El Paso’s Transnational Trolley: How art can help imagine creative transportation solutions

What begun as a sort of arts-driven guerilla marketing campaign for the fictional return of a historic streetcar in the border communities of El Paso, TX and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, is becoming a reality, illustrating the power of the arts to capture the imagination of a community and help them look at old problems in different ways and imagine creative solutions.

Creative Placemaking

North Central TX tweaks development codes for transit readiness

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A station on the DART orange line. Photo via Wikipedia Commons.

The Dallas, TX light rail network (DART) is expected to add more suburban stations over the next decade, and the North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG) wants these communities to be transit-ready.

Transit works best when the stations are within easy walking distance of a mix of homes, jobs and shops—but when a station is planned for a suburban community, this compact, walkable development is rarely present. In fact, the zoning code often prohibits it.

To identify priority zoning code fixes that can encourage more mixed-use, transit-oriented development in proposed light rail station areas, NCTCOG brought in Smart Growth America to provide our Smart Growth Zoning Codes for Small Cities technical assistance tool.

Technical assistance

Harris County, TX works to align economic growth and public health

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A bird’s eye rendering of Pasadena’s growing local economy. Graphic via the City of Pasadena.

In Harris County, TX, the Department of Public Health and Environmental Services (HCPHES) knew that encouraging smarter development could benefit both public health and the local economy. But creating real change meant more than just having the knowledge. If smart growth was to become a reality, local officials, business leaders, and interested citizens needed to join the process and feel ownership.

So HCPHES brought in the experts.

Technical assistance

Planning for livable military communities in North Central Texas

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Near the Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth in Tarrant County, TX, locals have a saying about the aircraft reverberations in the sky: “That noise is the sound of freedom.”

Despite the noise, the Joint Reserve Base forms a big part of the area’s identity and economy. The seven cities that surround the base—Benbrook, Fort Worth, Lake Worth, River Oaks, Sansom Park, Westworth Village, and White Settlement, TX—have a vested interest in supporting that economy, and in growing together as a region. In 2010, they came together to form the Planning for Livable Military Communities (PLMC) project, made possible by a Community Challenge Grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

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Since the workshop: Houston, TX continues to improve streets for all users

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A scene from Sunday Streets HTX on Westheimer Road. Photo by Andrew Seng / University of Oregon Emerald via aaonetwork.org 

It’s little secret that Houston, Texas, is on the rise. From 2000-2010, Census data shows that the city’s metro population grew by 26 percent to 5.95 million people. In 2013, that number had risen to 6.34 million, and the Houston metro expects to add another 1 million residents by 2020. While this growth is exciting, it also creates new challenges like stress on existing street infrastructure.

Complete Streets Technical assistance

Since the workshop: Port Isabel, TX looks at the bigger picture of redevelopment

port isabel4Skyline view of Port Isabel from the Laguna Madre Bay. Photo by Valerie D. Bates

Smart Growth America visited Port Isabel, TX in May 2013 to provide the City with tools to implement smart growth strategies. In particular, the City was looking to revitalize two main areas in its south side—the Old Garcia Street District and the South Shore Drive District. These two neighborhoods, characterized by lasting damages from Hurricane Dolly in 2008, vacant or abandoned properties, as well as obsolete businesses, had fallen behind their counterparts in the northern part of the city.

At the workshop on May 22, 2013, Smart Growth America’s experts met with City officials, residents, and business owners to discuss smart growth in the context of Port Isabel, a small community of about 5000 people. Port Isabel, with historic development patterns and architecture dating to the turn of the 20th Century, is in stark contrast to the high-rise hotels and condominiums of South Padre Island, directly across the causeway. The City’s revitalization plans are part of a larger effort to distinguish Port Isabel as a different type of tourist destination, as well as a comfortable place for families to live year-round.

Technical assistance

Partnership in the news: Smart Growth in the Military

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In 2010 the North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG) was awarded $640,000 for the Planning for Livable Military Communities project to provide improved transportation and housing conditions for families in the US armed forces. The award comes from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Community Challenge Grant, which is an initiative of the Partnership for Sustainable Communities.
North Central Texas is home to Naval Air Station Fort Worth, Joint Reserve Base. Many of the military families live off base, in surrounding communities including Fort Worth, White Settlement, Westworth Village and River Oaks. Planners intend to use the community challenge grant in a number of studies aimed at integrating smart growth strategies in the surrounding communities.

The NCTCOG will conduct a number studies that will create short- and long-term recommendations to improve transportation options, establish a model building code for greater energy efficiency, and update the City’s zoning, ordinances and comprehensive plan.

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Partnership in the news: Dallas seeks to improve and expand regional transit network


With assistance from the Partnership for Sustainable Communities, the city of Dallas, TX will make significant improvements to its downtown transit system over the next few years with the construction of the Modern Streetcar and Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) Orange Line extension. Both projects received funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Transportation Investments Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant program.

Modern Streetcar

With a $23 million TIGER I grant and additional funding from the City of Dallas, North Central Texas Council of Governments and DART, Dallas will soon have a streetcar network that connects residents and visitors to core areas of the city. Dallas’ modern streetcar network will be a 1.6 mile route connecting various downtown districts and destinations including Union Station, with connections to the DART Red and Blue lines and the Dallas Convention Center. The streetcar will connect walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods in the urban core, act as a catalyst for economic development and serve as a quick, efficient and cost-effective means of transportation. The street car is currently in the environmental review phase but is on track for beginning operation in 2017.

DART Orange Line Extension

DART, the region’s rapid transit agency, will soon extended its light rail service to over 90 miles of track in 2014 with the completion of the 14.5 mile Orange Line extension to the Dallas-Ft. Worth International Airport. DART operates both rail and bus services for downtown Dallas and 12 surrounding cities. Ridership on the DART light rail is among the busiest in the country with over 27.7 million passenger trips in 2012 and the extension of the Orange line will provide a much needed alternative transit option for residents and visitors. Part of the $5 million TIGER grant will go towards the construction of a rail terminal at the Dallas/Ft. Worth International Airport (DFW), which will include a train platform, passenger walkways, and a bus transfer station. This terminal will also be a connection to the TEX commuter rail system, expected to be completed in 2016. DFW is a major employer for the region and these projects will ensure that residents can get to and from work with a reliable, safe and affordable transit system.

Together, these projects are going to enhance the accessibility of the Dallas/Fort Worth region, making it easier for residents to be connected to where they live, work and play.

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