Driving home from work one day in Rochester, MN, Michael Wojcik came across an accident where a 6-year-old girl riding her bicycle with her family had been struck and killed by a vehicle. The family lived in a subdivision, and had to cross two major county roads to get anywhere. That is what they were doing that day, when three lanes of traffic had stopped—but the fourth did not.
Author: Jessica Holmberg
Downtown Mason, MI. Photo courtesy of the City of Mason.
Mason, MI, established in the 19th century as a small town center, eventually became the seat of the surrounding county while vying to become the new state capital. Although Lansing, located just to the north, was ultimately selected as the capital, Mason has managed to remain a small but distinct community while experiencing population growth of roughly 20 percent in the last decade.
“Mason is a very friendly and welcoming place where people take a lot of pride in the community,” says Mayor Pro Tem Marlon Brown, a member of Smart Growth America’s Local Leaders Council. “Ultimately, what makes Mason so special are the people.”
Creating a better, stronger Lower Macungie Township is about more than just a job for Commissioner Ron Beitler. It’s about his roots and hometown pride, it’s about his future and the future of his family. For Beitler, a vibrant Lower Macungie is deeply personal.
Beitler, a member of Smart Growth America’s Local Leaders Council, is a lifelong resident of Lower Macungie, PA, a third-ring suburb of Allentown located on the western end of the Lehigh Valley. Beitler and his wife live in a house less than three blocks away from the house he grew up in, where his parents still live. In fact, most of Beitler’s family members live in Lower Macungie.
Hershey, PA. Photo by Jon Dawson via Flickr.
In the early 1900s, Milton Hershey had a plan for a chocolate factory. Using proceeds from the sale of his caramel company, Hershey bought land for the factory in central Pennsylvania’s Derry Township, near his birthplace. What would follow, however, was much more than just a factory. Based on Hershey’s vision, Hershey, PA grew to include schools, shops, a theater, a stadium, and even the Hershey Amusement Park, which was originally intended for the recreational use of employees and their families. The indelible imprint that Hershey left on Derry Township can be seen in everything from the Milton Hershey School, which continues to educate underprivileged children, to the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, founded after Hershey’s death through an endowment of his trust, to the Hershey’s Kiss–shaped street lights that adorn downtown Chocolate Avenue.
Midfield, AL’s Splash Pad. Photo by City of Midfield via Facebook.
In the increasingly technologically connected, fast-paced, global economy-driven world of today, it can be hard for even the small towns of America to retain their ‘small town’ feel. And yet, that’s exactly what Midfield, AL is striving to maintain and preserve.
Located just outside of Birmingham, AL, Midfield, with a population just over 5,000, is known as “the Convenient City”. It’s a place where residents make it a point to “eat, shop, and do all of their business right in the city,” says Councilmember Velma Johnson, a member of Smart Growth America’s Local Leaders Council.
Those who live in Midfield say they have a sense of belonging—of knowing and being known by so many others in the community. “As humans we want to connect to one another,” says Johnson. “In Midfield, we’re fortunate to live in the type of community where police officers know children by name.”
Old Town Hall. Fairfax, Virginia. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.
Fairfax is a small city, with close to 24,000 residents, located in the heart of Northern Virginia. Built as a historical town center, anchored by the former site of the Fairfax County Courthouse, the city served as a regional hub of economic and civic activity throughout the 19th century. A trolley line built in 1904 connected Fairfax, then an active, urban community, to Washington, DC. But, rapid home growth and the suburban expansion of the 50s and 60s have meant that Fairfax’s 6.3 square miles have largely been built out since the mid 20th century. Today, the city, with an aging population as well as aging infrastructure and housing stock, is on the cusp of some major, needed change.
Hernando, Mississippi has grown considerably in the past decade. With its good schools, historic town square, and small town charm it’s not hard to understand why. But dig a little deeper and you’ll find what may be a whole other set of reasons that more and more people are choosing to call Hernando home. At the center of it all is Mayor Chip Johnson and his mission to change the dialogue on health in the state with the highest obesity rate in the country.
Research on the cumulative impacts of overweight children led Johnson, elected to the Mayor’s office in 2005, and others in city government to work to create an environment in Hernando where activity is implicit in the daily routine of residents.
The city passed design standards requiring sidewalks in all new development and redevelopment projects. This means new neighborhoods, especially those constructed during the last housing boom are connected to other parts of town.
A complete streets policy, championed by Johnson, requires new road construction to consider pedestrians and bicyclists. Today, many of the roads in Hernando include designated bike lines in addition to sidewalks and other pedestrian safety improvements.
Additionally, a land use ordinance passed by the city requires developers set to aside 10% of their land as open space, which when coupled with the first parks department in Hernando’s history, created by Johnson in 2006, provides more recreation opportunities for residents.
Salt Lake County, Utah. Photo by Photo Dean via Flickr.
Not every mayor can say that they govern nearly half of a state’s population in one single county. But that’s exactly the case for Ben McAdams, Mayor of Salt Lake County, Utah and member of Smart Growth America’s Local Leaders Council.
Salt Lake County, with a population of over 1 million people, is located in a narrow valley sandwiched between two mountain ranges. Population growth over the past decade has reshaped the County, particularly following the 2002 Winter Olympics. Throughout the county, isolated pockets of development amidst farmlands and open space has evolved into an interconnected urban area that is populated from north to south and east to west. That population is projected to double in the next 20 to 30 years.
Columbia, MO. Photo by Chris Yunker via Flickr.
When Columbia, MO Councilmember Ian Thomas, a member of Smart Growth America’s Local Leaders Council, first moved to the United States from his native London in the 1990s, the impact of the built environment on quality of life became abundantly clear. First settling in a suburb of Nashville, TN, Thomas found its car-oriented design limiting to an active, healthy lifestyle and lacking in access for residents to fresh food, safe places for recreation, and accessibility to necessary services.
Downtown Reno, Nevada. Photo by Kim Olson via Flickr.
In the early 2000’s, Nevada was the fastest-growing state in the country and cities like Reno saw an unprecedented, rapid boom in residential and commercial development.
Seemingly just as quickly, however, the recession hit and in short time foreclosure rates were soaring. The rest is a story all too familiar to communities across the country that, like Reno, are still struggling to recover from the resulting decline in property values and the decline in municipal revenues that goes with them.
“Neighborhoods were in decline before they even had time to grow up and be built,” says Reno Councilmember Jenny Brekhus, a member of Smart Growth America’s Local Leaders Council. “At the same time, our city amassed a lot of debt.” Exacerbating Reno’s compromised ability to provide vital city services, the city lacked clearly defined municipal boundaries. As the city sprawled, the cost of infrastructure and services like water, sewer and emergency response grew.