Millinocket, Maine epitomizes the plight of many rural communities across the country that struggle as legacy industries or major employers that once helped sustain a place slow down or close altogether. Millinocket has found new hope in part by pairing improved broadband internet access with a new focus on downtown revitalization, giving the community the chance to take hold of their future and “actually build something” new.
Many rural communities in America have been struggling as the economy has changed dramatically over the last few decades, but some of these communities are evolving and finding new ways to adapt. This is a story of how one small mountain town in northeast Tennessee has found new economic opportunity by investing in reliable, high-speed broadband internet to catalyze new growth and development focused in their walkable, historic downtown.
(Image courtesy of Alta Planning + Design)
Successful implementation of Complete Streets requires much more than a one-size-fits-all approach. Rural and small towns often face distinct challenges from urban areas when it comes to improving the conditions for people walking and bicycling. The National Complete Streets Coalition recently spoke with Andrea Clinkscales, Senior Planner at Alta, to learn about some of the obstacles smaller communities may face, along with potential solutions to implementing Complete Streets.
National Complete Streets Coalition developed a series of fact sheets exploring the many benefits of Complete Streets. Each fact sheet includes additional resources for futher information.
Cities are growing faster than their suburbs for the first time in recent history, and this trend applies to the country’s biggest as well as some of its smallest.
New analysis of U.S. Census data from Smart Growth America reveals that cities in small metro areas are gaining population – and most are growing faster than their suburbs. This finding reflects population trends revealed earlier this year in research from the Brookings Institution, which examined growth rates the country’s 51 largest metropolitan areas. But whereas that report looked only at large metro areas like New York, San Francisco and Chicago, Smart Growth America’s research examines what’s happening in the nation’s slightly smaller – but no less important – metro areas.
The results are surprising.
“Small metro areas’ cities are doing just as well, if not better than, big cities,” says Smart Growth America President and CEO Geoffrey Anderson. “The trend in terms of population growth is toward city living, and that’s happening at a greater rate in our smaller metro areas and the middle of the country.”
The Fourth of July parade passes through downtown Nevada City, CA. Photo via Flickr user Darin Barry.
From the parades that go down main street to watching the fireworks in a nearby park, smart growth strategies and the Fourth of July go hand in hand.
Surprised? You shouldn’t be. The Fourth of July is one of the best days of the year to see great planning and thoughtful community building in action.
While celebrating our nation’s independence, remember to take a look around. Chances are you’re in a public space or great, walkable neighborhood that smart growth strategies can help to create.
“I’ve been in this town 10 years, and I love this little town,” said Juanita Syljuberget, a resident of Notasulga, Alabama, who works as a contract and grant specialist at nearby Auburn University. “There’s nothing fancy about it, but it’s a quiet little place, and everyone is very nice.”
“But it’s going to dry up and go away unless we do something.”
The plight of Notasulga and its 850-some residents in rural Macon County is not unlike hundreds of other small communities across the country. Years of changing economic and development patterns limited growth opportunities, and the very nature of remote towns left local businesses and municipal services more vulnerable than their counterparts in busy urban centers.
But while the story of a “Small Town USA” grappling with tough financial decisions has been played out countless times nationwide and even in emotional books and films, there is something that sets Notasulga apart: strong local leadership.
Rural communities and small towns across the U.S. are interested in making smarter investments for their economic recovery. Communities have unequivocally shown that smart practices in housing, infrastructure and transportation will save local, state and federal government significant sums. Small businesses and family farms benefit from strategic local investments too, because smarter short-term decisions mean a stronger regional economy for the future.
The Partnership for Sustainable Communities – a collaboration between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Housing and Urban Development, and Department of Transportation – works to help communities achieve these goals. The Partnership along with the U.S. Department of Agriculture has released a new report on how the agencies are collaborating to support rural communities.
“Supporting Sustainable Rural Communities” (PDF) highlights how rural communities and small towns are using resources from these federal agencies to strengthen their economies, provide better quality of life to residents, and build on local assets such as traditional main streets, agricultural lands, and natural resources.
Towns and cities across the country in all types of areas – rural, suburban as well as urban – can use smarter development strategies to create stronger, more vibrant communities. Such was the topic of a discussion at the National Building Museum in Washington, DC, on Thursday. Anna Read of the International City/County Management Association and Stephanie Bertaina of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Sustainable Communities discussed strategies that can help guide growth in rural areas while protecting natural and working lands and preserving rural character.
Read and Bertaina identified a number of benefits rural areas can reap by incorporating smart growth strategies. Smaller towns and cities often a struggle to maintain open space and small-town character while still benefiting from development, and though growth can bring the economic opportunity many rural areas want, it can also bring traffic congestion and other conflicts. The speakers acknowledged these sometimes conflicting needs and explained how smart growth strategies can help towns strike a delicate balance. Smart growth strategies help create an economic climate that enhances working lands and conserves natural lands, while protecting downtowns and Main Streets and helping those valuable assets thrive. In doing so, smart growth strategies can help build vibrant, enduring neighborhoods that people, especially young people, want to live in.
One example of this principle in action is the Texas Historical Commission (THC). Through its Texas Main Street Program, THC helps communities across Texas capitalize on their unique, authentic character. For many small businesses in the state, the Texas Main Street Program is a key to survival. As Britin Bostick, who sits on the Paris, TX, Main Street Advisory Board and chairs the downtown economic restructuring committee, explained to the Daily Yonder, THC’s Main Street revitalization effort provided “a necessary framework for us to build our downtown.”
From the President down to the Secretary of Transportation, administration officials have spent the year vocally supporting a focus on livability from the federal government — doing what’s in their power to encourage smarter, people-centric planning to create more great places to live where residents have numerous options for getting around and a high quality of life. Perhaps unsurprisingly in this polarized white-hot political era, there’s been a backlash in Congress from some rural legislators. But isn’t livability really a quintessential small-town value? Part two of a personal reflection on small city livability.