A team led by TSW, a leading urban design and planning firm, recently completed the first comprehensive plan for Graham County, North Carolina. This Graham County Comprehensive Plan, known as the Gateway to Tomorrow Plan, was a result of funding from the Southwestern North Carolina Opportunity Initiative (Opt-In), a regional planning effort also led by TSW. The county is one of the most rural in the state and had just lost its largest employer, creating a need for new strategies to grow the local economy and improve the quality of life for residents.
The Gateway to Tomorrow Plan highlights several strategies to achieve these goals, including improving the local economy, increasing access to healthcare, and building on the county’s tourism base. A key focus of the plan was addressing a decades-long controversy surrounding a proposed highway (Corridor K) that would have had a significant impact on the environment and the local Native American population. The plan identified alternative corridors for transportation improvements that would still provide access to healthcare and jobs, while also protecting the environment and sensitive sites.
The Graham County Comprehensive Plan also included specific plans for the county seat, Robbinsville, which focused on revitalizing its historic Main Street, improving aesthetics along the bypass, providing affordable housing, and creating new parks and public spaces. Community involvement was an important aspect of the plan, and the team at TSW implemented a variety of tools to achieve this, such as a week-long workshop, a community open house, email updates, and focus groups with youth, business owners, and other key groups. Overall, the Gateway to Tomorrow Plan was a result of a comprehensive, inclusive, and community-driven process that aimed to improve the quality of life for all residents of Graham County.