An art project about the historic streetcar in the border communities of El Paso, TX and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, sparked public interest and then took on a life of its own. This month, the streetcars that once rolled through both border communities are back on the streets of El Paso, a demonstration of the power of art to capture the imagination of a community and create a better future.
This month on Building Better Communities with Transit we’re joined by the Executive Director of the KC Streetcar Authority, Tom Gerend. In 2016, Kansas City, MO opened the first streetcar the city has seen in almost 60 years and transformed the city’s downtown. Former skeptics of the line are now some of the KC Streetcar’s biggest proponents as businesses have boomed and more people are moving to—and spending in—the center city. The 2.2 mile KC Streetcar, akin to a downtown circulator, is “a demonstration of the possible.”
A rendering of Kansas City’s future streetcar. Image via PlanningKC.
In a sign of things to come for downtown Kansas City, MO, a site along the city’s forthcoming streetcar line is being transformed from a parking lot into a mixed-use development. The developer of Crossroads Apartments, who has never built in Kansas City before, told the Kansas City Star that “the streetcar is the big thing that drew us, absolutely.”
The Kansas City Downtown Streetcar Project is comprised of a streetcar loop that will mostly run along Main Street in downtown Kansas City, and will link the city’s main entertainment venues with transit centers and arts districts.
The Sun Link streetcar line is a catalyst for investment in downtown Tucson. Photo via the City of Tucson.
Downtown Tucson, AZ is undergoing a revival, and smart growth strategies are a major factor behind it according to Mayor Jonathan Rothschild.
Rothschild, a native Tucsonan and a member of Smart Growth America’s Local Leaders Council, has experienced firsthand the rapid growth of greater Tucson over the past 50 years. “When I was born, there were 50,000 people in this community. Today there are over one million. We’ve grown at a remarkable rate,” says Rothschild.
Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory is on a mission to support economic development in his city, and he’s using smart growth and downtown development strategies to accomplish that goal.
“People were slow to embrace some of the changes we were proposing because they didn’t necessarily see how, say, the development of a street car would lead to more jobs,” Mallory says in Smart Growth America’s first “Smart Growth Stories” video interview. “They didn’t necessarily see how investing so much money in downtown allowed for improvements in neighborhoods. So I’ve had to explain to people that downtown is the engine, the economic engine, for everything that happens in our entire region.”
Last week, the U.S. Department of Transportation awarded over $290 million to public transportation projects across the country. Many of the winning projects took a comprehensive approach that will make travel more convenient for not just transit vehicles but also people walking, biking, and waiting for the bus or streetcar.