Category: Local Leaders Council

Join us for the launch of (Re)Building Downtown


You’ve read the research about downtown development. More and more Americans want to live in walkable, downtown neighborhoods, and companies want to locate in these places too. These neighborhoods generate strong tax revenues and have lower municipal costs per capita. And they are the often the heart of a town or region’s economic activity.

But one big question remains in your mind. How could my town do it?

(Re)Building Downtown:A Guidebook for Revitalization is a new guide coming out from Smart Growth America on December 14, 2015, and it’s a resource designed to be used by any community, no matter their size, to bring people and businesses back to downtown.

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Now hiring: Local Leaders Council Intern

Smart Growth America is seeking a ​Paid Intern to support the Local Leaders Council​ (LLC)​, a national network of elected and appointed leaders in cities across the nation.

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Maryland leaders talk innovative transit solutions

MD workshopMembers of the Maryland Chapter of the Local Leaders Council gather in Baltimore to discuss local transit solutions.

Transit service makes walkable urban places work better for all users, but finding affordable, flexible, scalable transit is a major hurdle for communities pursuing smart growth. The Maryland Chapter of the Local Leaders Council convened a workshop in Baltimore on November 12 to dig in to what works, considering very different solutions from three very different places.

Ten elected leaders and staff brought varying concerns to the table. Mayor Gee Williams of Berlin, MD, population 4,562, is focused on accommodating visitors. “During the last ten years we’ve become a destination community – this is now our chief economic driver. The vision we are in the early stages of discussing is how we can accommodate up to 3,000 guests in a small downtown area. We also have a challenge for our residents to access downtown services every day.”

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What could your community do with a free technical assistance workshop from Smart Growth America?

Salisbury Walk AuditCouncil President Jake Day of Salisbury, MD participates in the Walkability Audit.

Each year Smart Growth America offers a limited number of free workshops to help communities use smart growth strategies to achieve their goals for economic and environmental sustainability. Local Leaders Council members have used these workshops in very different ways. “The workshops we offer range from general introductions to very specific tools like the Parking Audit,” explains Elizabeth Schilling, Smart Growth America’s Deputy Director of Policy Development and Implementation, who teaches the Smart Growth Implementation 101 workshops. “In our most successful communities, leaders pick the right tool for the problem at hand, then design an outreach strategy to engage really diverse groups of problem solvers.”

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Committed local leaders are a key advantage in free workshop competition

Councilmember Michael Trapp, right, at parking audit workshop in Columbia, MO in 2015.

“Involvement of key community leaders” is one of five criteria Smart Growth America uses to select which communities receive our free technical assistance workshops each year. In fact, a letter of commitment signed by “the mayor, county commission chair, or comparable elected leader” is one of the requirements for applying.

Members of Smart Growth America’s Local Leaders Council are a natural fit for this requirement, with a demonstrated interest in smarter development strategies. Over the past five years, 23 of the more than 50 winning communities have been home to current and future Local Leaders Council members. Here’s a look at how Local Leaders Council members have used these competitive awards.

In 2013, the Village of Park Forest, IL won a sustainable land use code audit workshop, which served as a kickoff event for the Village’s work revising its zoning and subdivision ordinances. The workshop was an opportunity to fill in gaps in technical expertise, gauge public interest in sustainable land use codes, and bring a fresh set of eyes to the process.

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Saco, ME is breaking out of short-term cycles with long-term thinking

SacoPhoto: Saco, ME, Jasperado via Flickr.

Maintaining New England traditions is at the top of Saco, ME’s agenda. How can this small city maintain the physical, economic, and cultural assets that make it unique while also changing in ways that make it a desirable destination for tourists, homebuyers, businesses, and investors?

Saco recently wrapped up a future visioning process intended to answer these questions and guide future public investments and economic development initiatives. Mayor Don Pilon, a member of Smart Growth America’s Local Leaders Council, explains that short Council terms (lasting just two years) were part of the impetus for the visioning process, known as Bridge 2025. “We all sit down and think through what we want to accomplish in the two years that we have,” Mayor Pilon explained, but there was rarely common vision for what should happen beyond that budget cycle. To establish that, Mayor Pilon deliberately stepped back and supported a process that put businesses, residents, and other stakeholders in the driver’s seat. “This had to be driven by the public,” he explained. “When we’re gone, this needs to be continued by the stakeholders. This is their product, not our product.”

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Leaders discuss expanding housing choice at Policy Forum 2015

housingtrackAttendees at the housing choices track at the Local Leaders Council’s Policy Forum 2015.

In May, local leaders from across the country came together for the Local Leaders Council’s Policy Forum 2015, a two-day summit in Washington, DC on healthy neighborhoods, expanding housing choices, and downtown revitalization. We’ve written previously about the Forum’s discussions of downtown revitalization and walkable design and economic development. This post takes a closer look at the Forum’s discussions around expanding housing choices.

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Leaders discuss walkable design and economic development at Policy Forum 2015

Tommy WellsFormer Washington, DC Councilmember Tommy Wells speaking at the second annual Local Leaders Council Policy Forum on June 1, 2015 in Washington, DC.

How can walkable design help build a vibrant local economy? And what can local leaders do to make this happen? Two dozen leaders from diverse communities discussed these questions during a session at the Local Leaders Council Policy Forum, held on June 1 in Washington, D.C.

Moderating the session was former Washington, DC Councilmember Tommy Wells, a member of Smart Growth America’s Local Leaders Council. Wells’ district made several advances in sustainable design and planning during his tenure, and his practical knowledge of governance, politics, and policy set the framework for the conversation.

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