home UF/IFAS  
Associate Professor
Home Wildlife Ecology & Conservation  |  University of Florida  |  UF/IFAS Extension


The below is a proposal that was sent to Environmental Protection Agency.  There are many aspects to this unique eco-friendly development project, and graduate students can conduct research, develop environmental education programs, or both.  Read the proposal and come talk to me.

Eco-friendly Development and Education Program

Project Summary

Organization: Since 1914, the Florida Cooperative Extension Service, as part of the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, has served each of the State's 67 counties by providing information and conducting educational programs on issues of public interest. The mission of the Extension Service is to provide scientific knowledge and expertise to the public about a number of different topics including natural resource and energy conservation. The Harmony Institute and Earth 911 are partners on this project.

Summary:  Urban environments are becoming a prominent landscape type in North America, and the design, management, and location of these metropolitan areas have an impact on the landscape at both local and broad scales.  A combination of decisions made by homeowners, developers, and city planners are important determinants on how a landscape is affected.  The goal of this project is to develop, implement, and evaluate an environmental education program that will increase public awareness and participation in eco-friendly developments and increase people’s awareness and interaction with their local environment.  The objectives of the educational program are 1) to broaden the public’s understanding of ecological and environmental issues associated with residential developments, 2) to increase their awareness of potential eco-friendly management and design strategies for residential areas, 3) to train citizens to observe and monitor ecological and environmental variables in urban areas (e.g., bird diversity and water quality), and 4) to develop a Web site where a local and national audience can view and discuss this education program.  We plan to implement the environmental education program within a proposed residential development (named Harmony) located on a 10,084-acre property near St. Cloud, FL in Osceola County; the education program will be exported to a national audience through Earth 911 Web site (www.earth911.org).  Since 1998, the Harmony Institute has worked closely with scientists, developers, and landowners to incorporate various design, management, and educational strategies that preserve the natural integrity of the property and allow people to observe, interact, and experience Nature.  The Harmony Institute will help coordinate efforts among Extension personnel, Osceola residents, and the developers and landowners of the property.  The long-term goal is to make this program available to any residential community.

Educational Priorities:  The project meets the EPA's priorities for community issues, wide application, partnerships, and career development.  It increases public awareness and participation in eco-friendly developments and is a model project that can be exported in other residential communities.  The project reaches a national audience through Earth 911 website; it promotes partnerships between the university, a non-profit organization (Harmony Institute), and Earth 911; and involvement of college students will enhance their understanding of environmental issues and career development.

Audience:  Because the project will be conducted both within a residential community and exported through Earth 911 web site, a diverse, national audience will be reached. This project primarily targets people who reside or work in urban areas, including people that make decisions about how to design, construct and manage residential developments, such as city planners, developers, and city and county commissioners.

Delivery Methods:  Beginning in August of 2001, University of Florida Extension Specialists and students will conduct workshops and seminars to foster communication with Osceola residents and to introduce the idea of the environmental education program at Harmony. The program will contain three approaches to reach both the Osceola residents and a national audience. First, interpretive kiosks will be placed in the Harmony community that addresses a variety of ecological and environmental issues associated with residential developments, including information about how to observe and interact with local wildlife. These kiosks will also contain information about long-term research activities that are being conducted in the community. Second, a website (housed on Earth 911 website) will be developed to permit the public to view the results of long-term monitoring efforts and allow a national and local audience to interact with the scientists and participants involved in the project. Third, several long-term monitoring programs will be initiated where Harmony and Osceola residents will work with University of Florida scientists and students to collect environmental data. Training workshops will be given to participants on how to collect data, enter data through their home computer, and how to view data on the web site. Faculty and students will conduct follow-up community workshops to present results, get feedback from the community, and evaluate future plans for the project.

Project Description

Background:  Urban areas are rapidly increasing in North America and around the world, and an increasing majority of the populace resides in such environments (Population Division of the U.N. Secretariat 2000).The expansion of urban cities is quite rapid; the rate that lands are converted to urban use has been estimated to exceed population growth by a factor of six to ten (Richmond 1996).This can translate into a huge land area; for example, Phoenix, AZ annexed 214 square miles between 1990 and 1997 (Gober 1998). Because urban landscapes are becoming a prominent landscape type, these areas can have a large impact on the environment, especially on local plant and animal communities.

In designing, constructing, and maintaining a residential community, different people make decisions that have a potential impact on the environment from limited to broad scales. City and county planners, development review boards, and city and county commissioners make decisions that affect the landscape at broad scales by determining how connected the landscape is, where roads are laid, which natural areas are preserved, and the juxtaposition of various development projects (e.g., industrial vs. residential areas).After a broad-scale plan is approved, developers make decisions that affect the landscape at medium scales by determining the location and design of houses, the size of lots, the initial types of vegetation planted, the design and location of parks or other recreation areas, and the amount of asphalt and lawn placed in a neighborhood. In turn, homeowners move-in, and they make decisions that affect the landscape at limited scales by the management of their own yards. For example, people determine what types of vegetation to plant (e.g., exotics vs. natives), how much water to use, and whether to ameliorate their yard for wildlife.

Overall, the combination of decisions across all scales affects the environment from the homeowner’s level (e.g., providing backyard habitat for wildlife) to the regional level (e.g., conservation of endangered species or downstream affects of runoff from development).Thus, it is important for citizens, developers, and government officials to understand the potential environmental impact of their decisions and ways to implement alternative eco-friendly strategies. Further, urban developments present a golden opportunity for the public to learn about and interact with their environment, to become aware of environmental issues, and to make informed decisions and take action.

Project Goal and Objectives:  The project goal is to develop, implement, and evaluate an environmental education program that will increase public awareness and participation in eco-friendly developments and increase people’s awareness and interaction with their local environment.  The objectives of the educational program are 1) to broaden the public’s understanding of ecological and environmental issues associated with residential developments, 2) to increase their awareness of potential eco-friendly management and design strategies for residential areas, 3) to train citizens to observe and monitor ecological and environmental variables in urban areas, and 4) to develop a Web site where a local and national audience can view and discuss this education program.

Site Description:  The proposed site for this project is located on a property (named “Harmony”) near St. Cloud, FL in Osceola County.  This is a prime location to “show-case” an eco-friendly model for development because Osceola is experiencing increased development activity, and it is located near a highly developed Orange County.  In August, 1998, a 10,084-acre ranch in Osceola County Florida was acquired by Birchwood Acres Limited Partnership. The first act by the Partnership was to donate land to the Harmony Institute for the initiation of its programs. The Harmony Institute will be an integral part of the Harmony community being developed by Birchwood Acres Limited Partnership.  Founded by Jim and Martha Lentz, the Harmony Institute, a non-profit 501[c][3] organization, was incorporated in the State of Florida in 1996.  The developers of the residential community, because they embrace and share the philosophy of the Harmony Institute, have been “allowed” to use the name Harmony for the community.  The Institute is not the landowner nor the developer of the community.  The Harmony Institute created the Harmony Institute Community Advisory Board (HICAB), a team of various scientists that provides advice and direction on the design and creation of the entire development.  Through HICAB, development of this property will contain many designs and strategies to enhance the environmental, ecological, and educational dimensions of the community.  Construction for a phase- I residential community will start November of 2001, and several additional communities are planned for subsequent years.

Focus and Proposed Plan of Action:  The focus of this project is to design a variety of activities that provide outlets for Harmony residents to contact, observe, and experience Nature and to learn about relevant environmental and ecological issues associated with developments.  The idea is to use the property as a testing ground for various urban-based environmental education activities and for methods designed to monitor the effects of eco-friendly development strategies.  Activities will concentrate on environmental and ecological issues that are literally close to home; they are intended to highlight animals and plants that occur in the home, backyard, neighborhood, and surrounding habitat and to highlight the various eco-friendly strategies that were incorporated in the development.  In addition, much of the focus will be to export the variety of programs and activities conducted at Harmony to outside communities.  Essentially, this is a pilot project that will be expanded and used as a springboard for future environmental educational activities both at Harmony and other residential developments.  Three approaches will be used, and all three approaches are interconnected to provide a total program. 

·Interpretive Kiosks Several highly visible interpretive kiosks will be designed and placed in the median and/or sidewalks, parks, and common areas where foot traffic is high.  Each of the kiosks will contain informative displays that discuss a particular environmental topic.  These kiosks will not only provide pertinent information about a particular topic, but they will be a catalyst for which people can learn about the interactive Web; a place to interact with their neighbors about a particular topic; and a central location to learn about results of long-term research projects. 

·Interactive WebsiteA web site will be constructed that will highlight all the activities that are being conducted at Harmony. This web site will not only contain information about ongoing projects, research, and information about relevant Florida ecological and environmental issues, but it will a place where people from both within and outside of the community can interact and discuss many different topics through various web-bulletin boards. This web site will be located on Earth’s 911 and highly advertised as to invite interested parties to explore the Harmony community, to enter into discussions directly with the residents, and to explore how the ideas generated at Harmony could be used in their own community. In addition, through an interactive database, results from long-term ecological and environmental monitoring efforts will be displayed (see examples in Phoenix, http://caplter.asu.edu/home/products/datasets.jsp and http://caplter.asu.edu/explorers/).

·Long-term Research:  Several long-term ecological and environmental projects will be conducted within the Harmony development that will include active participation by both youth and adults. Furthermore, Osceola residents will be encouraged to participate in the monitoring efforts in their own developments as to provide unique comparisons between the Harmony development and other developments in the county. Such activities will allow citizens to observe wildlife and to both learn about science and to meet scientists. Through multiple workshops, local citizens will be trained to participate in this monitoring effort, and collecting efforts will be designed to be simple, self-sufficient, and allow people to view results. For example, bird surveys will be conducted in backyards; bird data will then be inputted into a database through home computers; and bird data can be queried and viewed on home computers.

Planning:  Since early 1999, scientists on the HICAB committee have consulted with the Birchwood Acres developer about implementing environmental friendly strategies for developing the property.  A sample of strategies include building Energy-Star homes, preserving a linear park to protect wildlife habitat, planting native vegetation and reducing exotic plantings, and keeping connectivity in the landscape.  Building upon this initial planning effort, this project will design an environmental education program that will allow residents to experience, observe, and interact with nature, and monitor the effects of the above strategies.  Beginning in August of 2001, in conjunction with UF faculty, one graduate student will be recruited to develop a plan for this environmental education program.  Although this program will address topics suggested by the HICAB committee members and relate to environmental strategies that were employed in the final Harmony development, community needs and desires will be assessed.  Interviews and questionnaires will be given to citizens of Osceola county as well as future Harmony homeowners to assess those topics and activities that may be of primary interest.  From these interactions, several topics and activities will be selected for an environmental education program.  Initially, programs will concentrate on the following pool of topics: Energy-Star homes and energy conservation; designing backyards for wildlife; ecologically sensitive management of yards and neighborhoods (e.g., composting and xeriscaping); effects of and alternatives to the use of herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers; limited and broad-scale effects of development and ways to minimize these effects; monitoring animal and plant communities; monitoring environmental variables such as energy consumption; the importance of planting native vs. exotic plants; and how to observe and identify local animals and plants. 

Implementation:  Beginning January 2002, the graduate student and UF faculty will begin to design and build an interpretive kiosk prototype for medians, sidewalks, and community parks.  This prototype will be used for all future kiosks (funds for future signs are being solicited from private corporations).  In March of 2002, in conjunction with the University of Florida’s Office of Information Technologies, an undergraduate student will be hired to design and develop a database and Web site that includes topics chosen during the planning stage.  Several Web bulletin boards will be designed to allow a variety of people to discuss, to ask questions, and to make suggestions.  Starting in June 2002, workshops and seminars will be given to the Osceola county and Harmony residents about the eco-friendly development at Harmony and the various environmental education programs and long-term monitoring programs that will be conducted there.  In particular, Osceola residents from other developments will be encouraged to participate in the long-term studies in order to develop unique comparisons across the county.  In August 2002, training workshops will be given to train volunteers on how to collect environmental and ecological data, how to enter data through the Web site, and how to view results.  Several volunteers will be elected as “knowledgeable contacts” to serve as a local source of information about the monitoring efforts and will undergo additional training to become trainers themselves.  In September 2002, interpretive kiosks will begin to be placed in the Harmony community and participants will begin to collect and enter environmental data through the Web site.  From September 2002 and on, the graduate student and UF faculty will give additional training workshops and follow-up sessions to solicit comments and evaluations from the community as to improve the environmental education programs.

Educational Priorities This project utilizes the resources of the University of Florida, of Harmony and Osceola residents, and of professionals associated with the Harmony Institute. It addresses several EPA educational priorities in the following ways: 

  • Community Issues:   The spread of development is an environmental issue of importance to Florida residents and to most other states. The Florida Cooperative Extension Service will plan, implement, and evaluate an environmental education program that informs and involves the public in a working-model of an eco-friendly development. Through hands-on experiences, this education program will increase understanding of environmental issues related to ecosystems, habitat protection, biodiversity, and development issues. This program also fosters homeowner awareness and involvement in conservation and land stewardship. Results from the environmental education program will be compiled into reports and disseminated through the interactive web site, and information will be conveyed through workshops and seminars at nature centers, community gatherings, and scientific meetings. 
  • Wide Application:  Through Earth’s 911 web site, this project will be exported to a national and international audience. Educational programs and eco-friendly strategies tried at Harmony will target a diverse audience that live and work in urban areas. 
  • Career Development:  Through the University of Florida State and its graduate program, a graduate student recruited for this project will gain valuable job skills and scientific training to advance their career. In addition, undergraduate students and volunteers will be strongly encouraged to participate in environmental education programs and monitoring efforts, exposing them to scientists and to options for an environmental career. 
  • Partnerships:   The project fosters the formation of a collaborative working relationship between the University of Florida, the Harmony Institute, developers and contractors, and Earth’s 911.

Project Partners The University of Florida Cooperative Extension Service and the Department of Wildlife Ecology & Conservation (WEC), in conjunction with Earth’s 911 and the Harmony Institute, will conduct the project.

  1. Florida Extension Service (http://www.ifas.ufl.edu):   The UF Extension service has been a visible service to the state, and county extension agents are located in every county in Florida and along with state specialists, they provide many educational programs for the public that address a wide range of issues. Extension agents and specialists will be crucial in disseminating information about this eco-friendly development model and can incorporate the environmental education programs developed at Harmony into their own county-specific programs concerning various aspects of development. The Extension wildlife specialist of WEC will coordinate efforts among the three partners; oversee the recruitment and training of a graduate student, undergraduate students, and volunteers; and coordinate the efforts of University faculty and county extension agents.
  1. Earth 911 (http://www.earth911.org):  Earth 911 role in this project is to provide a nationally and internationally recognized web site that can house the project web page for an outside audience and to provide technical data base and web site design and maintenance support. Dubbed "Earth 911" by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, this free service is a public and private sector partnership between federal, state and local government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and private sector businesses.  A state-of-the-art, computerized, interactive phone and Internet system, Earth 911 is operated nationwide at no cost to communities. The Earth 911 mission is to empower people of all ages with geographically-specific environmental and recycling data and information, thereby enabling citizens to protect the environment in their own backyard.  This nationwide system operates through a single toll-free number, 1-800-CLEANUP, and a single website, www.1800CLEANUP.org. 
  1. Harmony Institute (http://www.harmonyinstitute.org):  The Harmony Institute is not only providing initial support, vision, and backing for the eco-friendly development, but will oversee the implementation of the project by coordinating efforts and communication among the HICAB members, contractors, site developers, and the local Harmony residents. 

Project Evaluation

As stated earlier, the project goal is to develop and implement an environmental education program that increases public awareness and participation in eco-friendly developments and increases people’s awareness and interaction with their local environment. To assess whether these goals are met, the project will be evaluated in the following ways. First, the graduate student will administer a pre-test questionnaire during initial interviews with Harmony and Osceola county residents and at the beginning of all workshops. This questionnaire will measure people’s knowledge of and interaction with local faunal and flora, awareness of different development practices and their potential impacts on the environment, and it will also quiz them on whether they currently use various eco-friendly strategies to manage their yards and their homes. In March-May 2003, post-tests will be given to Osceola residents and Harmony residents that participate in the program and will measure items mentioned in the pre-test.

A more qualitative evaluation will be accomplished through monitoring the number of people that use the web site and web bulletin boards. A successful program would see an increase in the number of hits to the web site, the number of participants entering data into the monitoring program, and the number of people using the web bulletin board. On the web site, a special “comment” section will be monitored to give people an opportunity to make suggestions, talk about problems and difficulties, and suggest ways the project could be improved. Most importantly, an indication of the self-sufficiency of the program, we will measure the number of volunteers that are recruited and trained by local residents.

From April-July of 2003, UF faculty and students will conduct several workshops with participants to present preliminary data and analyses and to foster public feedback about the project. At these workshops, comments and suggestions from the web site will be presented and working groups will be formed to discuss the pros and cons of the project and future direction. Their recommendations and suggestions will be reviewed and incorporated by the partners on this project to improve the program each year. All preliminary results and future plans will be shared on the web site.


Gober, P. 1998.The demographics of urban growth in Phoenix, p. 30-36. In: P. Melnick (ed.), Growth in Arizona: the machine in the garden. Morrison Institute for Public Policy, Tempe, AZ

Population Division of the U.N. Secretariat. 2000. World urbanization prospects: the 1999 revision. ESA/P/WP. 161, 27 March 2000.

Richmond, H. R. 1996. Land use policy for 21st century America: the conceptual basis of reform. Eugene V. and Clare E. Thaw Charitable Trust, Orlando, FL.

back to top