Author Archives: Rayla Bellis

Commissioner Conan Smith aims to improve opportunities for all residents in Washtenaw County, MI

Ann-Arbor-MML
Downtown Ann Arbor in Washtenaw County, MI. Photo by the Michigan Municipal League, via Flickr.

Washtenaw County, MI is located immediately west of the Detroit metropolitan area, with a population of just over 350,000 residents. A former manufacturing region, the county currently houses several major institutions that are playing a growing role in shaping the region’s economy and development patterns. The seat of Washtenaw County, Ann Arbor, MI, is home to the University of Michigan, which employs more than 30,000 people and has contributed to the growth of a vibrant, walkable business and entertainment district in Ann Arbor’s downtown. The county also houses Eastern Michigan University, Washtenaw Community College, and a major U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs medical center.

While Washtenaw County has seen significant job growth over the past several years—a recent economic forecasting study estimates that between 2009 and 2016 the region will have gained 31,147 additional jobs—economic inequality is a growing challenge for the community. County Commissioner Conan Smith, a member of Smart Growth America’s Local Leaders Council, is working to address this issue by promoting economic development strategies that provide all county residents with greater access to opportunities.

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Council Member Vi Lyles on expanding transportation options in Charlotte, NC

lynx-light-railA planned expansion of the Blue Line on Charlotte’s LYNX light rail system will connect the center city to the NoDA art district and University of North Carolina Charlotte Campus. Photo by Reconnecting America, via flickr.

Charlotte is the largest city in the state of North Carolina, with a metropolitan area population of 2.3 million as of 2013. Over the last half century Charlotte’s economy grew primarily around the financial sector, and as the home of Bank of America’s headquarters, the former headquarters of Wachovia, and a host of Fortune 500 companies the city was the  second largest banking hub in the country when the economic recession hit in 2008. In recent years leaders in Charlotte have worked to make the city’s economy more resilient by cultivating and expanding other industries, particularly energy, logistics, defense and healthcare.

In line with these efforts, there is a growing movement among many city leaders to provide a high quality of life in Charlotte’s unique and diverse neighborhoods, which radiate out from the historic center city, in order to attract and retain new businesses and residents and promote Charlotte as a great place to live, work and play. At-Large City Council Member Vi Lyles, a member of Smart Growth America’s Local Leaders Council, is working to provide these neighborhoods with a greater variety of transportation options to help foster a sense of community and connection to the city among residents. “We are focusing on making Charlotte a place where people want to be. To do that, we have to provide those people with choices,” says Council Member Lyles.

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Downtown revitalization helps Cheyenne, WY remain competitive

The WranglerDowntown Cheyenne, WY. Photo by Cliff, via Flickr.

Cheyenne, WY is at a crossroads. As the state capital of Wyoming, the city of 65,000 residents has long represented the cultural identity and values traditionally associated with the rural American West. Yet just 90 miles north of Denver, CO, Cheyenne is also a growing participant in the economy of the Front Range region, which includes Denver, Boulder, Colorado Springs and Ft. Collins among other major and mid-sized metropolitan regions in northern Colorado.

“Residents in Cheyenne want to become a part of that growing Front Range economy, while still being rooted in the values of Wyoming,” says Cheyenne’s Planning Services Director Matt Ashby, a member of Smart Growth America’s Local Leaders Council. For Ashby, balancing these two sides of the city is about attracting new investment to Cheyenne while preserving the city’s unique character.

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Leaders from communities around the country gather at the opening reception of the Local Leaders Policy Forum

Local Leaders Policy Forum reception
More than 70 mayors, councilmembers, commissioners, agency directors and other local officials from around the country gathered in Washington, DC on Sunday, June 15 for the opening reception of the Local Leaders Policy Forum, a conference for local elected and appointed leaders using smart growth strategies to revitalize communities. The Policy Forum is the first national convening of Smart Growth America’s Local Leaders Council.

The opening reception provided an opportunity for members of the Local Leaders Council to meet with each other and Smart Growth America staff to begin to discuss their strategies for redeveloping downtowns, revitalizing commercial corridors and making neighborhoods great for all residents.

Mayor Mick Cornett of Oklahoma City, OK and former Mayor Mark Mallory of Cincinnati, OH, co-chairs of the Local Leaders Council’s advisory board, welcomed leaders to the reception. Both mayors pointed to the importance of building on the shared goals of the group and learning from each other’s experiences and approaches over the days ahead.

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Councilmember Steve Hansen is working with community members to create a vibrant and healthy Sacramento, CA

sacramento-urban-agA community garden in Sacramento, CA. Photo by Annie & John via flickr.

Councilmember Steve Hansen has a history of advocating for and working with community members in Sacramento, CA’s historic downtown neighborhoods, serving in recent years on his neighborhood association, the Downtown Sacramento Partnership Board of Directors, and the Sacramento Redistricting Citizens Advisory Committee. Now, just one-and-a-half years into his first term in elected office, Councilmember Hansen is working to promote policies and encourage development that will make Sacramento’s downtown more vibrant for residents.

“We have such an opportunity – particularly in the older parts of the city – to build housing, to bring vitality back, and ultimately to create a vibrant modern city,” says Councilmember Hansen, a member of Smart Growth America’s Local Leaders Council. “We want to respect historic structures but revitalize them, and to bring communities that were displaced by redevelopment and highway construction back to life.”

Hansen explains that redevelopment projects in Sacramento’s downtown neighborhoods currently face a number of barriers, including policies and standards that make infill development and redevelopment complicated and costly compared to new development in the city’s outer suburbs.

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Amanda Martinez is making strides to make Deerfield Beach, FL safer and more sustainable

deerfield-beach

Deerfield Beach was the first community in the state of Florida to adopt Complete Streets guidelines in 2013, and that’s just the start of the city’s efforts to grow sustainably, encourage active transportation and make streets safer for residents. Amanda Martinez, Interim Director of the City’s Planning and Development Services Department, is finding the right partnerships and opportunities to make these changes happen with limited funds.

Deerfield Beach is a suburban community located in Broward County, FL with a population of 78,000. The beachfront city is a popular destination for both permanent and seasonal residents including the region’s senior population.

Deerfield Beach’s village feel distinguishes it from many neighboring communities, yet like much of Broward County it is essentially built out. With just three percent vacant land, the city is now looking at how to accommodate future growth through infill development and redevelopment while preserving the village quality that residents love.

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Attend the 2014 Local Leaders Policy Forum

policy-forum

Elected and high-level appointed leaders in local government are invited to attend Smart Growth America’s Local Leaders Policy Forum on June 15-16, 2014, in Washington, DC.

The Policy Forum will provide a unique opportunity to meet fellow leaders from around the country who are using smart growth strategies to help their communities compete and grow in today’s economy, to provide housing and transportation choices for residents and to create great places to live, work and play.

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Local Leaders Council members share insights at the 2014 New Partners for Smart Growth conference

St. Louis, MO Council President Lewis Reed, Smart Growth America's Neha Bhatt, Columbia, MO Councilmember Barbara Hoppe, Queen Anne's County, MD Commissioner David Dunmyer and Las Cruces, NM Mayor Pro-Tem Sharon Thomas participate in a panel discussion at the New Partners for Smart Growth conferenceFrom left: St. Louis, MO Council President Lewis Reed, Smart Growth America’s Neha Bhatt, Columbia, MO Councilmember Barbara Hoppe, Queen Anne’s County, MD Commissioner David Dunmyer and Las Cruces, NM Mayor Pro-Tem Sharon Thomas participate in a panel discussion at the New Partners for Smart Growth conference.

Members of Smart Growth America’s Local Leaders Council gathered in Denver, CO last week to share their smart growth experiences and ideas at the 2014 New Partners for Smart Growth conference. Over the course of the three-day event, Council members brought their unique perspective to the smart growth development discussion.

“Eight to ten people working really hard can go far in mobilizing a community,” said Councilmember Barbara Hoppe of Columbia, MO, expressing one of the core themes of the conference—the power of public engagement. 

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EPA recognizes Dubuque, IA and Mayor Roy Buol among top smart growth projects of 2013

Dubuque, IA's Millwork DistrictFormerly vacant factories in Dubuque’s Millwork District will include affordable housing units, retail space for small businesses, and a variety of art, social and civic spaces. Photo by “turn off your computer and go outside,” via Flickr.

Congratulations to Dubuque, IA, one of seven communities chosen to receive the U.S. Environmental Protection Agencies’s annual National Award for Smart Growth Achievement this year. Dubuque Mayor Roy Buol is a member of Smart Growth America’s Local Leaders Council and played an instrumental leadership role in Dubuque’s award-winning project.

The award recognizes exceptional approaches to development that respect the environment, foster economic vitality, enhance quality of life, and provide new opportunities for disadvantaged communities.

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Laura Jackson of Wellmark Blue Cross Blue Shield on creating healthier communities

Smart Growth America’s Local Leaders Council recently spoke with Laura Jackson, an Executive Vice President of Wellmark Blue Cross Blue Shield, to get her perspective on why smart growth strategies should be a priority for the health care industry and how the way we build communities can help abate rising health care costs and improve public health.

“Smart growth practices are a way to help people understand that there are certain things you can do, either low cost or no cost in many cases in communities, to live a longer healthier life,” says Jackson.

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