Green Links DrawingPlanSmart NJ designed the Mercer County Green Links Project to better integrate natural resource planning and land-use planning by using GIS, community outreach, and improved communication and cooperation among all levels of government and local non-profits. Project products included:

Mercer County Green Links Plan – the Plan identifies potential linkages to existing open spaces and cultural sites.

Series of Eight Educational Brochures – the brochures describe the benefits of the urban and community forest, how to enhance and provide for the urban and community forest, the impacts of development, and how to utilize GIS to enhance the planning process.

Mercer County Green Links Directory – a 50-page directory listing state, county, local and non-profit agencies involved in natural resource planning. The Directory includes a contact name, mission statement, and brief description of projects.

Community Outreach Workshops – a series of educational workshops were held for the general public. The workshops included information on how to work with local officials, how to start a community group, and how to properly plant and care for trees.

Local Green Links Demonstration Projects – two rounds of competitive grants were awarded to community groups, non-profits, and local government for implementation projects of the Green Links Plan.

Completion Date: 1998


The New Jersey Urban Forestry Demonstration Project was established in 1991 by Senator Bill Bradley to demonstrate how improved natural resources can enhance the quality of life in our cities and urbanizing areas. The project is funded by the US Department of Agriculture Forest Service through the New Jersey Forest Service and provides approximately $400,000 in grant money, over four years, to East Orange and Newark in Essex County, as well as to Passaic, Middlesex, and Mercer Counties.

Urban and Community Forest Ecosystem – Is the forest where we live – a dynamic interdependent network of the built and natural systems; the interaction of the “green” and “gray” infrastructure, people, and wildlife. The urban and community forest ecosystem boundaries can be defined from as small as a single site to as large as the earth.

Gray Infrastructure – A community’s network of constructed facilities and systems that provides for the needs of people. It includes, but is not limited to: buildings, roads, sidewalks, utility, and water supply, etc. Gray infrastructure provides shelter, communication, transportation, waste water treatment, energy, and drinking water.

Green Infrastructure – A community’s network of natural resources that provides for the needs of wildlife and people. It includes, but is not limited to naturally occurring things: open space, stream corridors, rivers, wetlands, riparian forests, etc. and includes some elements that are designed and/or managed by people such as street trees, parks, arboretums, community gardens, farm land, and greenways. Green infrastructure provides air and water filtration, transportation, recreation, habitat, flood control, ground water recharge, and climate control.


Attitudes Toward Landscape, Forest, and Ecology

Before the nineteenth century, nearly everyone within a community had gardens and access to agricultural areas. People used the forest around them for food gathering. The forest was regarded with fear or superstition. But as the 20th Century approached and cities became more congested and countryside more remote a different more romantic view of the forest emerged. People wanted to recapture their closeness to nature. There was an increasing focus on aesthetics or human need, not on the functions of natural processes within ecosystems. Nature (especially trees and streams, ponds, and lakes) is viewed as a thing of beauty, useful only for the aesthetic qualities or sense of individualism that it gives us. It is only in the last few decades has nature been seen to be a functional part of an ecosystem. Park systems such as Central Park in New York City and Fairmount Park in Philadelphia were created to protect the health, safety, and welfare of its residents.

Communities are built upon a foundation of three important infrastructure elements — human infrastructure, gray infrastructure and green infrastructure. The components of each are not difficult to define. Human infrastructure is quite obviously people. Gray infrastructure includes man-made facilities such as roads, sewers, utilities, and buildings. Green infrastructure refers to natural resources such as, trees, streams, wetlands and open space. All three play a vital role in maintaining the quality of community life and can be considered together as an ecosystem.


Effects of Development

Development, whether new growth or redevelopment, provide a community with jobs, housing, transportation, and services as well as revenue needed for public services. Each benefit represents the fulfillment of an important community goal. Development can also bring unintended and unwanted by-products to a community: lost or fragmented open space; air and water pollution; lost or fragmented wildlife habitat; increased stormwater runoff; and loss of community character. Poorly planned new development can also increase public costs. Careful planning can reduce many of these unwanted consequences of growth.


The Mercer County Green Links Plan Vision: To connect open spaces and activity centers in Mercer County through a system of multi-functional regional, local, and neighborhood links and to improve the natural and cultural resources planning process by providing planning links.


The complex system of dynamic interactions between people, wildlife, and the natural and man made environments in a given place is called the urban and community forest ecosystem. It is the forest in which we live. By thinking about where we live in terms of an ecosystem, we gain a useful framework for considering what is important to building a healthy and sustainable community.

Some important municipal functions, such as developing a master plan and zoning ordinances, overseeing development approvals, etc, can have an enormous impact on how well we protect the urban and community forest. Raising the awareness of these impacts and improving the outcomes of these official decisions is a challenge since it will mean changing the way we see natural resources in our community. Implementing improved planning and development practices will require a united effort from various levels of government, non-profits, community groups, and citizens. The suggestions contained in this brochure are illustrative. Use them as examples to spark your imagination and to help identify measures you can initiate to preserve.


Advancements in computer technologies over the past decade have revolutionized information management. Computer solutions that used to be expensive and time consuming are now affordable, user-friendly, fast and accessible to government, business and the public. The technological revolution has changed the manner in which many of us complete day to day tasks in our personal lives and in business. It has also made desktop computer applications for environmental management and planning available to a wide-range of local land use decision-makers and citizen planners. One such computer application is geographic information systems or GIS.

GIS has become an increasingly valuable tool for the acquisition, storage, and analysis of geographic data. It provides an unprecedented opportunity for individuals, community groups and government to create and share land use and environmental information. Its true power lies in the capability to efficiently manage data and link otherwise separate pieces of information to a particular location in a community or region. Add to that the capability to communicate visually the relationships between different factors and you have a formidable planning tool.

GIS technology was integrated into the Mercer County Green Links Project to improve the natural resources planning process in Mercer County and to foster better coordination and sharing of data among the various organizations and levels of government involved. Ultimately, this coordination can decrease the time and resources spent by individual organizations for the acquisition and creation of needed data. It was also purchased to facilitate the development and implementation of the Green Links Plan.

The Green Links Project purchased GIS equipment for the Mercer County Planning Division. In return, the Division provides staff to operate the system and to make the technology and data available to Mercer County municipalities and non-profits. This cooperative arrangement demonstrates how resources can be leveraged through coordination and cooperation to produce better environmental outcomes. The arrangement allows the Green Links Project to gain a technical staff person and the County to gain the use of GIS technology, which can be used for future planning projects.

The County, with the assistance of local representatives, has created GIS maps of Mercer County with many “layers” of data.

GIS and Working With the Mercer County Planning Division

What is GIS

The Mercer County Green Links Project purchased a geographic information system (GIS) to facilitate development of the Green Links Project and coordinate natural resource planning efforts. The system is staffed and operated by the Mercer County Planning Division. With the assistance of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) and local representatives, County staff has used GIS to create maps of Mercer County to be used in developing the Green Links Plan.

The maps were created using various combinations of data that have been put into the computer in a geographic format. Each set of data is called a “layer”. When a map is needed to illustrate a planning issue, various layers of data can be combined to create a map.


The Mercer County Green Links Project has offered two rounds of funding for demonstration projects that support the goals of the Green Links Project and Plan. Small grants were awarded, on a competitive basis, in 1996 and 1997. Non-profit organizations, community groups, youth groups, and governmental agencies were invited to submit proposals for projects that incorporated innovative approaches to preserving and enhancing Mercer County’s natural and cultural resources. The project proposals fell into two categories — physical links or planning links — and were ranked based on how well the project supported the goals of the green Links Plan as well as the following selection criteria: formation of new partnerships, application of advanced technology in design/construction, leveraging other sources of funding and potential for replication.



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