Since 2002, the Rhode Island Greenspace Program has brought a dramatically new approach to planning for conservation and recreation in the Ocean State. Where most previous plans focused on protection of natural resources at the local level, the Greenspace Program uses the power of GIS, supported by extensive public participation, to give equal attention to cultural landscapes and recreational networks. Researched and developed entirely by Dodson & Flinker, the program provides a new paradigm for guiding future growth and conservation at scales that range from a single site to the entire region.

The Greenspace Program is designed to go beyond open space planning focused on ecosystems to incorporate cultural resources and recreational networks. Through a series of four workshops with each community, volunteers develop a separate inventory and priority conservation plan for natural, cultural and recreational resources. Priorities are established for preserving and enhancing each of these three elements as a sustainable, functioning system – whether that represents a river corridor with its associated wetland and upland habitat, a recreational greenway linking village centers to regional parks, or an historic agricultural landscape with a complex mix of farmland, forest, homesteads and hamlets. After each town sets separate priorities for these landscape systems, they are overlaid with each other to identify areas that are critical to protecting each community’s environmental health, sense of place and quality of life. Finally, regional workshops for each major watershed bring communities together to identify shared priorities and develop joint conservation strategies.