How does a city make sure it’s ready for investment? A question weighing on many municipal minds is how to organize planning, economic development strategies, and zoning regulations to make it clear to residents, developers, and investors that this is the right place to be. Further, how does a community encourage investment without sacrificing the characteristics that make it an attractive community to its residents?
The Form-Based Codes Institute highlights a great form-based code (or codes) each year with the Richard H. Driehaus Form-Based Code Award to show what’s possible with good zoning. If you know of a form-based code that is promoting great development and accessible streets, nominate it for the 11th annual Driehaus Award.
With all of the attention showered on “Crystal City” (Arlington, VA adjacent to DC) and Long Island City (Queens, New York City) after being selected as Amazon’s second/third headquarters, what are the lessons to learn for the 236 other disappointed communities, and what strategies could improve their future prospects?
Chris Duerksen (left) and Roger Millar (right) lead Alcoa, TN’s technical assistance workshop on smart growth zoning for small cities.
The aluminum industry brought jobs and new residents to Alcoa, TN over the last 100 years. Now the city is working to evolve and remain vibrant for 100 years to come. An update to the city’s development and zoning codes is one way they’re making that happen.
To get that project off the ground, the City of Alcoa and the Knoxville Regional Transportation Planning Organization (TPO) welcomed Smart Growth America and Clarion Associates for a technical assistance workshop on September 1 and 2, 2015. Roger Millar, Smart Growth America’s Vice President of Technical Assistance, and Chris Duerksen, Clarion’s Senior Counsel, met Alcoa leaders and community members to talk about smart growth zoning codes for small cities. The workshop was designed to show how zoning code changes can help create vibrant town centers within small cities, as well as how more compact, walkable development can boost the local economy and reduce public expenses.
Downtown Memphis from across the Mississippi River. Photo by Joel, via Flickr.
Like many large southern cities, Memphis, TN’s growth over the past few decades has been characterized largely by sprawl and a focus on automobile travel. Josh Whitehead, Planning Director for Memphis and unincorporated Shelby County, is working to promote development downtown through the use of the city’s new Unified Development Code (UDC), which gives more flexibility to developers in order to facilitate infill growth.
A detail from Pima County’s Cultural Resources map. Image from the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan.
Pima County, Arizona, has made a concerted effort in recent years to improve how it uses land and maintains its infrastructure.
The County already is already working to improve the area’s zoning codes, and the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan, which works to balance development with preserving open space, has been touted as “one of the best and most comprehensive habitat conservation plans in the country.”
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.
At a recent meeting of the Ranson City Council, members unanimously approved proposals that were two years in the making, adopting a new Comprehensive Plan and zoning code that will guide growth and development in the area for years to come. In all, 640 acres of Old Town Ranson and 1,000 acres of greenfield properties will be rezoned. Ranson, a rural town on the edge of the Baltimore-Washington region and the recipient of a HUD Community Challenge grant through the Partnership for Sustainable Communities, is starting to create a comprehensive plan for regional growth.
Apartment Values Rise, as Do Rents
Wall Street Journal, October 26, 2011
While concerns about the economy are cooling the market for most other types of commercial real estate, apartment rents and occupancies continue to be boosted by demand from millions of people who are victims of foreclosure or are unwilling or unable to buy their own homes.
NYU eyes former MTA headquarters for urban grad school in Bloomberg’s contest for new university
New York Daily News, October 26, 2011
Downtown Brooklyn would become a global hub for urban sciences if a noted local university wins a contest to develop a new applied sciences graduate school in the city.
A new look for East Riverside? Austin to highlight plan
American-Statesman (Texas), October 26, 2011
“The vision is to transform the area from an auto-dominated, aging corridor to a people-oriented destination with lots of people living, working and playing within walking distance of transit,” said Erica Leak with the city’s Planning and Development Review Department.
Detroit’s downtown ‘starting to fight back’
Washington Times, August 7, 2011
For the past seven months, geologist Dan Ten Brink has made his home in a loft in Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood, working at an upscale cafe to make ends meet while on the lookout for a more permanent job. He is part of a trend of young professionals who are relocating to Detroit.
Camden touts ‘Live Where You Work’ program
Courier-Post (N.J.), August 10, 2011
At a City Hall press conference Tuesday, city and state officials announced the availability of low-interest, fixed-rate home mortgages to prospective buyers who work in the city.
Young professionals drawn to urban living
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (Wis.), August 6, 2011
Bryan Cooper didn’t give much thought to where he’d live while working as an intern at GE Healthcare in Waukesha. But Cooper found that when he wasn’t at the office, he was spending a lot of time around downtown Milwaukee instead of hanging out at his suburban apartment.
Incentives, planned apartments heat up downtown rental market
Detroit News, August 10, 2011
With the launch of a major incentive program to lure more people to live in downtown Detroit, the rental market in the 48226 area code, which covers the central business district, promises to be competitive for at least the near future.