As one of the fastest growing counties in the country, Orange County, in central Florida, is faced with the need to balance rapid growth while supporting the natural resources that supply drinking water, help keep the air clean, provide recreation areas, and protect iconic wildlife. TNC created a new web-based mapping tool to guide decisions made by planners, managers, landowners, developers, community advocates, local nonprofits, and elected officials as they tackle the environmental, economic, health and other socioeconomic challenges of local communities.
The EcoResource of Orange County visualizes location-specific data on environmental, economic, health, and other socioeconomic factors covering Orange County, Florida. For example, users can access maps that indicate how much tree cover a community has, or what urban temperatures look like during summer months.
“This new tool reveals the unique environmental challenges communities are facing and identifies communities that will be best served through collaboration on meaningful nature-based solutions,” says Christianah Oyenuga, Ph.D., TNC Sustainable Cities Manager in Florida.
EcoUrban Assessment Tool of Orange County
This free and publicly accessible tool can help communities make informed decisions to plan for equitable conservation and smart growth. Data that would be otherwise difficult to access or spread across multiple platforms can now be found in one place, enabling communities to prioritize their greatest needs and on-the-ground projects. The EcoResource can help facilitate decision-making and mainstream nature-based solutions in the built environment, improve community resiliency, and protect urban biodiversity.
Informing Smart Growth
Providing support to communities to make the best decisions for equitable conservation and smart growth is an important role for TNC. The tool aims to make data more readily accessible, increase visibility of local challenges to prioritize action, identify which communities are most impacted by these challenges, and drive investments in green infrastructure to these frontline communities.
Revealing Unique Environmental Challenges
“Having a better understanding of areas in our community that are considered as tree deficient or have higher heat indexes is important as we consider what areas to address for tree canopy needs,” says Latanya Nichols, Ed. D., First Vice President for Pine Hills Community Council. “This tool is going to advance consideration of factors that directly inform and impact decisions about our communities, climate, ecosystems, economic growth, and environmental health and inspire environmental change.”
The EcoUrban Assessment Resource of Orange County can be used by TNC and partners, local government agencies and organizations, and community stakeholders to build alliance for change. The tool aims to move nonprofit organizations and local governments to collaborate and coordinate efforts for planning community development and revitalization.
“TNC’s dedication to absorbing and integrating feedback from our communities has resulted in a tool that will foster collaboration and understanding for a more sustainable and resilient Orange County,” says Frank Weaver, State Manager of Community Resilience and Sustainability for Alianza Center.
“This tool is so user-friendly and concise! It will help nonprofits to be more informed and empowered in community advocacy” says Kay Hudson, Natural Resources Committee Chair, League of Women Voters of Orange County. “With this tool, nonprofits can work with local government agencies and do a deep dive into metropolitan planning to decide where we need to focus resources and solutions for building a better community and improving quality of life for residents.”
EcoResource of Orange County Maps
Users can access maps that indicate how much tree cover a community has, or what urban temperatures look like during summer months.
How the EcoResource Tool was Created
To guide the development and design of this EcoResource tool, TNC collaborated with a diverse group of community stakeholders to understand and address the most pressing environmental challenges and local conservation needs, make recommendations, and identify strategic areas for local action.
By targeting outreach and surveying in six languages—reflective of the diverse cultures and vulnerable communities in Orange County—we heard the voices and perspectives of low-wealth communities and communities of color that experience systemic disinvestment and have not historically been included in the conversations about conservation.
By engaging with residents through neighborhood meetings, local events, and community conversations, TNC heard concerns from community members about exposure to heat, flooding, and litter and trash. Significantly, nearly 97% indicated the importance of water quality.
Frank Oscar Weaver with Alianza Center notes the attention TNC has demonstrated in crafting the EcoUrban Assessment Resource. “Throughout each phase of its development, TNC has maintained an inclusive approach, attuning the tool to the needs and perspectives of our frontline communities. The tool will help us quickly identify the environmental issues and opportunities our communities face, aiding us in developing effective strategies to better serve our communities towards a more sustainable and resilient future!”
Christianah notes, "Centering equity means conceptualizing, developing, planning, designing, prioritizing, implementing, and evaluating with diverse voices and perspectives” while working alongside communities. By engaging the community first, before creating the tool, we were able to better focus on the pressing issues faced by residents in Orange County and identify opportunities to reduce disparities, by encouraging the integration of nature and its benefits in planning—from cooler neighborhoods to healthier communities.
How the EcoResource Tool Works
Utilizing Data and Visualizing Communities
The tool is interactive and easy to use, offering location-specific data layers on flooding and heat issues, freshwater and tree canopy, park access and greenspaces, conserved lands, and other environmental and socioeconomic factors.
“It is fundamental for organizations to have access to data needed to drive collaboration and allocation of resources,” says Christianah. The EcoResource tool can help prioritize where to implement equitable nature-based solutions by identifying the communities facing the highest risks of flooding or extreme heat, prioritizing areas and populations that are best served by tree canopy or park access, propelling collaboration to influence local policy decisions, and ultimately driving resources to communities where nature-based solutions will be the most impactful.
"Environmental justice issues intersect with social challenges and economic disinvestment facing communities,” says Christianah. "This tool can help bring together nonprofits and community organizations to implement proven nature-based solutions that advance environmental justice and equitable conservation.”
The EcoResource was made possible through the generous support of ADS Foundation and Duke Energy Foundation, and the many community partners and stakeholders who contributed insight, feedback and expertise.