laws;
  2. The various mechanisms employed to apply these provisions mandatorily, or to encourage their use via different incentive mechanisms;
  3. The degree to which natural resources, forestry or agriculture were used as the basis for mandatory open space design;
  4. The different permitting techniques and their permutations employed to regulate the development applications;
  5. Comparative standards used to regulate certain key design features.

This research made extensive use of Ordinance.com, various professional websites and other sources, and was carried forward successfully to its desired end point for this stage of the work. Discussions are underway for collaborative efforts in the fall to continue this research.

Working LandscapesCranberry bog

When surveyed, many towns rate “maintaining rural character” and “supporting working landscapes” as high community priorities. The Center for Rural Massachusetts (CRM) represents the intersection of natural resources conservation and land use planning to achieve community goals. CRM recognizes the inter-connected nature of the ecological, social, and economic health of rural communities and therefore strives to address them with an integrated effort at an appropriate scale.

The mission is to develop a new model of vibrant, rural communities which maintain their rural character and agricultural heritage through working farms and working forests, together known as working landscapes.
It is only by assuring ecological, economic and cultural health that we can achieve our community goals.

Massachusetts covers 5 million acres. Sixty-two percent, or 3.1 million acres, is forested. With a population of over 6.1 million people, Massachusetts is the 3 rd most densely populated state in the nation. Despite the large density of people, Massachusetts ranks 8 th in the nation in percentage of forest cover. Few places on earth have so many people living among so many trees!

Forests are by far the most dominant natural system and landscape feature in Massachusetts. Our forests provide life sustaining water, help maintain a broad spectrum of biodiversity, provide opportunities for recreation and contemplation, give us crucial wood products, maintain rural culture, and provide scenic rural landscapes. The health of our forests is inextricably connected to the health of our commonwealth.

80% of these forests are owned by private families and individuals - known as family forest owners. In landscapes dominated by family forests, a vast array of important ecosystem services, such as clean water and carbon sequestration, are provided free of charge to the general public. In addition, family forests provide a wealth of additional public benefits: a buffer from development, a scenic backdrop for rural tourism, habitat, outdoor recreation, and a source of wood products and employment. Family Forests provide the “building blocks” for communities to reach their goals.

Massachusetts supports resilient forest systems and boasts a very effective safety net of environmental regulations. Despite the tremendous amount of forest cover, as well as natural and regulatory safe guards, Massachusetts is a net importer of wood products, producing very little of what we use. Over 95% of the wood used in Massachusetts comes from out of state.

Likewise, over 85% of all of the food we eat is imported from out of state. Better utilizing our natural resources will develop vibrant rural economies while protecting the ecosystem services and public values they provide.
In addition, working landscapes maintain rural character and pass on agricultural traditions.


CRM will work to promote Working Landscapes through:

  • Delivery of educational programs to community leaders and natural resource professionals.
  • Linking the applied research needs of communities with UMass faculty.
  • Models of land use planning which prioritize ecosystem integrity.
  • Promotion of small scale, value-added diverse natural resource based businesses.
  • Pursuit of external funding.
  • Partnerships with like-minded organizations.

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