Smart Growth Stories: Building a solid foundation for the future of Detroit

Detroit is changing. The popular story of the last half-decade has largely revolved around the economic fallout of the troubled automobile industry, interspersed with tales of population drain and abandonment. Based on this narrative, it might be easy to dismiss Detroit, to write the city off as a once-great but now-fallen metropolis of yesterday.

Easy, that is, unless you’ve been following the news. A New York Times article from a year ago picked up on the massive influx of young, educated people even in the face of massive out-migration, while a Forbes article from July of this year highlighted the development in downtown Detroit, largely centered around Woodward Avenue, the spine of the downtown area.

These news stories are beginning to touch upon what people familiar with the new movement in Detroit already know: Detroit is rebuilding. But this time, developers and investors are taking a different tack, focusing on downtown, mixed-use, and transit-oriented development strategies, shifting the city away from the large manufacturing development that has characterized Detroit for so long.

Bedrock Real Estate is at the forefront of this new strategy. “We’re going to continue to fill up Detroit, downtown Detroit. There’s no longer this need for manufacturing plants. You don’t need these big, huge buildings anymore,” says Jim Ketai, Managing Partner of Bedrock and member of the Steering Committee for LOCUS: Responsible Real Estate Developers and Investors. “So we are recreating Detroit. It’ll be a new Detroit, something different than what Detroit once was.”

Local Leaders Council LOCUS

Partnership in the News: Tulsa, OK poised to clean up brownfields

With the help of a $175,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Tulsa, Oklahoma is in the final stages of a brownfield redevelopment plan that includes six properties throughout the city. The grant will help Tulsa clean up the sites and thus serve as a catalyst for broader revitalization and redevelopment efforts. On cleaning up one of the former industrial sites, Mayor Dewey Bartlett said:

“This could be a great asset to the city, contributing to the tax rolls and the business community. We just have to get it there.”


Partnership in the News: BRT gains traction in Madison, WI

On September 10, the Metropolitan Planning Organization, Capital Region Sustainable Communities, and Capital Area Regional Planning Commission – all organizations of the city of Madison, Wisconsin – met together to present a study carried out by the city testing the idea of a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) route to the public and receive feedback.

This initial meeting was meant to introduce the idea to the public, with the next round of feedback involving more public input on specifics of the plan, including stop location, frequency, and stop amenities, among other things, according to Joe Kern, Project Manager of SRF Consulting.

The study was funded by a three-year HUD Regional Planning Grant.


Partnership in the News: Forming a vision for the future of business in North Adams, MA

On September 12, local business owners convened at a workshop in North Adams, MA to voice their concerns and priorities for the future of business in their area. This meeting was part of an effort to form a Master Plan for the city, a part of the broader Sustainable Berkshires initiative, funded with grant support from a HUD Regional Planning Grant.

Mayor Richard J. Alcombright emphasized the city’s need for a growth plan, saying,

“This is a very important process for the city, which, on a whole, hasn’t had a master road map in 40 years. Coming from the business world, we always had a plan. It needs to be a design that is in a very bendable, soft cover book, because it needs to be a fluid road map to success. It needs to keep the community on track, but also allows us to change direction. We are definitely a city that is at a crossroads. Our immediate need is growth, and a good solid plan is key to that.”


Smart Growth Stories: Emerick Corsi on driving growth with transit

Many people recognize Forest City Enterprises as one of the biggest real estate companies in the nation, with a multi-billion dollar portfolio that spans coast to coast and a spot on the New York Stock Exchange.

What’s less well known is that Forest City also happens to be one of the biggest advocates of walkable neighborhoods with transportation choices. Real Estate Services President Emerick Corsi is a firm believer in the power of transit to drive economic growth in surrounding areas, and the company is actively pursuing this kind of development. As a member of LOCUS, Forest City understands the impact of transit-oriented development on local economic growth and job creation.

Local Leaders Council LOCUS

It’s not too late to apply for a free technical assistance workshop from Smart Growth America

Are you interested in Smart Growth America’s free technical assistance workshops but haven’t had time to apply? Don’t worry – it’s not too late! Applications are being accepted until October 25, 2012 at 5:00 PM EDT.

Smart Growth America’s technical assistance program helps to facilitate local solutions to development issues and concerns. Participating communities are able to grow in ways that benefit families and businesses while protecting the environment and preserving a sense of place.

Technical assistance

Spotlight on Sustainability: A fresh approach to regional planning in southern Texas

A tugboat in Galveston, TX. Photo courtesy of flickr user BFS Man.

After receiving a HUD Regional Planning grant two years ago, the Houston Galveston Area Council (H-GAC) knew it had its work cut out. The grant region comprises 13 counties and 6 million people and a wide variety of city types, from rural to coastal, suburban and urban. Yet, in such a large and diverse region, the grant has done much to coordinate local planning efforts, says Meredith Dang, the Land Use Transportation Coordinator at H-GAC.

“As a region, we’ve done a lot of planning about individual concerns – like housing, transportation and infrastructure – but not on this holistic level, so we’re using our grant to look at how the issues interact and what sort of future the region wants to strive towards.”

The grant consortium is made up of 24 local organizations, with local governments, nonprofits, and university and research organizations involved, all groups that had not previously worked together. “The scale at which H-GAC has been able to cross the lines between government and nonprofit and education through the Consortium has created partnerships that have been really groundbreaking for our region,” Dang says.

Currently, the consortium is working together to come up with development strategies through a series of case studies. Two case studies in particular have emerged as key projects for the grant.

The first involves the city of Houston, where planners are looking to piece together a set of policy tools that encourages and incentivizes walkable, mixed-use development in a dozen business centers throughout the city as well as builds a framework that speaks to the kind of development people really want. The second is being carried out in the city of Galveston, where planners hope to develop a more complete method of cost-benefit analysis for sustainable development.


Partnership in the News: Healthy & strong, Two-county effort takes its first step

A hundred people attended a public meeting held by the Northwest Regional Planning Commission in Vermont. The meeting was an informational session about the Healthy People, Strong Communities initiative, funded by a HUD Regional Planning grant.

The initiative is a regional effort by 20 counties in the region to produce a stronger, more economically viable region. The meeting was the first step towards accomplishing this goal. Planners opened the meeting with questions to the audience intended to get them thinking about what they wanted from the initiative and to form preliminary ideas of future directions for the region.


Smart Growth Stories: More choice for less cost in Washington state

“We cannot continue as we did in the 50s and 60s and 70s to sprawl out,” says John Hempelmann, one of the founding partners of Seattle-based law firm Cairncross & Hempelmann. “We need real economic opportunity for the development community building in the cities and building close to the transit hubs.”

Founded in 1987, Cairncross & Hempelmann is located in Seattle’s historic Pioneer Square District, highlighting its investment in maintaining the city’s distinct character. John Hempelmann is also a member of LOCUS, Smart Growth America’s coalition of real estate developers and investors committed to creating livable, economically vibrant places.

As a lawyer who represents real estate developers, Hempelmann keenly follows market trends in his hometown of Seattle. By helping developers build walkable neighborhoods, Hempelmann is giving consumers more options, allowing them to choose for themselves what kind of development they’d prefer.

“We are now providing an urban walkable option and we’re finding that a lot of people are opting for that choice,” he says. “It allows you to reduce transportation costs and allows you to spend more on housing so there’s an economic value to both the buyer and the seller.”

Local Leaders Council LOCUS

Partnership in the News: Helena, MT among 2012 recipients of EPA grant

Helena, MT has been selected to receive an EPA Greening America’s Capitals grant in an effort to address the future of Last Chance Gulch, Helena’s mainstreet.

“It’s just been difficult to figure out how to make the most important historic mile in the state of Montana (a) sustainable, (b) multi-use and multi-purpose, (c) accessible to our business community and merchants here in town, and (d) how to revitalize it so that it might include any number of other uses including residences along the gulch, or uses for non-motorized people,” said Helena Mayor Jim Smith.

The city hopes to solve these issues with the grant.

Frankfort, Ky.; Des Moines, Iowa; Baton Rouge, La.; and Indianapolis, In. also received grants for similar efforts.