Gov. Glendening challenges Ranson, WV to plan for the future, to protect resources, and to stimulate economic growth through community design

Governor Glendening in Ranson, WV

Last night, President of Smart Growth America’s Leadership Institute and the Governors’ Institute on Community Design, Governor Parris Glendening delivered the keynote address to kickoff a weeklong planning workshop in Ranson, WV (crossposted from Smart Growth America).

Together with EPA Assistant Administrator Mathy Stanislaus, Governor Glendening provided context at the opening session. Governor Glendening addressed how the Ranson community can meet changing demographic trends, protect natural resources, and overcome current economic challenges through planning dense, walkable, livable areas connected to housing and transportation. More information on the opening session here.

In the weeklong ‘mega’ planning workshop (September 8-14), the Ranson community will discuss issues and ideas before draft plans are completed for each of four, linked and interdependent projects that are being funded by the Partnership for Sustainable Communities. Ranson is one of only two communities that was awarded grants by all three partner agencies for a combined total of $1.4 million in planning grants (the other community is Denver, CO). Read more about the weeklong workshop and the four projects at Ranson Renewed.

Since the Partnership for Sustainable Communities was created in 2009, the Governors’ Institute on Community Design has supported the Partnership’s efforts to improve access to affordable housing, more transportation options, and lower transportation costs while protecting the environment in communities. The Governors’ Institute has served as a liaison between the Partnership and state administrations, hosting meetings to allow for a dialogue between federal and state officials. To learn more about the partnership agencies, see Partnership for Sustainable Communities.

North Carolina Sustainable Communities Grant Program announces first round of grant projects

North Carolina Community Practices Assessment

North Carolina’s Sustainable Communities Task Force recently announced the recipients of the new Sustainable Communities Grant Program, which supports regional sustainable development partnerships and makes the connection between land use, housing, and transportation issues. Recognizing that regional planning and collaboration are critical to implementing sustainable economic and community development, the state of North Carolina created the grant program to encourage cross-border efforts.

The grant program is a great example of state government recognizing the significance of regional partnerships in sustainable development. By creating incentives to strengthen regional collaboration and providing tools to assess implementation, the program helps communities become more resilient through tough economic times and create innovative solutions to sustainable development.

Nine applications were selected in April 2011, with each grantee receiving between $10,000 and $50,000. Grant applications were evaluated based on four factors: regional collaboration, evidence of need, implementation of sustainable development principles, and project effectiveness.  The Task Force awarded funds to the following entities:

City of Raleigh
Town of Morrisville
Centralina Council of Governments
Triangle J Council of Governments
City of Durham
Town of Fuquay-Varina
Town of Robbinsville
N.C. Eastern Region Military Regional Growth Task Force
Wilmington Metropolitan Planning Organization

The winning applications vary from revitalization projects to transit-oriented development studies.

Centralina Council of Governments, which serves nine counties in the Charlotte region, will use the grant fund to support communities in revitalizing vacant and underutilized properties, currently zoned for industrial purposes. The COG is targeting a total of 150,000 acres across five corridors and identifying existing and potential job centers and regional economic revitalization.

The Town of Morrisville plans on conducting market analysis to assess various options for transit-oriented development along a proposed regional rail line that would stop in Morrisville. They also intend on developing neighborhood compatibility models in order to garner community support for transit-oriented development and to meet the needs of local businesses and communities.

In July 2010, North Carolina passed legislation that established the Sustainable Communities Task Force, six guiding sustainability principles that reflect the federal Partnership for Sustainable Communities, and a $250,000 state grant fund to encourage regional planning and collaboration. The grant fund was available to regional bodies, cities, and counties that are part of a regional sustainable development partnership.

In addition to the grant application, applicants were required as part of the submission to complete the Community Practices Assessment (CPA), a scorecard that allows local governments and regional bodies “to evaluate their current practices and identify opportunities for improvement in six areas of sustainable development.” While the CPA did not drive the grant project selection, the assessment tool helps applicants increase their transparency and accountability of investments they make by tracking progress and measuring performance over time as they move their planning efforts and projects forward.

Previously in April 2010, the Governors’ Institute on Community Design hosted a workshop for Governor Bev Perdue, members of her cabinet, state legislators, and local leaders assisting with the legislation development and other sustainability initiatives in North Carolina, such as the development of the CPA.

Read more about each winning project here.

Governor Whitman: Great places are created by good design and smart policy

Policy plays an important role in building great places. That’s the message Governor Christine Todd Whitman delivered to leading civic leaders, policymakers, urban designers, and entrepreneurs participating in the Ford Foundation’s 75th anniversary forum on July 14, 2011.

Gov. Whitman, a key member of the GICD’s Governors’ Council, spoke about the importance of design in creating great places. Stating that “one of things we found early on is that part of what defines neighborhoods is their physical aspects – what they look like,” she discussed how elements such as front stoops allow for the the development of community. She recounted how, as Governor of New Jersey, she saw first-hand how many well-intentioned rules and regulations prevented such design elements and planning strategies from creating great places.

Governor Whitman also addressed the role of governors in creating vibrant, livable cities. Stating that “governors can do a lot to help create an atmosphere that allows for cities to grow,” she stressed the importance of coordinating the efforts of state government and breaking down silos. Governor Whitman mentioned the Governors’ Institute on Community Design workshop she had recently attended and how such efforts to align state administrations and policies are critical to the success of cites — and how without such alignment the best of intentions and investments can be for naught.

The panel, which was moderated by E.J. Dionne Jr., columnist for The Washington Post, included Isabel Wilkerson, journalist and author; Jean Quan, mayor of Oakland, Calif.; and the Governor of Massachusetts Deval Patrick; as well as Governor Whitman.

National experts advise the Christie Administration on state strategic planning

Crossposted from Smart Growth America’s coalition partner, New Jersey Future.

The Governors' Institute hosted a workshop in Trenton, New Jersey for the state cabinet members on May 18th and 19th.

Last week, the Christie administration hosted a Governors’ Institute on Community Design workshop to explore advancing a state strategic plan that focuses on economic development and the importance of location. The event was a milestone in the administration’s state strategic planning project, which is developing recommendations for how to prioritize and support sustainable economic growth.

Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno along with cabinet members and other state officials attended the day-and-a-half long workshop. Visiting speakers included Doug Foy, President, Serrafix and former secretary of Commonwealth Development in Massachusetts; Mitch Silver, Director of Planning and Economic Development for Raleigh, North Carolina; and Daniel Hernandez, Managing Director of the Planning Practice at Jonathan Rose Companies. Kicking off the event were GICD Chair and former Maryland Governor Glendening and former New Jersey Governor and GICD co-chair Christine Todd Whitman.

“Governor Christie was pleased to host the Governor’s Institute on Community Design, “said Wayne Hasenbalg, Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy for the Christie Administration. “This Administration is taking a thoughtful approach to economic development that includes looking at the most efficient places to direct growth.”

The administration is expected to finalize recommendations to the Governor in July. For more information about these and other workshops, visit the Governors’ Institute on Community Design.

Driving up costs: Reconsidering school sites in an era of unpredictable gas prices

A long line of schoolbuses parked in Millburn, Illinois.

Fuel costs are rising rapidly, and individual drivers aren’t the only ones feeling the pain. School transportation systems around the country are struggling to adjust to cost increases. In a survey of school districts conducted last month, almost 76 percent of transportation directors report that rising fuel costs are affecting operations.

Unfortunately, in the past few decades many school districts have – literally – built gas price vulnerability into the system, often influenced by shortsighted state standards for school construction and renovation. For example, many states require schools to be built on excessively large lots to accommodate fields and parking.

As a result, more and more schools are built on the outskirts of communities, far away from the students they serve. While 87 percent of students lived within one mile of school in 1969, that number had dropped to 21 percent by 2001. Even when students live within walking distance, roads are often too hazardous for walking to be a safe option.

The alternative? Lots of buses and automobiles, which means lots (and increasing amounts) of money spent on gasoline and maintenance.

Some states, however, are leading the way with policies to encourage a return to community-centered schools located within walking distance of as many student homes and community amenities (such as parks and libraries) as possible.

For example, explains the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the New Mexico Public School Facilities Authority revised school site recommendations in 2009. The State shifted away from recommending a specific acreage and now asks that districts submit information on the desired learning environment when they apply for state school construction funding. Other states that have eliminated minimum acreage requirements include South Carolina (2003), Rhode Island (2005) and Minnesota (2009).

In 2010, New Hampshire’s legislature passed a law requiring school construction or renovation plans to comply with the State’s statutorily adopted principles of smart growth and its comprehensive plan. It also “limits additional land acquisition in school renovation projects to only that which is necessary to ensure the safe flow of traffic.”

Because of rising fuel costs, school districts are cutting field trips, reallocating general fund dollars, and reducing repair funding to make ends meet. Twenty-two percent of districts have reduced bus services.

Gas prices will continue to fluctuate, and these short-term stopgaps won’t provide long-term sustainability. As one part of the solution, state government can help make sure more schools are located in places that minimize transportation costs – and maximize the number of dollars available for student education and enrichment.

For more state policy recommendations to encourage community-centered schools, see Policies That Work: A Governors’ Guide to Growth and Development.

State policy to support Main Street (Part 3 of 3): On the ground in Fowler, Colorado

Fowler, Colorado: Location of the proposed SMSI intersection improvement project at the downtown intersection of St. Hwy 50 and St. Hwy 167 (Main St.). Pictured in the lower righthand corner is a draft intersection improvement plan: click on the image to see the full-size version. (Photo courtesy of Nancy Hazlett)

In the first two parts of this series, we looked at the challenges facing Main Streets and spoke with Susan Kirkpatrick, former Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, about the Sustainable Main Streets Initiative (SMSI) to see how state government can be part of the solution. In this third part, we ask: What impact does this state-led program have at the ground level – on Main Street itself?

The impact of the SMSI can be seen in Fowler, a town of just over 1,200 people, which was one of five Colorado communities selected to pilot the initiative. Being selected as a SMSI pilot community “planted a seed of enthusiasm in the general community that has also carried over and further helped to create positive energy and interest in other local projects, such as the renewable energy efforts currently underway in our town,” writes Nancy Hazlett, Fowler’s SMSI Project Champion. She continued:

The SMSI project not only launched a worthwhile traffic/pedestrian safety project, but has also offered great opportunities for structured community education, which will be beneficial as we proceed with other SMSI project goals related to issues such as housing and health care. There seems to be a renewed sense of community pride surfacing as a result of the overall effort.

An important lesson from Colorado’s SMSI program is that it does not always take new funding to make a difference. SMSI does not have a dedicated funding source. Instead, the initiative is intended to streamline the delivery of existing state programs and resources to local communities. And in Fowler, Nancy explains, the new system works:

Becoming more familiar with the technical assistance that is available and learning how we as a community canutilize it to our benefit has been very worthwhile! The SMSI project has provided great opportunities to break down longstanding barriers, whether perceived or real, that separated government from small town rural Colorado. We’ve learned that a tremendous amount of good can come with better understanding of purposes and processes of government.

Fowler was selected to pilot SMSI in part because the town had embraced sustainability. The town went through a community visioning process in 2009 to develop a 2035 Comprehensive Plan, which reflects the shared vision “to become one of the most sustainable communities in Colorado.”

Fowler residents participate in a public meeting regarding the Main Street intersection improvement project. (Photo courtesy of Nancy Hazlett)

Fowler residents pride themselves on their Main Street, which is infused with Western small-town culture and features many historic structures. They envision a Fowler in 2035 that invests in these downtown assets while embracing new economic opportunities, including alternative energy. Achieving economic, environmental, and social sustainability is a big vision for a small town, and their leadership is gaining recognition – Fowler recently won the Wirth Chair Sustainable Cities Award.

Colorado’s Sustainable Main Streets Initiative is a great example of state government stepping up to support small town downtowns, even during a time of budget constraints. Coordinating and improving the delivery of existing services helps communities like Fowler make sure Main Streets remain a quintessential part of American culture.

Check out the previous posts in this series:

Smart investment helps states to reinvent economies

Smart state transportation investments can help reinvigorate economies. (Image Credit: EPA Smart Growth)

A multi-disciplinary panel at the Brookings Institution on February 25, 2011 called for states to invest in infrastructure to reinvent their economies. Bruce Katz, Vice President and Director of the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings, emphasized the states’ critical role as investors in education, innovation and infrastructure and as the “laboratories of democracy.” State and local governments are the primary investors in the cornerstones of economic growth, accounting for 80% of public spending on K-12 education and 74% of spending on both higher education and infrastructure.

Panelists Governor Ed Rendell (PA) and Mike Finney, CEO of Michigan Economic Development Corporation, emphasized the need for governors to get their own houses in order to effectively coordinate and focus investment. “Government that doesn’t invest in its own growth will wither and die.” Pennsylvania and Michigan each established an economic supra-cabinet to coordinate the efforts of the various agencies devoted to the development of the economy, transportation, workforce and communities. Through coordination and investment, Pennsylvania ranked 11th in the nation for job growth in 2010.

On transportation spending, Matt Kahn, Professor of Economics at UCLA, explained the need to “Fix it First, Expand it Second, Reward it Third – A New Strategy for America’s Highways.” Tyler Duvall, Associate Principal at McKinsey and Company, and Robert Puentes, Senior Fellow at Brookings, cited the need for states to upgrade their tool-kits to meet investment challenges by, for example, incorporating cost/benefit analysis into decision-making processes, implementing asset-pricing, and enacting state legislation to enable public/private partnerships. He observed that “government will help those who help themselves, like going directly to the voters and not waiting for Federal funds or an increase in gas tax.”

The Governors’ Institute on Community Design is developing state workshops to: prioritize transportation spending, develop strategic approaches to state economic development, channel investment to infrastructure-rich redevelopment areas and adopt new design approaches for communities hit hard by foreclosures and vacancies. States will need these and other sound strategic and programmatic approaches to fulfill their destiny as laboratories of democracy and effective stewards of infrastructure funds.

See also: “New report from Brookings Institution advocates for road repair and maintenance” (Smart Growth America)

State policy to support main street (Part 2 of 3): An interview with Susan Kirkpatrick

GICD’s last post discussed the important cultural and economic role of well-designed small town downtowns – and identified the need to reverse years of disinvestment through better planning practices. Fortunately, some states are leading the way and have undertaken policy efforts to revitalize their Main Streets.

We spoke with Susan Kirkpatrick, former Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, about one such effort launched by the Ritter Administration in 2010: the Sustainable Main Streets Initiative (SMSI).

Governors’ Institute on Community Design: Tell us about the Sustainable Main Streets Initiative. How did it start? What does it mean for Colorado communities?

Susan Kirkpatrick: The state of Colorado and many of its cities and towns are experiencing very serious budget challenges. The Sustainable Main Streets Initiative was a yearlong pilot project in 2010 to test a model for state/local cooperation to leverage scarce resources. Former Governor Bill Ritter sought to break down silos among state agencies and across existing community development organizations to leverage resources and expertise to assist local communities achieve specific desired outcomes. [GICD note: more information on desired community outcomes and guiding principles can be found here (PDF).]

GICD: Why create a program focused on main streets?

SK: One way to identify a vital community is to look at its “Main Street”, the place where citizens go to shop, work, and gather to talk and to celebrate. The town square is an essential element of human history but some of Colorado’s main streets are declining and the Ritter administration thought we could do more to help, in spite of our financial constraints.

Colorado has been part of the branded Main Streets® program from the National Trust for Historic Preservation which works in a systematic way to help with revitalization but we wanted to bring a broader team of players from state agencies to work with local citizens on downtown improvement. That is why we created the program focused on main streets.

GICD: Why is it important for state government to support community design and planning? Isn’t that a local issue?

SK: Local government is not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution; local governments exist by virtue of state legislative direction. In Colorado, state agencies have great respect for local control and preferences but we also recognize our responsibility for community vitality. Just think about how state highways affect community design and planning! Imagine how difficult it would be for a small town to ensure water quality for visitors without oversight and assistance from a state agency. States and their local cities and towns are partners in the pursuit of quality of life for citizens, though it is hard to break down the silos to make the partnerships more effective.

What sorts of efforts have you seen in the pilot communities since the Sustainable Main Streets Initiative was launched?

SK: Two of the pilot communities, Monte Vista and Fowler, developed agreements with the Colorado Department of Transportation for meaningful improvements for pedestrians in their downtowns. The City of Rifle created a plan to redevelop an important commercial site at the entrance to its downtown. The area in Denver known as Five Points created a Master Plan for the district that has been incorporated into the City of Denver’s neighborhood planning process. This was a breakthrough for Five Points. These specific outcomes were achieved in spite of the very short timeframe – eight months of work by state agency personnel and community volunteers.

The below video, from late 2010, explores in greater detail the innovative Sustainable Main Streets Initiative launched during the final year of Governor Ritter’s Administration:

The Sustainable Main Streets Initiative brought together multiple state agencies to support enhanced livability in communities around Colorado. In the third and final part of this GICD series on small town downtown design, we will look at the exciting changes underway in Fowler, Colorado – one of the SMSI pilot communities – and how state government has supported their livability efforts.

State policy to support Main Street (Part 1 of 3): Revitalizing small town downtowns

Vacant storefronts in downtown in Richford, Vermont (Image Credit: Wayne Senville)

Main Streets are a quintessential part of American culture. For generations they have served as the center of small town and neighborhood life. They have been mythologized in literature (think Thornton Wilder’s Our Town), were the backdrop for Robert Preston’s Music Man, and have been immortalized by musicians from John Mellencamp to the Rolling Stones.

In the post-war years, however, residents of suburbs and small towns around the country have watched many of their downtown commercial and social hubs wither. With the rise of the automobile, as well as other factors, more and more families moved far from town centers. Businesses eventually followed. Today, sprawling development continues to stretch out towns while big box retailers take away trade from the Main Street shops – the butcher, the hardware store, the five-and-dime. In many communities, high vacancy rates have replaced a bustling streetscape.

An important part of American culture is under threat.

A key to revitalizing these downtowns is linking preservation and economic growth – not preservation anchored solely in history and design aesthetics, but practical preservation focused on place-based economic development. In other words, capitalizing on what makes each Main Street or downtown area visually and culturally unique.

Historic, vibrant Main Street design in Skaneatles, New York (Image Credit: EPA Smart Growth)

Unfortunately, a complicated web of government policies and investments can make it difficult, and sometimes illegal, for rehabilitation efforts or new construction to reflect traditional Main Street aesthetics with street-level businesses, upper-story housing, and wide, pedestrian friendly sidewalks. State government has an important role to play in overcoming these barriers.

But what does this role look like? In the second part of this series about downtown design and revitalization, we will speak with state leaders to get an inside look at how state government supports these cultural hubs.

The Governors’ Institute on Community Design®, a NEA leadership initiative in partnership with the Environmental Protection Agency and Smart Growth America, tackles state policy related to a wide range of growth, development and design challenges. The Governors’ Institute works directly with governors on policies and processes to bridge the gap between state government, local government, and on-the-ground placemaking initiatives.

Want to hear more about creative placemaking and design projects at the NEA? Visit the Art Works blog.

Check out the other posts in this series:

A new director and new approach at the Governors’ Institute on Community Design

Jody Tableporter, Director, Governors' Institute on Community Design (Image Credit: Harvard University)

For the past six years, NEA has partnered with the Environmental Protection Agency to sponsor the Governors’ Institute on Community Design. The Governors’ Institute conducts state-level work on design, sustainability, and placemaking to foster connected, economically vital communities that tread lightly on the environment.

Jody Tableporter, the new Director of the Governors’ Institute, had this to say as she took up her new role:

NEA: It is a great job, but a challenging one. Are you up for the challenge?

Jody Tableporter: I love the complexity and challenge of working across policy, projects, and place. It probably helps that I’ve been in the middle of delivering complex projects like the expansion of the Tate Modern – things don’t get much messier than that!

NEA: What do you hope to accomplish while you’re at the Governors’ Institute?

JT: I’d like to blend the best of design, economic development, and city building to help states help communities. This means bringing the best experts and proven practice to the toughest problems, as well as piloting new solutions.

NEA: What do you hope to learn while you’re at the Governors’ Institute?

JT: Despite having a job that is focused, analytical, and “big picture” by nature, I love experiencing what is unique and extraordinary in communities, whether it be a locally grown arts organization or amazing architecture. I will be soaking up as much as possible on my trips to meet with governors and state administrators.

NEA: What experience from past jobs will you put to use in your new role?

JT: I worked in industry strategy and real estate development before combining that experience in city and regional placemaking. I have been on architecture design teams and I have worked with engineers on infrastructure delivery, with businesses and industry clusters, and as a public funder of major projects and programs.

NEA: What are you most proud of accomplishing during your career to date?

JT: Creating a plan for South London that supported arts organizations as part of an economic strategy. Many questioned whether the Tate, South Bank Centre, and the Young Vic Theatre, all established London arts institutions, needed more government funding. I never did. They have had a tremendous impact on the local economy, as well as London’s place in the world.

NEA: Given the types of programs and projects you’ve overseen throughout your career, how would you define “Creative Placemaking?”

JT: Using creative design to plan and coordinate physical projects, e.g., transit corridors; capitalizing on local arts organizations and clusters to anchor the economics and heart of communities. After all, creative placemaking is about creating great places that foster entrepreneurs and cultural industries that generate jobs and attract businesses.

NEA: We’ve been talking a lot about the relationship between creative industry and the economy. What do you think is the link?

JT: Creative industry is a local economic driver; it is one of those vital economic “clusters” that is almost universal.

NEA: Tell us one of your guilty pleasures?

JT: Snuggling down with my family to watch old musicals; it is what I did with my family growing up.

NEA: Any last words?

JT: Can’t wait to get going!