Spotlight on Sustainability: Tampa, FL uses new technologies to chart a new direction for the city

A downtown Tampa streetcar. Photo courtesy of Flickr user Willamor Media.

Leaders in Tampa, Florida are working to reverse the sprawl that has left their downtown area sparsely populated and stifled economic development. A Community Challenge Grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is aimed to help make it happen.

The city’s planning efforts, organized under the banner of InVision Tampa, aim to create a vision plan for a downtown core, a transit corridor plan to increase transportation choices in the region, and update the city’s building codes. Each of these are designed to stimulate downtown Tampa’s residential, business, and retail economy, and set the entire city on a course for a better future.

“We are hoping to change the entire face of our urban core. Our urban core is quite a bit like other aging cities. Suburbanization and forces over 50 years have pushed people out,” says Randy Goers, Urban Planning Coordinator and Project Manager for InVision Tampa. “Over the next 15 years, we want to remake the urban core and create a dense, diverse, populated area.”

While Tampa, like many cities, has always had a central business district that composed its downtown, it was not until the 1980s that any residential development was put in place. The city is seeking to jumpstart residential downtown activity, identifying spots along the river as opportunities for redevelopment.


Smart Growth Stories: LOCUS President Chris Leinberger on the power of walkable development

Over-building of drivable suburban development was a major part of the U.S.’s economic slowdown, and changing development strategies to meet shifting market demand will play an equally important role in repairing the national economy, says Chris Leinberger, President of Smart Growth America’s LOCUS.

As a vocal advocate for transit-oriented development (TOD) and walkable urban places, Leinberger sees how new demand for real estate is fundamentally changing the country – and its potential to revitalize economies across the nation.

“We’re in the middle of a structural shift in how we build the built environment in this country. The structural shift that we last had that was of this magnitude was back in the fifties where we shifted from investing in our cities to building the drivable suburban nature of our country,” he says. But now, “the pendulum is coming back to building walkable urban places.”

Leinberger detailed the rise of walkable urban places in the Washington, D.C. metro area in a recent report called “The WalkUP Wake Up Call,” which emphasized the economic potential of these places. “What you see created throughout the country as these walkable urban places get created is an upward spiral of value creation,” he says, whereby walkable development sets into motion a chain of events that ultimately enables neighborhoods to thrive.

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Smart Growth Stories: A region collaborates in Southern Maine

Balancing development with environmental and economic concerns is one of the biggest challenges facing Southern Maine today.

“Maine has a lot going for it: its sense of place, its scenery, its quality of life,” says Carol Morris, President of Morris Communications and lead consultant for Sustain Southern Maine, a regional partnership of organizations, communities and businesses working to make Maine’s economy, environment and sense of community stronger. “If we lose that, we’ll never get it back, and people understand that, so there’s a fair amount of local support for balancing it all together.”

Sustain Southern Maine is addressing these important challenges with a multi-faceted, comprehensive approach to planning. Aided by a Regional Planning grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the partnership is working to make sure development in small, rural communities as well as larger urban areas like Portland – Maine’s biggest city – will benefit the communities and economies of the entire region.


Smart Growth Stories: Taking transit-oriented development to a new level in Portland, OR

For developers selecting a site for new development, transit accessibility is a major selling point. A good transit connection can increase property values while making a site more attractive to potential investors and residents. But because transit stations are limited resources, only a handful of sites can boast direct transit access. What if a site were to have access to not only one transit line, but three?

That is the situation for LOCUS member ZRZ Realty and its property Zidell Yards. With three types of transit, the Yards might be the most transit-oriented development site in the country.

“There are very few sites that have streetcar and light rail,” says Dennis Allen, Director of Planning and Development for ZRZ Realty and LOCUS Steering Committee member. “I guarantee you that we’re probably the only one that also has an aerial tram that goes next to it. If you throw that in, it’s probably the most pre-eminent transit-oriented development site.”

Zidell Yards is a 33-acre former shipbuilding yard along the Willamette River in Portland, which ZRZ is now working to develop into a mixed-use district. Located directly adjacent to downtown and close to Oregon Health & Science University, a major employer in the area, it is the largest undeveloped site in the city. With such immediate transportation access, the property has created high hopes for economic development and investment in the area and Allen is confident his company can capitalize on the demand for TOD in Portland right now. More amenities, retail stores and restaurants are expected soon, following the development-friendly path of the city’s expanding light-rail line.

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Smart Growth Stories: Building relationships and planning connections in mid-Michigan

Looking down Michigan Avenue in Lansing, Michigan. Photo by the Graham Davis, via Flickr.

Three counties in mid-Michigan are working to improve their region, and they’re using a much-talked about — but seldom seen — strategy to make it happen: collaboration.

The Mid-Michigan Program for Greater Sustainability is a dynamic and interactive effort to bring smart growth and concerted planning to the mid-Michigan region. Organized by the Tri-County Regional Planning Commission and made possible by a Regional Planning Grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Program is composed of hundreds of organizations from across Eaton, Clinton, and Ingham counties.


Spotlight on Sustainability: The unique challenges of smart growth in rural Montana

The Cabinet Mountains in northern Montana. Photo courtesy of Almost-Normal Photography.

How do you grow responsibly in frontier communities? What does smart growth look like in these extremely rural areas? How can you adapt smart growth principles – often associated with urban cores – to small town America? These are precisely the kinds of questions that Vibrant Futures Montana is working to answer with the help of a Regional Planning grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

To develop solutions for northern Montana’s unique issues, Vibrant Futures has been working hard to coordinate the efforts of local governments and communities which are spread out over an immense territory – over 31,000 square miles. “Between 11 counties and 3 reservations,. there has historically been no coordination between governmental entities as to how they would plan,” says Deborah Kottel, Interim Regional Coordinator at Vibrant Futures, They’ve never thought about how the counties could work together.”

Promoting cooperation and coordination is key to the region’s success, Kottel notes, and much of the group’s efforts have been devoted to creating and fostering relationships between the counties’ administrators. The counties can more effectively tackle the region’s challenges by working together.

In particular, Kottel says, the region must prepare for economic fluctuations. And as a planner, she understands how such specific regional challenges affect how planning must be carried out.

“When a tiny community’s economy relies on unpredictable industries like oil exploration, planning becomes drastically different than in a more steady city of any size. When the boom has ended, what happens? Can you turn worker camps into industrial parks? And if so, how do you do that? These are the kinds of questions we’re trying to answer.” The region also suffers from a scarcity of vital services, like medical and dental care, the lack of which has been pushing the aging parts of the population out of small towns and undercutting local businesses.

A recently implemented bus route, however, has done much to address the lack of regional connectivity between communities. “Simple things like putting in a reliable bus line can do so much and allow people to live in rural communities and let them live how they want while also connecting them to other people and other communities,” Kottel says.


Smart Growth Stories: Building a solid foundation for the future of Detroit

Detroit is changing. The popular story of the last half-decade has largely revolved around the economic fallout of the troubled automobile industry, interspersed with tales of population drain and abandonment. Based on this narrative, it might be easy to dismiss Detroit, to write the city off as a once-great but now-fallen metropolis of yesterday.

Easy, that is, unless you’ve been following the news. A New York Times article from a year ago picked up on the massive influx of young, educated people even in the face of massive out-migration, while a Forbes article from July of this year highlighted the development in downtown Detroit, largely centered around Woodward Avenue, the spine of the downtown area.

These news stories are beginning to touch upon what people familiar with the new movement in Detroit already know: Detroit is rebuilding. But this time, developers and investors are taking a different tack, focusing on downtown, mixed-use, and transit-oriented development strategies, shifting the city away from the large manufacturing development that has characterized Detroit for so long.

Bedrock Real Estate is at the forefront of this new strategy. “We’re going to continue to fill up Detroit, downtown Detroit. There’s no longer this need for manufacturing plants. You don’t need these big, huge buildings anymore,” says Jim Ketai, Managing Partner of Bedrock and member of the Steering Committee for LOCUS: Responsible Real Estate Developers and Investors. “So we are recreating Detroit. It’ll be a new Detroit, something different than what Detroit once was.”

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Smart Growth Stories: Emerick Corsi on driving growth with transit

Many people recognize Forest City Enterprises as one of the biggest real estate companies in the nation, with a multi-billion dollar portfolio that spans coast to coast and a spot on the New York Stock Exchange.

What’s less well known is that Forest City also happens to be one of the biggest advocates of walkable neighborhoods with transportation choices. Real Estate Services President Emerick Corsi is a firm believer in the power of transit to drive economic growth in surrounding areas, and the company is actively pursuing this kind of development. As a member of LOCUS, Forest City understands the impact of transit-oriented development on local economic growth and job creation.

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Smart growth stories: Local planning for global competitiveness in Carmel, IN

A snapshot of Carmel’s City Center. Photo courtesy of the Mayor’s office.

Carmel, IN wasn’t always the best place to live. As a suburb contiguous to Indianapolis, it faced the same challenges to development that many suburbs near large cities confront.

However, under the leadership of Mayor Jim Brainard, Carmel has managed to become the kind of place that appeals to families and businesses alike. By anchoring its redevelopment efforts around an Arts & Business District and a City Center, Carmel has found a way to boost economic development while bettering quality of life.

“We had to figure out how we were going to compete,” Brainard says. “We realized that if we wanted to succeed, we had to make Carmel a place that the best and brightest – from around the country and around the world – would want to live in. And we had to do it through the built environment.”


Smart growth stories: Growth that benefits all residents on Greenville, SC’s West Side

A view of the Reedy River from downtown Greenville. Photo courtesy of Walter Ezell.

Greenville, South Carolina’s West Side is growing rapidly, and planners in the city are using a comprehensive plan to make sure that growth creates better neighborhoods for all the area’s residents.

Currently, the West Side is a cluster of low- to moderate-income neighborhoods adjacent to Greenville’s downtown. Planners from the City of Greenville are considering a number of different strategies to better link the West Side with the rest of the city, while still ensuring that current residents can reap the benefits of the growth that will ensue.

“The West Side is adjacent to downtown so it has a lot of potential,” says Greenville planner Wayne Leftwich. “Growth is heading this way, with a lot of interest from potential developers in this area, and we want to make sure that when these things happen, they’re not disconnected from current residents.”

City planners are bringing concerted planning to the West Side’s robust growth, and are working to ensure that new development meets the needs of as many residents as possible. To achieve that goal, planners are developing a comprehensive plan for the West Side and its three main commercial corridors.

“We are thinking about the potential for revitalization and economic development, because the West Side neighborhoods are not as viable as they could be,” Leftwich says. “Our hope for the plan is to look at how we can make connections between the neighborhoods in this area, but also with the rest of the city.”