path for a sustainable future

What is the Sustainable Development Plan?

sus•tain•a•ble de•vel•op•ment – development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

Onondaga County’s 35 municipalities are home to more than 450,000 people living in a variety of settings – from historic urban areas and villages, to rural communities with a deep agricultural heritage. The County is blessed with an abundance of fresh water, beautiful farm and forest lands, varied topography, scenic view sheds and a wealth of state, county, and local parks, all of which contribute to a high quality of life. These features benefit current residents and serve to attract future residents and businesses.

The County does have its challenges, however. Like many other older regions in the northeastern United States, it has faced a number of challenges over the past several decades, including a loss of manufacturing and a transitioning economy, a static but dispersed population and development patterns that have gradually suburbanized the County’s rural communities. Accompanying these challenges is a loss of open space and farmland, an inability to support mass transit, inefficient infrastructure, burdensome taxes, increasing energy usage, housing and schooling disparities and centralized poverty.

The Sustainable Development Plan is one tool allowing Onondaga County to face these challenges head-on. This includes celebrating our assets, taking advantage of opportunities unique to our community and planning for unforeseen impacts. With a focus on land use and sustainable development patterns, this plan directs County policy and informs our local governments, stakeholders, and residents. The Sustainable Development Plan is a platform to challenge our current approach to development and provide a framework from which sustainable development decisions can be made.

Living Plan

Throughout development of the Sustainable Development Plan, the process focused on creating a plan that is relevant, relatable and readable. To ensure that the plan met these criteria, it was necessary to develop a process and product that can be sustained over time and react to changing conditions, technologies and practices. The result is a living plan that will continue to evolve as new conditions emerge and the priorities of the community shift over time.

To achieve this goal, the main component of the Sustainable Development Plan is By using this site as the primary conduit of this effort, the Plan serves as a clearinghouse for all project related information and components, is educational and allow for ongoing involvement, allows progress to be tracked and milestones to be celebrated and keeps the planning process active and vibrant. As the project moves into a new phase of implementation and outreach, will be continuously enriched with new information, mapping resources, detailed plans, project spotlights and best practices to serve as a community resource well into the future.


The Sustainable Development Plan is the result of an extensive process of obtaining public input, testing ideas, and researching new ways to work collectively toward achieving regional goals and environmental, social and economic sustainability. The Plan builds on the 2010 Development Guide and The Settlement Plan and further explores many of the concepts identified in those plans.


The foundation of the Sustainable Development Plan is a public involvement process designed to engage as many citizens, stakeholders and local governments as possible, as their involvement is critical to the Plan’s success. Over the past year, there have been many different opportunities for Onondaga County citizens to get involved and help guide the outcomes of the Plan, including:

  • Community group presentations;
  • The ENVISION OUR FUTURE Public Workshop;
  • The CHOOSE OUR FUTURE Open Houses;
  • Meetings with individual municipalities;
  • Focus Group meetings with stakeholders; and
  • The Community Planning & Transportation Resident Survey.

The Get Involved page provides more information relating to the public outreach efforts associated with the Sustainable Development Plan.

Scenario Modeling

The scenario model created as part of the Sustainable Development Plan provided a systematic way for planners and citizens to understand the relationships between policy choices and their resulting impacts on our communities. Using population, employment and natural resources data, the model established a baseline of current conditions from which projections on future demographic and environmental conditions were explored for two scenarios – one based on current development trends and one based on Smart Growth principles.

Once the scenarios were developed, their impacts on County-wide development patterns, demographic characteristics and environmental features were calculated. Onondaga County residents were then provided several opportunities in the fall of 2011 to vote for the scenario they preferred, including four open houses held across the County. Through these venues, County residents overwhelmingly indicated their support for the Smart Growth scenario. In fact, almost 90 percent of respondents preferred the Smart Growth approach over the continuation of our current development trends.

The Development Scenarios page provides more information relating to the scenario modeling component of the Sustainable Development Plan.

Elements of Sustainable Development

Nine topic areas of interest, or Elements, were identified based on direction provided by the public, the results of the scenario model, and recognized best practices relating to land use development. Each Element was explored in detail to inform a range of users on the relationship between these topic areas and our community vision and planning goals. The Element Reports provide key principles, issues and opportunities to be considered if the County and region are to achieve a sustainable future.

The Elements of Sustainable Development page provides more information on each of the nine elements identified for the Sustainable Development Plan.

Character Areas

Character Areas delineate areas of common identity and qualities and provide guidance on issues relevant to each category, such as revitalizing Main Street or protecting farmland. These delineations recognize that each area is inherently different and will thus require its own mix of goals and strategies to preserve and enhance those qualities that make it great. The guidance provided as part of each Character Area is meant to inform readers of emerging concepts for sustainable communities and provide conceptual guidance on how each area can embrace these concepts and plan for a sustainable future.

The Character Areas page provides more information on the ten Character Areas delineated in Onondaga County as part of the Sustainable Development Plan.

Action Plan

The Action Plan is a comprehensive series of recommended policies, projects and practices designed to implement the County’s shared vision for a sustainable future. The Action Plan ties together the broad ideas found throughout the plan with specific and targeted activities for implementation at multiple geographic and institutional scales.

The Action Plan can be found on the Achieving Our Vision page.