Located 25 miles north of Detroit, the city of Rochester Hills, MI may seem like an unlikely place for smart growth to be taking hold. But local residents have taken to smart growth concepts on multiple fronts—from transportation, to preservation of open space to economic development. Rochester Hills Mayor Bryan Barnett, a member of Smart Growth America’s Local Leaders Council, is committed to advancing them even further.
“To me smart growth is a philosophy and it’s a lifestyle,” Barnett says. “It’s not all economic development, it’s not all transportation. It’s about stepping back and looking at how our decisions impact where we want Rochester Hills to be a few years down the road.”
Rochester Hills has no mass transit service but increasing transportation choices is important to the city’s residents. One such choice is better facilities for biking and walking, and seven years ago the city passed a modest pathway millage that has help build and maintain an impressive network of bicycle and walking paths traversing the city, providing residents a viable option for safe, non-motorized transportation.
“The millage has allowed us to build a network of bicycle paths that now measures in the hundreds of miles,” Barnett says. “Recently, we’ve begun creating routes that connect our schools and colleges, green spaces and other city assets. While we don’t have bus stops or bus service yet, it’s pretty easy to ride a bike or walk around our community.”
Barnett explains that even though Rochester Hills leans politically conservative, residents and businesses place a high value on environmental conservation. The city boasts an innovative recycling program that rewards participants based on how much they recycle, and in 2005 passed another millage to protect green spaces. Each year the city identifies parcels to preserve as open space and connect them with neighborhoods with greenways and paths. “What we’ve done is talk about the economic advantages of conservation and smart growth, and it’s really taken hold,” said Barnett. “We’re proud of that.”
Smart growth is about making Rochester Hills a place where people want to live, work and play, Barnett explains, and that begins with a sense of place and community. “Neighborhoods are the building blocks of a good community. We’ve worked hard to use the word ‘neighborhood’ instead of ‘subdivison.’ There’s a different picture you create when you speak about neighborhoods rather than subdivisions,” he said.
Barnett’s approach seems to be working. In a recent city-wide survey, 99 percent of residents reported being ‘satisfied’ or ‘very satisfied’ with their quality of life in Rochester Hills.