Smart Growth Stories: Mayor John Engen on Missoula, Montana's sense of place

Since taking office in 2005 as the 50th Mayor of Missoula, Montana, John Engen has emphasized the importance of economic development, community building and affordable housing. His goal?

“When I’m done, I hope folks will say, ‘We worked to keep Missoula a place,'” Engen says.

For Missoula to achieve economic success and to remain a close-knit community in Montana’s picturesque mountains, Engen believes his administration should do everything it can to ensure the city is appealing to families and investors. That means having a thriving ‘Main Street’ downtown; amenities catering to young professionals and college students; access to transportation and housing options; and protection of natural land assets.

“We don’t have much going for us if we don’t have a decent place to live,” Engen says, noting that over the past several decades, Missoula has been forced to transition from a town with a resource-intensive economy (chiefly timber) to a services economy with ties to recent graduates and more experienced professionals who want to live in a small, rural town but still travel/telecommute to work in larger cities.

As mayor, Engen recognized early on that for this new type of economy to be successful, Missoula would have to seek community feedback about anticipated growth and plan for the future in a more coordinated way. He also understood that economic development is not separate from neighborhood development; investments in how a town looks and in how residents move around and interact with each other are intimately related to a town’s financial wellbeing.

When more people have quality jobs and access to affordable housing, fewer people have to make the kinds of difficult choices – such as a decision between food and shelter – that hold back community growth, Engen says. If the quality of life for most Missoulians increases as a result of efforts to reinvigorate downtown business corridors and to take advantage of the city’s unique assets, more Missoulians will be able to engage in community projects, schools, family programs, and local politics.

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Cracking the code to smart growth in Mesa, AZ

A vision for creating complete neighborhoods in downtown Mesa, AZ. Image from “Form-Based Code: Workshop Summary Presentation” via the City of Mesa.

Downtown Mesa, Arizona is already great a destination to go out to lunch or to shop. Now, the Mesa City Council is working to make downtown not just a destination but a neighborhood – and they’re using innovating zoning strategies to help make it happen.

“Walkable neighborhoods don’t just happen by chance,” said Mesa Councilmember Dave Richins. “You have to make your design standards a way that will enable people to build using smart growth principles.”


Breathing new life into a symbol of Atlanta’s past

A rendering of the Atlanta BeltLine project. Photo courtesy of Atlanta BeltLine, Inc. / Perkins + Will /  Field Operations. Used with permission.

Despite its reputation as a sprawling capital of the New South, Atlanta, GA is a city with a rich history and industrial legacy. Now, as part of the massive Atlanta BeltLine project, historic buildings that encapsulate the city’s past are being repurposed to meet the growing demand for walkable urbanism in the region. One such example of this type of revitalization is the Ponce City Market, which will restore the expansive Sears, Roebuck & Co. building in Atlanta.

The project is being developed by Jamestown Properties and Green Street Properties, and will bring new life to 1.1 million square feet of the old building which has been largely unused for over 20 years. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Sears, Roebuck & Co. building was built in 1926 to provide space for the company’s regional offices and a retail store. The building was expanded several times and even hosted farmer’s markets, but it closed in 1987. The city of Atlanta later purchased the building, but after renovations were delayed, sold it to a developer in 2006.


Subdivisions go urban as housing market changes

Changing demographics and shifting consumer demands have deeply impacted the real estate market, causing developers to put a greater emphasis than ever before on the creation of smart growth neighborhoods within easy distance to jobs, shops and schools. From millenials to baby-boomers, Americans are moving away from large-lot suburban housing and looking to take up … Continued

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Smart Growth Stories: City Councilmember Tommy Wells on creating great neighborhoods in Washington DC

Washington, DC’s neighborhoods have seen a huge resurgence in recent years, and nowhere in the city is this more visible than DC’s Ward 6.

Stretching from just north of Union Station south across Capitol Hill and down to the Anacostia River, Ward 6 has seen incredible neighborhood growth over the past decade. Neighborhoods like H Street Northeast – with indie music venues, hipster bars and avant garde restaurants – on the north side of Capitol Hill, and Barracks Row – with art galleries and fine dining – on the south side have been steadily gathering new residents and new businesses. Both are in Ward 6.

DC City Councilmember Tommy Wells represents Ward 6, and he has made neighborhoods the focus of his work.

“Great neighborhoods are not necessarily what we thought they were,” Wells says. “We used to think we divided ourselves in sections…you put schools over here, housing over here, stores over here. And what we found was that in order to get anywhere and to do anything, you had to get in your car…And the more that we lived in our cars and in this sort of a sectional, stove-piped community, the more we didn’t see each other.”

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In New Brunswick, one development tackles multiple community needs

When Smart Growth America’s coalition partner New Jersey Future announced its 2012 Smart Growth Award winners in April, it was no surprise that New Brunswick’s Gateway Transit Village received the award for Transit-Oriented Development Partnership.

The Gateway Transit Village is a new development in downtown New Brunswick that includes parking, retail, office and residential space. Located across from the train station, the development encourages transit ridership and makes it easier for the building’s residents to get around without using a car.

“The Gateway project stood out because it satisfies so many of the requirements for a smart growth project,” says Peter Kasabach, executive director of New Jersey Future. “Gateway provides direct access to transit for both commuters and students at neighboring Rutgers University, and serves multiple purposes with retail, parking and residential space for both renting and ownership.”

“In this particular case, Gateway was able to accommodate the broadest range of interested parties with differing needs,” Kasabach says. “The project was successful because it took advantage of community partnerships and creative financing to meet these needs.”

The New Brunswick Development Corporation (Devco), a nonprofit real estate company, helped get this complex project off the ground. Tasked with revitalizing New Brunswick’s transit corridor, Devco saw a specific under-utilized piece of land directly next to the train station as a key property for redevelopment.


Smart growth stories: New York City Councilmember Brad Lander on building better neighborhoods with community participation

Where does change come from? Who comes up with the ideas and proposals needed to reinvigorate neighborhoods?

Ask New York City Councilmember Brad Lander and he’ll tell you.

“The community.”

To Lander, who has represented the 39th district of Brooklyn on the New York City Council since 2009, community involvement and outreach aren’t just buzzwords. They’re a source of the best inspiration and help shed light on the real reasons to move forward with any project; those that live in a community tend to know what’s best for that community.

In the 39th district – which encompasses the neighborhoods of Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens, Columbia Waterfront, Park Slope, Windsor Terrace, Borough Park and Kensington – Lander hears the concerns of a racially and economically diverse constituency. From young urban-dwellers with higher education degrees to working-class immigrants, Brooklyn – like the rest of New York – has it all. For Lander to do his job successfully he must find ways to integrate planned improvements and Council agenda items with the personal goals of the people who elected him.

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Building a modern streetcar and a stronger downtown in Tucson, AZ

What do Tucson, Seattle, Washington DC, Atlanta, Cincinnati, Sacramento, Fort Lauderdale, Los Angeles and Providence have in common? They are just a few of up to 40 communities across the country currently planning or building streetcar lines connecting neighborhoods to their downtowns.

Tuscon is the latest city to jump on the streetcar bandwagon. The city’s 3.9 mile, 196.6 million Sun Link streetcar project broke ground earlier this week, and once complete will offer direct, high-capacity transit connections between downtown Tucson, the University of Arizona and the Arizona Health Sciences Center. The project stems from a community partnership of diverse stakeholders, including Arizona’s Congressional delegation, the state’s Regional Transportation Authority, the University of Arizona, Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild, the city’s business community and neighborhood advocates who all worked together to make the streetcar project a reality.

Support for the project comes from a Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) Discretionary Grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). TIGER grants are part of the Partnership for Sustainable Communities, a collaboration between DOT, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development which coordinates federal housing, transportation, water, and other infrastructure investments to make neighborhoods more prosperous, allow people to live closer to jobs, save households time and money and reduce pollution.


From Heavy Industry to Great Neighborhood: Lawrence, Massachusetts leverages its community resources

As one of the last planned mill cities in the Northeast, Lawrence, Mass., was engineered specifically to maximize the water energy potential flowing on the Merrimack River. Between the 1840s and the 1960s, the city’s textile industry generated a constant flow of financial capital, luring other businesses and workers and contributing to a healthy, vibrant community.

But in the aftermath of World War II and a steady decline in domestic manufacturing, the city lost its economic engine and suffered the flight of its middle-class white population to the suburbs. What was a manufacturing powerhouse 40 miles north of Boston is now New England’s most heavily populated Latino City, home to multiple generations of mostly Caribbean immigrants who came as low-wage labor but have stayed to make the city their own.

Since the decline of manufacturing, the city has struggled to stay afloat amid volatile economic and development trends. The recession and resulting public budget crisis have encumbered it even further.

There is hope on the horizon, however: Lawrence possesses a dynamic civil community of nonprofit groups, residents, local property owners and small businesspeople who are charting a new course. Collectively, these groups are spearheading a movement to pump life back into the economy by leveraging Lawrence’s historic resources in a new way.

The textile boom left the city’s rivers and canals lined with 12 million square feet of mill buildings. “Some of these buildings are the same size as skyscrapers lying down,” said Andre Leroux, who has lived and worked in the city and is now the Executive Director of the Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance (MSGA). “At the time that they were in operation, they were the biggest buildings in the world.”


Smart growth stories: Investing in Oklahoma City with Mayor Mick Cornett

A decade ago, many Americans knew Oklahoma City only as the site of one of the worst domestic tragedies in the country’s history. Today, thanks to the policies and initiatives of Mayor Mick Cornett and his administration, Oklahoma City is experiencing unprecedented economic growth – and several smart growth strategies have helped make it happen.

Oklahoma City’s gains in recent years are due in large part to the Cornett administration’s concerted – and politically risky, at times – effort to enhance, understand and plan for growth. To add value to Oklahoma City’s downtown, Cornett and his team are pursuing capital improvement programs, supporting development throughout the region, and leveraging projects to attract new businesses and raise the quality of life for residents. Bucking the trend of do-nothing politics, Cornett is a man of progress, getting things done with support from voters and relying on common sense policy objectives.

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