Tag: Economic Development

Deputy Mayor Lesa Heebner is helping people stop, sit, and shop in Solana Beach, CA

Solana Beach, CASolana Beach, CA’s Cedros Avenue Design District. Photo via the Solana Beach Chamber of Commerce.

Solana Beach, CA is not your average beach town. By combining smart street design and placemaking strategies, the city is creating economic growth and drawing residents and visitors downtown.

“A sense of community really comes from the people, but can be promoted by the place. That’s why we are trying to create places in our downtown area,” says Lesa Heebner, the Deputy Mayor of Solana Beach and a member of Smart Growth America’s Local Leaders Council. Solana Beach is the second smallest city in the region, but that does not mean it lacks flavor. “We’re aiming to create quality locations that serve our residents and where visitors are welcome,” Heebner adds.

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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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Spotlight on Sustainability: A smart growth corridor plan in North Central Massachusetts

Hmong Focus Group
A Hmong community focus group providing input for the Wachussett Smart Growth Corridor Plan.

A new smart growth corridor plan for North Central Massachusetts will set the stage for housing growth, mixed-use development, new jobs, and tourism opportunities, thanks to the combined efforts of local authorities and community leaders.

The Wachusett Smart Growth Corridor Plan is an ambitious effort to transform the North Central Massachusetts region into a destination for visitors and a transit-accessible magnet for housing and employment growth. The Montachusett Regional Planning Commission (MRPC) is working to coordinate the process, with three nearby municipalities—Fitchburg, Leominster, and Westminster, MA—serving as partners.

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LOCUS announces place-based social equity and affordable housing initiative

LOCUS President Chris Leinberger introduces Place-Based Model for Social Equity
LOCUS President Chris Leinberger introduces Place-Based Model for Social Equity

This week, LOCUS: Responsible Real Estate Developers and Investors, a program of Smart Growth America, announced a three-part national strategy to address housing and social equity calling upon developers to join them in the cause. The proposed initiative would be centered around new conscious place-based social equity metrics.

The announcement came Tuesday during the third annual Walkable Urban Places Conference, co-hosted by Urban Land Institute Washington and the George Washington University Center for Real Estate and Urban Analysis. LOCUS sponsored the event along with Venable LLP.

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Spotlight on Sustainability: Equitable transit-oriented development in Seattle, WA


Images from the Community Cornerstones Project Brochure.

Southeast Seattle is home to the most diverse and immigrant-populated neighborhoods in Seattle, Washington. Now, as a result of the Community Cornerstones project, it could become the City’s next equitable transit-oriented development (TOD) success story.

Part of the strategy is to attract dense mixed-use development to several of Southeast Seattle’s neighborhoods that are in close proximity to the light-rail system opened in 2009, while also preserving the area’s affordability for existing residents through partnerships with community development and financial institutions. The area is already home to one of the most transit-utilized areas of Seattle, and through the project the area is likely to grow with more people, businesses, and jobs.

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Financing Smart Growth

DC streetcar tracks

Great smart growth developments start with a vision and good planning, but to build the actual project local governments, real estate developers and community members must secure the necessary capital funding. Innovative ways to finance smart growth projects was one of the main topics discussed at the June 2014 LOCUS Leadership Summit in Washington, DC where members of Smart Growth America’s Local Leaders Council and the LOCUS developers’ network met to talk about what it takes to bring a smart growth vision into reality.

Ben Miller, cofounder of Fundrise, believes that the real estate investment system is set up for very large investors and makes it nearly impossible for smaller investors to support local projects. “What if we squared the circle and let the community become both a capital resource and a partner in our real estate projects, so they would have some skin in the game?” posits Miller.

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Creating revitalization in slow markets

Small town main street

In communities where the market is slow, attracting developers and investors can be a tough challenge. A slow market can have many causes such as an economic downturn, a geographic disadvantage or a weak competitive edge within the region. Local leaders of small towns from states like Mississippi, Louisiana, Iowa, Maryland and California discussed the issues that impact attracting growth and development in a weak market during a session titled “Creating revitalization in slow growth markets” at the June 2014 Local Leaders Policy Forum in Washington, DC.

“Slow growth is relative to the market,” remarked Mayor Andrew Fellows of College Park, MD, and other leaders agreed. Mayor Ruth Randleman of Carlisle, IA pointed to other communities in the immediate Des Moines metropolitan region as their major competition. Former Mayor John Robert Smith of Meridian, MS suggested that sister cities in the greater geographic region and neighboring states were their biggest competition. “Our problem was that we were trying to be Gulfport of Biloxi, when we didn’t realize that we had strengths of our own,” said Smith.

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Mayor Stodola on neighborhood revitalization through historic restoration

Downtown Little Rock, AR

For Mayor Mark Stodola, revitalization in Little Rock, AK began with his own home. He renovated his 1868 Victorian home, then moved to a Craftsman 4-plex, which he restored before moving and repeating the process again. He has restored six houses in historic neighborhoods across the City and watched their value increase. As Mayor, Stodala has taken restoration and reuse to a neighborhood-wide scale to generate activity and value in once-neglected neighborhoods.

Founded in 1821, Little Rock has great historic assets including the original state house and housing stock dating back to the 1840s. Stodala, explains that “Urban renewal wiped out a lot, unfortunately.” However, several adjoining core neighborhoods were preserved as historic districts. “Their distinctiveness was what saved these neighborhoods,” he contends.

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Local leaders share strategies for revitalizing underserved neighborhoods

East Baltimore

How does a community pursue smart growth in underserved neighborhoods where infrastructure problems, concentration of poverty and concerns about gentrification and displacement abound? Two-dozen leaders from diverse communities discussed this very question during the Local Leaders Policy Forum, held on June 16th in Washington, D.C.

Mayor Jacqueline Goodall of Forest Heights, MD shared her experience from living in several different cities over the years. “Gentrification and displacement are real, not perceived, concerns,” said Goodall. “Lower income and minority families can be very vulnerable to neighborhood changes that drive up costs even moderately. As leaders, we cannot overlook that threat.”

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Getting back to Fairfax, VA’s historical roots for the benefit of future generations

800px-Old-fairfax-city-hall036Old Town Hall. Fairfax, Virginia. Photo via Wikimedia Commons. 

Fairfax is a small city, with close to 24,000 residents, located in the heart of Northern Virginia. Built as a historical town center, anchored by the former site of the Fairfax County Courthouse, the city served as a regional hub of economic and civic activity throughout the 19th century. A trolley line built in 1904 connected Fairfax, then an active, urban community, to Washington, DC. But, rapid home growth and the suburban expansion of the 50s and 60s have meant that Fairfax’s 6.3 square miles have largely been built out since the mid 20th century. Today, the city, with an aging population as well as aging infrastructure and housing stock, is on the cusp of some major, needed change.

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