Category: Minnesota

Mayor Elizabeth Kautz on creating a thriving downtown – from scratch

Heart of the City in Burnsville

Community transformation typically requires both strong leadership and widespread buy-in from residents and business owners. Over the past 20 years, Burnsville, MN Mayor Elizabeth Kautz worked together with her community to shape a common vision for the city’s future growth and on the path to becoming more walkable, vibrant and sustainable.

Elizabeth Kautz is the mayor of Burnsville, MN and member of Smart Growth America’s Local Leaders Council. Located in the greater Minneapolis area on the Minnesota River, the site of what is today the city of Burnsville was dominated by agriculture until the middle of the 20th century. The population grew quickly during the subsequent decades but the city’s development pattern was heavily oriented to the automobile, leaving little infrastructure for pedestrians and no discernible downtown or urban center.

Since taking office in 1995, Mayor Kautz has taken steps to make the city more walkable and to implement smart growth development principles. Some of these strategies include creating a trail master plan, a Complete Streets policy that builds off a strong transportation system, and “a sustainability plan that incorporates a comprehensive look at our city including redevelopment, streets, our carbon footprint, and recycling.”

In a recent interview with Smart Growth America, Kautz identified the lack of a downtown as a significant issue for the city’s development efforts. In seeking to improve this, Kautz explains, “we put all of the regulatory and economic tools in place to create an urban center that is pedestrian-friendly with a beautiful urban park and performing arts center.” This plan came to fruition when the site of an outdated shopping center was transformed to become an economic development engine and cultural center called the “Heart of the City”. The 54-acre site is a smart growth project aiming to create a mixed-use, walkable downtown area. It has multiple retail shops, businesses, a community arts center, a park, and diverse housing options.

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Introducing LOCUS state chapters

LOCUS is proud to formally announce that we are expanding our efforts to six key regions across the country with LOCUS state chapters. LOCUS state chapters, working closely with LOCUS members in these states, will complement and enhance our ongoing national work to promote walkable development through education, advocacy, and technical assistance.

We have already begun work in the chapters states of Alabama, California, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota and Washington. Thank you to the LOCUS members and allies who have met with us in these states thus far.

LOCUS members are invited and encouraged to join the work of these state chapters. If you are not yet a LOCUS member and are interested in joining, submit a membership application today.

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Business leaders tout new rail line as boost to Twin Cities’ economic competitiveness at ULI, LOCUS MN event


The Hiawatha light rail line in downtown Minneapolis, MN is already popular. Photo by Matt Johnson via Flickr.

Leaders in the Twin Cities know that rail transit will be a key component of the cities’ future economic competitiveness, and they’re eager to catch-up with their regional peers in creating a comprehensive transit network.

Since opening in 2004, the Twin Cities’ only light rail line, the Hiawatha Line, has far ridership exceeded expectations. Construction has already begun on the region’s second line, the Central Corridor Line, which will connect downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul and is expected to be completed in 2014. Now, attention is shifting to the Twin Cities’ southwest corridor, home to large corporate office parks and wide highways, where the planned Southwest Corridor Light Rail Transit line has the potential to not only change how people get around, but also the shape of the region’s future development.

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Smart growth stories: Michael Lander on changing markets and transit-oriented development in Minnesota

To give people the kind of in-demand housing they want near jobs, shops and schools, America needs to invest in a diversity of transportation options and make it easier to build transit-oriented development, says Michael Lander of the Lander Group, an urban development firm based in Minneapolis, MN.

Helping meet that pent up demand won’t just be good for Lander’s bottom line, but will also enhance the quality of life for prospective residents in these new transportation-rich neighborhoods.

“High-density development really doesn’t work relying totally on single occupancy vehicles, so creating new transportation options and other ways to move around is critical to creating good urban places,” Lander says, adding that, “Our urban residents are looking for green spaces, certainly, open space, transportation connections, [and] ways to move around in their life to work and to services without using their car.”

With the successful opening of the Hiawatha light rail line last year, which connected downtown Minneapolis with the airport, as well as the nearly completed Central Corridor line between Minneapolis and St. Paul, Lander says there is a real opportunity in Minnesota to reap the benefits of transit-oriented development. And when that development takes root, many more local businesses and property owners will benefit from added sales and a greater “sense of place.”

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Partnership in the News: Minnesota’s Resilient Region Project plan revealed

On Tuesday, August 14, the commission revealed its Resilient Region Project to much fanfare. Said Bob McLean, chair of the Resilient Region Advisory Board,

“Our mission is to create a community-driven, university-assisted partnership around planning sustainable regions that will integrate the disciplines of housing, transportation, natural environment — land use — and economic development with viable strategies through highly involved civic engagement.”


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Free Technical Assistance Available: Plans, Policies and Practices for Sustainable Communities

Envision Minnesota announced on Thursday that the EPA Office of Sustainable Communities’ Building Blocks for Sustainable Communities program has awarded grant funds to Forterra and the Building Sustainable Communities Consortium. These organizations will provide technical assistance for community development.

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Repair Priorities: Transportation spending strategies to save taxpayer dollars and improve roads

Decades of underinvestment in regular repair have left many states’ roads in poor condition, and the cost of repairing these roads is rising faster than many states can address them. These liabilities are outlined in a new report by Smart Growth America and Taxpayers for Common Sense, released today, which examines road conditions and spending priorities in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The report recommends changes at both the state and federal level that can reduce future liabilities, benefit taxpayers and create a better transportation system.

Repair Priorities: Transportation spending strategies to save taxpayer dollars and improve roads found that between 2004 and 2008 states spent 43 percent of total road construction and preservation funds on repair of existing roads, while the remaining 57 percent of funds went to new construction. That means 57 percent of these funds was spent on only 1 percent of the nation’s roads, while only 43 percent was dedicated to preserving the 99 percent of the system that already existed. As a result of these spending decisions, road conditions in many states are getting worse and costs for taxpayers are going up.

“Federal taxpayers have an enormous stake in seeing that our roads are kept in good condition,” said Erich W. Zimmermann of Taxpayers for Common Sense at a briefing earlier today. “Billions of precious tax dollars were spent to build our highway system, and neglecting repair squanders that investment. Keeping our roads in good condition reduces taxpayers’ future liabilities.”

“Spending too little on repair and allowing roads to fall apart exposes states and the federal government to huge financial liabilities,” said Roger Millar of Smart Growth America. “Our findings show that in order to bring their roads into good condition and maintain them that way, states would collectively have to spend $43 billion every year for the next 20 years – more than they currently spend on all repair, preservation and new capacity combined. As this figure illustrates, state have drifted too far from regular preservation and repair and in so doing have created a deficit that is going to take decades to reverse.”

The high cost of poor conditions
According to the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, every $1 spent to keep a road in good condition avoids $6-14 needed later to rebuild the same road once it has deteriorated significantly. Investing too little on road repair increases these future liabilities, and with every dollar spent on new construction many states add to a system they are already failing to keep in good condition.

State and federal leaders can do more to see that highway funds are spent in ways that benefits driver and taxpayers. More information about the high cost of delaying road repair, how states invest their transportation dollars and what leaders can do to address these concerns is available in the full report.

Click here to read the full report, state-specific data and view the interactive map.

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Transportation for innovation in Minneapolis-St. Paul

Minneapolis and Saint Paul, MN, have formed an innovative partnership aimed at taking the Twin Cities region to a new level of prosperity. The Minneapolis-St. Paul Metropolitan Business Plan, created as a part of the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program, is a long-term strategy for sustainable economic growth in which the cities will pool their assets rather than competing against each other. Minneapolis-St. Paul is home to a number of universities and colleges, Fortune 500 companies and medical research facilities, and the region’s business plan will help reduce transaction costs between businesses, inventors, suppliers, workers and consumers through better infrastructure and networking programs.

Economic activity thrives where transaction costs are lowest, and the Minneapolis-St. Paul plan aims to reduce these costs whenever possible. One of the ways the plan will do this is by constructing a light-rail line linking universities, medical and research institutions, central business districts and population centers throughout the region. Doing so will increase interaction between businesses and connect the area’s patent-holders with the economic actors that have capital to invest, hopefully increasing the percentage of inventions from the region that make it into the global marketplace. In addition to connecting existing assets like universities and medical centers, the cities will also encourage new development along the light-rail line to maximize the return on their investment.

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