Mayor Elizabeth Kautz on creating a thriving downtown – from scratch

Heart of the City in Burnsville

Community transformation typically requires both strong leadership and widespread buy-in from residents and business owners. Over the past 20 years, Burnsville, MN Mayor Elizabeth Kautz worked together with her community to shape a common vision for the city’s future growth and on the path to becoming more walkable, vibrant and sustainable.

Elizabeth Kautz is the mayor of Burnsville, MN and member of Smart Growth America’s Local Leaders Council. Located in the greater Minneapolis area on the Minnesota River, the site of what is today the city of Burnsville was dominated by agriculture until the middle of the 20th century. The population grew quickly during the subsequent decades but the city’s development pattern was heavily oriented to the automobile, leaving little infrastructure for pedestrians and no discernible downtown or urban center.

Since taking office in 1995, Mayor Kautz has taken steps to make the city more walkable and to implement smart growth development principles. Some of these strategies include creating a trail master plan, a Complete Streets policy that builds off a strong transportation system, and “a sustainability plan that incorporates a comprehensive look at our city including redevelopment, streets, our carbon footprint, and recycling.”

In a recent interview with Smart Growth America, Kautz identified the lack of a downtown as a significant issue for the city’s development efforts. In seeking to improve this, Kautz explains, “we put all of the regulatory and economic tools in place to create an urban center that is pedestrian-friendly with a beautiful urban park and performing arts center.” This plan came to fruition when the site of an outdated shopping center was transformed to become an economic development engine and cultural center called the “Heart of the City”. The 54-acre site is a smart growth project aiming to create a mixed-use, walkable downtown area. It has multiple retail shops, businesses, a community arts center, a park, and diverse housing options.

Local Leaders Council

Smart growth news – November 23

That Thanksgiving dinner? Mostly from out of state
Baltimore Sun, November 22, 2011
According to a survey by the land preservation group 1000 Friends of Maryland, 48 percent of our Thanksgiving staples overall are produced in-state. Just 44 percent of the turkeys eaten are raised here, 41 percent of the potatoes (that seems high to me, frankly), 32 percent of the apples, 17 percent of the sweet potatoes and only one-half of 1 percent of the carrots.

Gwinnett to Receive Smart Growth Assistance
Norcross Patch (Ga.), November 23, 2011
Smart Growth America has selected Gwinnett County as one of 15 to receive free technical assistance, it announced last week. The program, which includes a workshop that will be held in Gwinnett sometime in 2012, was made possible from a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency.

TEDx: The economic power of great places
Ted.com, November 17, 2011
Making great places is key to turning around our economy. In this passionate talk, Ilana Preuss shows us why we need to do this better and why these places are in high demand.

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Smart growth news – November 21

Gwinnett Among 15 Communities Chosen Nationwide to Receive ‘Smart Growth’ Assistance From the Experts
Curbed Atlanta, November 18, 2011
With the help of forward-thinking officials like Norcross Mayor Bucky Johnson (who as Chairman of the Atlanta Regional Transportation Roundtable, was instrumental in getting the TPLOST project list approved), Gwinnett County has quietly become a leader in the sustainability movement in Georgia by pushing its communities toward smarter growth. The county has now been chosen to receive free smart growth technical assistance from Smart Growth America, one of the country’s premier think tanks on community-building and sustainability issues.

Derry Township selected for free tech assistance
Lebanon Daily News (Pa.), November 18, 2011
Derry Township is among more than a dozen communities that have been selected to receive Smart Growth America‘s 2011 free smart-growth technical assistance.

East El Paso sprawl: Boom strains services, city coffers
El Paso Times, November 20, 2011
Sprawl on El Paso’s East Side is putting a strain on city services, such as fire and police protection, water and sewage utilities, roads and recreational areas, a growing number of urban planners said.

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Smart growth news – November 17

High-tech HQ leaving suburbs for downtown
Kansas City Star, November 16, 2011
It’s believed to be the first significant suburban company to make the switch downtown since a multi-billion-dollar revival began a decade ago. The firm said it thought a downtown location would boost the recruiting of younger and more tech-savvy employees.

Data show Maine population growing in suburban areas
The Morning Sentinel (Maine), November 17, 2011
Overall, the state of Maine experienced net growth during the first decade of this century. Richert said many urban areas in Maine had growth of up to 5 percent. But suburban areas grew faster. And that growth poses problems with agriculture and production in Maine

Brady District revitalization helped by TIF status
Tulsa World (Okla.), November 17, 2011
In 1993, when the city introduced “tax increment financing” in the Brady District, officials described it as the spark that would ignite downtown revitalization. And now, 18 years later, redevelopment is raging through the Brady District, where more than $80 million in construction is either under way or planned for the near future.

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Voters come out in favor of smart growth measures

In last night’s elections, voters across the country proved once again that measures like transit, infrastructure, and downtown redevelopment have strong support across the board.

This was certainly true in Durham County, N.C. which approved a half-cent sale tax increase to improve bus services and support future commuter and light rail projects. Gov. Parris Glendening, President of Smart Growth America’s Leadership Institute, recently spoke in Durham in support of the measure, which passed 60%-40%.

Durham’s not alone – dozens of towns and cities also voted to support smart growth strategies. Here’s a look at how other measures fared in last night’s elections.

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Smart growth news – November 8

Boise writes new city blueprint
Idaho Statesman, November 8, 2011
Boiseans don’t like strip malls. They don’t like architecture that’s out of scale with pedestrians. Nor do they like development patterns that line thoroughfares with parking lots. They do like walkable mixed-use developments like Bown Crossing, Hyde Park and the 36th Street Garden Plaza, with homes, cafes and parking lots tucked out of sight and the needs of pedestrians balanced with those of drivers. That’s what Boise city staffers learned during the past four years as they worked with residents to develop a new comprehensive plan, the first since 1997.

The myth of the progressive city
Salon, November 7, 2011
[T]wo or three decades ago, there may have been some truth to the notion that the American city is a union-driven bastion of populist progressive economics. But today, while cities may still largely vote Democratic, they are increasingly embracing the economics of corporatism. The result is that urban areas are a driving force behind the widening intra-party rift between the corporatist, pro-privatization Wall Street Democrats and the traditional labor-progressive “Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party.”

A Bridge Too Far? U.S. Infrastructure’s Future Depends on Current Debate
International Business Times, November 7, 2011
America’s bridges are crossed an average of 4 billion times every day; 282 million of those treks involve structurally deficient spans. As America’s infrastructure ages, the ranks of deficient bridges will grow, doubling by 2030 if not addressed, according to Transportation for America.

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Smart growth news – October 27

Apartment Values Rise, as Do Rents
Wall Street Journal, October 26, 2011
While concerns about the economy are cooling the market for most other types of commercial real estate, apartment rents and occupancies continue to be boosted by demand from millions of people who are victims of foreclosure or are unwilling or unable to buy their own homes.

NYU eyes former MTA headquarters for urban grad school in Bloomberg’s contest for new university
New York Daily News, October 26, 2011
Downtown Brooklyn would become a global hub for urban sciences if a noted local university wins a contest to develop a new applied sciences graduate school in the city.

A new look for East Riverside? Austin to highlight plan
American-Statesman (Texas), October 26, 2011
“The vision is to transform the area from an auto-dominated, aging corridor to a people-oriented destination with lots of people living, working and playing within walking distance of transit,” said Erica Leak with the city’s Planning and Development Review Department.

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Smart growth news – October 26

The 19 Building Types That Caused the Recession
The Atlantic Cities, October 25, 2011
Among his favorite examples of all the standard real-estate products built ad nauseum across the country over the last half-century, Christopher Leinberger likes to point to the Grocery Anchored Neighborhood Center. This creation is generally about 12 to 15 acres in size on a plot of land that’s 80 percent covered in asphalt. It’s located on the going-home side of a major four-to-eight lane arterial road, where it catches people when they’re most likely to be thinking about what to buy for dinner.

The Federal Government’s Smart Growth-Inspired Landlord
Streetsblog, October 25, 2011
Robert Peck says he’ll gladly pay more to locate office buildings near transit – the time saved commuting makes it worthwhile.

WNY development panel airs plan
Buffalo News (N.Y.), October 25, 2011
Creating jobs and finding ways to get the biggest bang for the buck out of investments made in Western New York are emerging as top priorities in the strategic plan being developed by a state-backed economic development council. … It encourages “smart growth” that minimizes sprawl and leads to investment in the region’s cities and town centers.

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Smart growth news – September 16

The Case for a D.C.-Baltimore Mega-Region
Atlantic Cities, September 16, 2011
Last Friday, Maryland released the latest draft of PlanMaryland, the state’s ambitious effort “to encourage smart growth and to discourage sprawl.” The new draft takes into account comments received since the previous version, which was released in April. It makes a compelling case for developing Maryland into higher density residential pockets strategically placed along established lines of road, transit, and water infrastructure. If it succeeds, Maryland circa 2035 will be dominated by a strong orange-red D.C.-Baltimore mega-region.

Philadelphia plan aims high for vitality, resilience
NRDC Switchboard, September 16, 2011
Earlier this year, the city adopted the first key phase of the plan, a “Citywide Vision” that stresses such important topics as efficient transportation and connectivity, parks and open space, diverse and authentic neighborhoods, and taking advantage of legacy industrial areas ripe for redevelopment.

‘Slice of Saugatuck’ highlights neighborhood’s resilience
Westport News (Conn.), September 15, 2011
“We wanted to bring a neighborhood and village feel back to Saugatuck,” said Gault President Sam Gault. “The vision was to have a true smart-growth, mixed-use project where you have people working and utilizing the retail shops as well as people living there.”

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