Elizabeth Tyler on infill development and downtown improvements in Urbana, IL

Urbana, ILUrbana, IL’s Community Development Department runs the city’s farmer’s market (above), in addition to several other programs. Photo by Jeff E. via Flickr.

Urbana, IL has a lot to build on. The city of 41,000 is home to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and the school’s students and faculty make the most of Urbana’s great transit system, thriving downtown, small businesses and art scene. Urbana is working to improve all these features, and Community Development Director Elizabeth Tyler is helping to make it happen.

Tyler is a member of Smart Growth America’s Local Leaders Council, a bipartisan group of municipal officials who share a passion for building great towns, cities, and communities. Since 2001 Tyler has served as Urbana’s Community Development Director and oversees planning and economic development initiatives in the city that range from providing assistance to new and existing business to managing the city’s public arts program and farmers’ market.

The Community Development Department also developed and is implementing the city’s comprehensive plan, passed in 2005. The plan emphasizes infill development in both commercial and residential neighborhoods, and lays out plans for downtown Urbana. “The special character of downtown and its proximity to the campus of the University of Illinois offer tremendous potential that has only recently begun to be realized,” the plan says.

Elizabeth Tyler
Elizabeth Tyler

Tyler has been a key part of this work. Before projects to improve pedestrian infrastructure and bike lanes began on Main Street, Tyler recalls the street’s independent business owners being concerned about what the changes would mean for people who drive to their stores. “Car traffic on Main Street has slowed down,” Tyler explains, “and business owners can see that it’s easier for customers to see their businesses and what’s going on. Once the improvements are in place, business owners like it.”

The comprehensive plan hasn’t been Tyler’s only effort in Urbana. She also served on the Steering Committee for the award-winning Urbana Bicycle Master Plan of 2008, which committed the city to building and maintaining a connected and accessible bicycling network. That plan is currently being updated to build on the progress of the past five years.

“We started with a Complete Streets policy, a wonderful transit system that has been built up and supported by the community, and bicycle infrastructure is the next important element,” says Tyler. “We’ve added tremendously in terms of bike lanes and bike facilities and we want to keep going.”

All these changes are making a difference in Urbana, as more and more residents get involved in the city’s growth. “A planner’s role really is to support people with passion and community commitment. If you’re able to do that, you won’t be disappointed.”

Local Leaders Council