Participants at the second annual Local Leaders Council Policy Forum on June 1, 2015 in Washington, DC. Photo by Aimee Custis.
Earlier this month, local leaders from across the country came together for the 2015 Local Leaders Council Policy Forum in Washington, DC. The over 30 speakers talked about a wide range of smart growth topics, including creating housing options, fighting blight, meeting the needs of new demographics, and walkable design.
One of the Forum tracks focused specifically on downtown revitalization. Three sessions focused on a framework for redevelopment, place management organizations, and the barriers to redevelopment that participants face in their own communities.
Mayor Lou Ogden of Tualatin, OR, attended two of the three sessions. Having recently faced his first election challenge after 20 years in office over the issue of new transit investments, he was focused on the need to build political support for new development types. “A group of people decided they didn’t like the new road that would connect an old K-mart site across the river, so they basically killed our redevelopment area,” he said. “Instead of expanding our walkable downtown, we got another big box center.” He went on to add, “We did work with Cabela’s [a chain of outdoor suppliers]. It’s the most walkable shopping center with a Cabela’s on the planet, because that’s what our community wanted. So there is a silver lining.”
Other participants raised similar concerns during the afternoon discussion of barriers to redevelopment. Cindy Pool, a Councilmember from Ellisville, MO, noted the difficulty of persuading the new Council to act on the former Council’s vision for a healthy downtown. She explained, “The vision is already established. It’s there.” However, she is struggling with her colleagues to ensure that the great destination envisioned in the adopted plan is not replaced by another gas station.
Track participants had an opportunity to learn from communities that have successfully revitalized their downtowns, as well as other community leaders who are also working through revitalization challenges. This was just one of the many topics discussed at this year’s Forum. If you haven’t already, check out the Forum’s archived materials.