Committed local leaders are a key advantage in free workshop competition

Councilmember Michael Trapp, right, at parking audit workshop in Columbia, MO in 2015.

“Involvement of key community leaders” is one of five criteria Smart Growth America uses to select which communities receive our free technical assistance workshops each year. In fact, a letter of commitment signed by “the mayor, county commission chair, or comparable elected leader” is one of the requirements for applying.

Members of Smart Growth America’s Local Leaders Council are a natural fit for this requirement, with a demonstrated interest in smarter development strategies. Over the past five years, 23 of the more than 50 winning communities have been home to current and future Local Leaders Council members. Here’s a look at how Local Leaders Council members have used these competitive awards.

In 2013, the Village of Park Forest, IL won a sustainable land use code audit workshop, which served as a kickoff event for the Village’s work revising its zoning and subdivision ordinances. The workshop was an opportunity to fill in gaps in technical expertise, gauge public interest in sustainable land use codes, and bring a fresh set of eyes to the process.

Local Leaders Council Technical assistance

Councilmember Michael Wojcik on creating a community that works for all

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Summer Market in Rochester, MN. Photo by Rochester, MN via Facebook.

Driving home from work one day in Rochester, MN, Michael Wojcik came across an accident where a 6-year-old girl riding her bicycle with her family had been struck and killed by a vehicle. The family lived in a subdivision, and had to cross two major county roads to get anywhere. That is what they were doing that day, when three lanes of traffic had stopped—but the fourth did not.

Local Leaders Council

Mason, MI is growing from the inside out

Mason AerialDowntown Mason, MI. Photo courtesy of the City of Mason.

Mason, MI, established in the 19th century as a small town center, eventually became the seat of the surrounding county while vying to become the new state capital. Although Lansing, located just to the north, was ultimately selected as the capital, Mason has managed to remain a small but distinct community while experiencing population growth of roughly 20 percent in the last decade.

“Mason is a very friendly and welcoming place where people take a lot of pride in the community,” says Mayor Pro Tem Marlon Brown, a member of Smart Growth America’s Local Leaders Council. “Ultimately, what makes Mason so special are the people.”

Local Leaders Council

Director of Economic Development and Planning Hildy Kingma commits to sustainability in Park Forest, IL

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Local leaders are working to build a more sustainable Park Forest, IL. Photo via Facebook.

Founded in 1948, the village of Park Forest, IL is a suburb built for sustainability. Located 30 miles away from the Chicago Loop, Park Forest was one of the first planned communities built for veterans after World War II, and it was built with both automobiles and pedestrians in mind. Along with the classic suburban curved streets, the community’s original master plan was organized around open space, schools, and small commercial areas accessible on foot. In many ways, Park Forest was an early model for smart growth—decades before the term was coined.

Today, local leaders in Park Forest are committed to continuing that legacy. Hildy Kingma, Director of Economic Development and Planning and a member of Smart Growth America’s Local Leaders Council, is one woman behind the cause. After Mayor John Ostenburg—also a member of the Local Leaders Council—challenged the Village to think more critically about sustainability, Kingma helped oversee the passage of a Comprehensive Sustainability Plan that affects every municipal department. “This is an effort that goes from the top to the bottom of our organization,” says Kingma.

Local Leaders Council

Commissioner Conan Smith aims to improve opportunities for all residents in Washtenaw County, MI

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Downtown Ann Arbor in Washtenaw County, MI. Photo by the Michigan Municipal League, via Flickr.

Washtenaw County, MI is located immediately west of the Detroit metropolitan area, with a population of just over 350,000 residents. A former manufacturing region, the county currently houses several major institutions that are playing a growing role in shaping the region’s economy and development patterns. The seat of Washtenaw County, Ann Arbor, MI, is home to the University of Michigan, which employs more than 30,000 people and has contributed to the growth of a vibrant, walkable business and entertainment district in Ann Arbor’s downtown. The county also houses Eastern Michigan University, Washtenaw Community College, and a major U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs medical center.

While Washtenaw County has seen significant job growth over the past several years—a recent economic forecasting study estimates that between 2009 and 2016 the region will have gained 31,147 additional jobs—economic inequality is a growing challenge for the community. County Commissioner Conan Smith, a member of Smart Growth America’s Local Leaders Council, is working to address this issue by promoting economic development strategies that provide all county residents with greater access to opportunities.

Local Leaders Council

Council Member Cindy Pool helps Ellisville, MO reimagine a suburban highway

ellisville-mdAn architect’s rendering of proposed changes to Manchester Road, which runs through Ballwin, Ellisville, and Wildwood, MO. Photo via MODOT.

Ellisville, MO has a chance to turn a busy and dangerous roadway into a community asset for economic investment, and Council Member Cindy Pool, a member of Smart Growth America’s Local Leaders Council, is helping the city do just that.

Located 18 miles directly west of St. Louis, Ellisville is a suburban community of about 9,100 residents. “The people are what makes this town so special,” says Council Member Pool. “Our residents are educated, involved, and have developed a real sense of community because we are so small.”

Local Leaders Council

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

Alderman Jane Grover is working to make Evanston, IL “the most livable city” in America

A cycle track on Church St. in Evanston, IL.A cycle track on Church Street in Evanston, IL. Photo by Steven Vance, via Flickr.

“Our vision is to be the most livable city,” says Alderman Jane Grover of Evanston, IL. A member of Smart Growth America’s Local Leaders Council, Grover is full of enthusiasm for her city and the work being done there.

Evanston, IL is an urban community with a population of 74,000 located north of Chicago on Lake Michigan. Northwestern University, a major institutional anchor in the city, has helped spawn businesses and contributes to the culture and demographics of this progressive community.

Local Leaders Council

Councilmember Ian Thomas on building a healthy, sustainable Columbia, MO

Columbia, MOColumbia, MO. Photo by Chris Yunker via Flickr.

When Columbia, MO Councilmember Ian Thomas, a member of Smart Growth America’s Local Leaders Council, first moved to the United States from his native London in the 1990s, the impact of the built environment on quality of life became abundantly clear. First settling in a suburb of Nashville, TN, Thomas found its car-oriented design limiting to an active, healthy lifestyle and lacking in access for residents to fresh food, safe places for recreation, and accessibility to necessary services.

Local Leaders Council

EPA recognizes Dubuque, IA and Mayor Roy Buol among top smart growth projects of 2013

Dubuque, IA's Millwork DistrictFormerly vacant factories in Dubuque’s Millwork District will include affordable housing units, retail space for small businesses, and a variety of art, social and civic spaces. Photo by “turn off your computer and go outside,” via Flickr.

Congratulations to Dubuque, IA, one of seven communities chosen to receive the U.S. Environmental Protection Agencies’s annual National Award for Smart Growth Achievement this year. Dubuque Mayor Roy Buol is a member of Smart Growth America’s Local Leaders Council and played an instrumental leadership role in Dubuque’s award-winning project.

The award recognizes exceptional approaches to development that respect the environment, foster economic vitality, enhance quality of life, and provide new opportunities for disadvantaged communities.

Local Leaders Council