With a 40-year history committed to protecting nature, the City of Fort Collins undertook a Strategic Planning process to ensure that as the community grows, high quality natural spaces will continue to be conserved to protect healthy ecosystems, wildlife habitat, and offer easy access to nature in the urban core. Phase I (2014) of the Nature in the City program (NIC) consisted of a citizen-driven planning process to identify strategies to further integrate nature into the City’s policies and programs. This phase included extensive data collection on the community’s environmental, social, and economic values regarding nature including community surveys and focus groups to understand diverse perspectives and needs; a visioning workshop to assess residents’ perceptions and values about nature; citywide bird, butterfly, and vegetation sampling; establishment of a Citizen Advisory Committee; analysis of economic benefits; and an online, interactive mapping tool to identify where residents access nature and where barriers exist. NIC utilizes a multifaceted, holistic approach including: public-private partnerships; restoring existing natural spaces to increase the natural quality of sites; implementing neighborhood-scale enhancement projects; establishing design guidelines to illustrate how nature can be incorporated into the urban environment; updated land use code requirements to offer developers guidance and flexibility in meeting NIC goals; education, incentives and resources for landowners, business owners and landscapers; tracking biodiversity trends through citizen science data collection; and targeted land acquisition to create a more connected open space network. As a result of the extensive community engagement efforts, there was significant stakeholder buy-in and political support for the planning process.
The resultant NIC Strategic Plan (Phase II) was adopted by the city council in March 2015, and the following month Fort Collins voters approved $3 million in sales tax to fund NIC initiatives over the next 10 years, demonstrating the community’s commitment to the NIC vision. With the dedicated sales tax funding, the City began implementation of NIC (Phase III) in 2016. Staff members in two departments, Natural Areas and Planning, were identified to collaboratively lead the initiative. Pilot projects identified for 2016 include identification of gaps in connectivity for both people and wildlife, installation of a Living Wall on a new City building, installation of a pollinator-friendly demonstration garden, expansion of the City’s tree canopy improvement program, and collaboration with the Poudre School District to create outdoor classrooms.