Local leaders from Western Maryland and Maryland’s Eastern Shore discuss revitalization challenges and successes.
Nearly twenty members of the Maryland Chapter of Smart Growth America’s Local Leaders Council gathered in Silver Spring, MD on Friday, March 13 for a Revitalizing Downtowns and Regional Centers for the Triple Bottom Line workshop sponsored by Smart Growth America and 1000 Friends of Maryland. Montgomery County Councilmember Hans Riemer, an Advisory Board member of the Maryland Chapter, hosted the event at the Silver Spring Civic Building in the heart of Downtown Silver Spring.
The morning session of the workshop introduced participants to revitalization strategies for all kinds of development—downtowns, main streets, or even strip malls—and the elements required for a revitalization project to be successful. Speakers included Chris Leinberger, President of LOCUS; Reemberto Rodriquez, Director of the Silver Spring Regional Area; John Robert Smith, former Mayor of Meridian, MS and Co-Chair of Transportation for America; and Chris Zimmerman, Vice President of Economic Development at Smart Growth America.
The speakers explained that before a revitalization project even begins, leaders should answer three questions about their community: Who were you? Who are you now? Who do you aspire to be? “When you can answer those three questions, then you have a story that rings true, is authentic, and you can sell it, whether to your community or to investors,” said John Robert Smith. “When you have that story to tell, then you have a vibrant downtown.”
The afternoon session of the workshop divided participants into small group clinics, in which participants were able discuss their specific revitalization issues and solutions with each other as well with an expert. One of the groups was comprised of leaders from the Washington, DC metro area. Councilmember Patrick Wojahn from College Park described some of his town’s challenges. “It has been hard to convince others about the market potential of College Park, which is definitely there,” he said.
Susan Hartmann from New Carrollton discussed the difficulty the City has been having in getting redevelopment efforts off the ground. “How do you get something going with no major employers and no major partners? How do we get first train out of the station? It feels like everyone is waiting,” she said.
The other clinic group was comprised of leaders from Western Maryland and the Eastern Shore. They discussed the importance of recognizing the assets that you have, dealing with underutilized parking lots, and marketing downtown to residents.
During the event it became clear that different sized communities from across the state face many of the same challenges. Following the workshop, Reemberto Rodriguez, Director of the Silver Spring Regional Area, led participants on a tour of Downtown Silver Spring.