Study will focus on community

The Georgia Conservancy's outdoor-minded volunteers will launch a different sort of conservation project this weekend in Augusta's Harrisburg community.

"Our focus will be on growth planning that will also have a balance with land conservation," said Katherine Moore, the manager of the group's Blueprints for Successful Communities program.

For 15 years, almost two dozen Georgia communities have been evaluated by urban planning professionals looking for ways to stimulate investment and promote sustainability.

Harrisburg, a colorful, working-class neighborhood with almost 1,000 buildings, is an important part of Augusta because of its history and proximity to downtown. It is also imperiled by neglect, and in 2007 was placed at the top of Historic Augusta Inc.'s annual list of most endangered historic properties.

The planning study, which will run through May, will be conducted by Moore and a team of graduate students led by Georgia Tech professor Richard Dagenhart.

Also involved will be residents, local governments and other entities.

"It is very much a stakeholder-drive process," Moore said.

The students include urban planners, architects, engineers and landscape designers who worked as private-sector professionals before returning to the university for advanced degrees, the program manager said.

"A lot of the data collection and mapping and preliminary activities have been under way since last August," she said.

Harrisburg's array of mill houses and commercial buildings made it a perfect candidate for such a study, which is designed to find new uses for areas that might have been overlooked.

"In some ways, it's recycling on a large scale," Moore said. "If you can recycle, reuse and revitalize already-developed areas, then we avoid the need to develop new areas and avoid sprawl while protecting those outlying areas."

The planning study, funded in part by a grant from The Home Depot, will include meetings later this year.