Mayor Gee Williams on why Berlin, MD is the coolest small town in America

berlin-mdDowntown Berlin, MD is a National Register Historic District. Photo courtesy of Berlin Main Street.

In February, Berlin, MD (population 4,500) won the title of “Coolest Small Town in America” from Budget Travel. Mayor Gee Williams sees smart growth as part of why Berlin won the honor.

“We are proud of our 19th century charm, but we are a 21st century community,” explains Mayor Williams, a member of the Maryland Chapter of Smart Growth America’s Local Leaders Council. Berlin’s historic downtown is a National Register Historic District, boasting 47 structures on the National Register of Historic Places.

“We’re not out to be the biggest community on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, but we want to be one of the happiest places,” says the Mayor.

Mayor Gee Williams
Mayor Gee Williams, Town of Berlin, MD

After taking office six years ago, Mayor Williams began using smart growth strategies to help achieve many of the town’s goals.

“Smart growth is an important guidepost for the current and future development of the Town of Berlin,” he explains. “Smart growth enables us to provide our citizens with a livable community where residents and guests can expect the peaceful enjoyment of a sustainable physical and natural environment, support and share in economic opportunities, while preserving a common heritage rich in history, cultural diversity and mutual respect.”

Mayor Williams started by working with the three leading environmental groups in the area to create Grow Berlin Green, a campaign to engage Berlin’s citizens in environmental protection and conservation.

“We started off with simple things like rain barrels and rain gardens, showing people how it could be done,” Williams explains. “It caught on like wildfire.”

Learning from the success of Grow Berlin Green, city leaders asked for public input on the 2010 Comprehensive Plan. The plan eventually incorporated several smart growth strategies into the Town’s overall vision and approach to regulating development, including encouraging mixed-use in the downtown and creating a variety of housing choices for residents.

In addition, Mayor Williams created a new Department of Economic and Community Development to complement the town’s environmental progress.

“Our basic philosophy is that environmental stewardship and economic development are interdependent,” he explains. “If we are going to succeed in this century, we can’t sacrifice one for the other. Since the economic shutdown we’ve had the best five years we’ve ever had in our history. We have actively recruited and established over 30 new businesses, more than doubling the number of businesses in our historic downtown Main Street district.”

In addition to the Department of Economic and Community Development, Berlin’s Main Street Program, established in 2008, is working to make the downtown a community gathering place through events such as farmers markets, a Berlin Fiddler’s convention, Victorian Christmas, and 2nd Friday Arts & Entertainment Nights.

The result? Many think Berlin, MD is the coolest small town in America.

Local Leaders Council