Every city has limits, even in the big state of Montana. And just as roads have their cutoff points, city budgets only stretch so far, too.
Mayor Tom Hanel of Billings, Montana, knows this well. As a long-time city employee, Hanel has plenty of experience crunching the numbers behind the scenes. Hanel realized that if Billings was to keep its books in order, the city would needs to make well-planned and well-informed decisions about development.
The greater Yellowstone region stretches across Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, encompassing dozens of counties and mile after mile of unparalleled natural resources. Its stunning beauty attracts thousands of visitors every year and is the primary basis for economic development in the area. As a result, residents and tourists alike see significant value in preserving the environment and ensuring its existence for future generations.
“The Yellowstone business partnership is a non-profit organization that works at an eco-system level,” says the organization’s communications specialist Kim Billimoria. “It was founded by a group of business people that recognized that if we’re going to preserve the greater Yellowstone ecosystem – which is one of the largest last intact ecosystems in the entire world – we have to harness the power of business.”
Since taking office in 2005 as the 50th Mayor of Missoula, Montana, John Engen has emphasized the importance of economic development, community building and affordable housing. His goal?
“When I’m done, I hope folks will say, ‘We worked to keep Missoula a place,’” Engen says.
For Missoula to achieve economic success and to remain a close-knit community in Montana’s picturesque mountains, Engen believes his administration should do everything it can to ensure the city is appealing to families and investors. That means having a thriving ‘Main Street’ downtown; amenities catering to young professionals and college students; access to transportation and housing options; and protection of natural land assets.
“We don’t have much going for us if we don’t have a decent place to live,” Engen says, noting that over the past several decades, Missoula has been forced to transition from a town with a resource-intensive economy (chiefly timber) to a services economy with ties to recent graduates and more experienced professionals who want to live in a small, rural town but still travel/telecommute to work in larger cities.
As mayor, Engen recognized early on that for this new type of economy to be successful, Missoula would have to seek community feedback about anticipated growth and plan for the future in a more coordinated way. He also understood that economic development is not separate from neighborhood development; investments in how a town looks and in how residents move around and interact with each other are intimately related to a town’s financial wellbeing.
When more people have quality jobs and access to affordable housing, fewer people have to make the kinds of difficult choices – such as a decision between food and shelter – that hold back community growth, Engen says. If the quality of life for most Missoulians increases as a result of efforts to reinvigorate downtown business corridors and to take advantage of the city’s unique assets, more Missoulians will be able to engage in community projects, schools, family programs, and local politics.
The following is a guest post from Ann W. Cundy, Senior Transportation Planner, Missoula Office of Planning and Grants
Transportation planners, public health professionals and a private railroad in Missoula, Montana are working together to reduce diesel emissions and improve air quality.
The project is possible thanks to a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s National Clean Diesel Campaign, which works with public agencies, private companies and community groups to reduce diesel emissions and promotes clean air strategies. The City of Missoula recognized the Clean Diesel Campaign as an opportunity to improve its air quality, protect public health, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and save money for Montana Rail Link – truly meeting a triple bottom line.
An extensive and wide-reaching campaign for a Complete Streets policy in Billings, Montana hit its mark late last month. Montana’s biggest city joins three others in committing to safer, healthier streets for all.
Last week, Smart Growth America’s Leadership Institute convened a two-day-long “Introduction to Infill” workshop in Billings, Montana. Infill is a development strategy that uses land within an already built-up area for further construction, focusing on reusing and repositioning obsolete or underutilized buildings and sites.
Together with the City of Billings, the Billings Association of Realtors, the Billings Home Builders Association, Healthy By Design, the Montana Association of Planners, Cole Law Firm, the Western Central Chapter of the American Planning Association and the Billings Chamber of Commerce, the workshop offered expert perspectives on infill development to the community in preparation for the City’s goal of developing an Infill Policy. This type of development is essential to renewing blighted neighborhoods and knitting them back together with more prosperous communities.
More than 80 participants from Montana and North Dakota attended the two-day workshop on April 26 and 27 in Billings. The workshop provided an overview of the state-of-the-practice, as well as the application of infill policies to specific issues – economic development, transportation, private sector involvement, and examples of infill development in Billings and around the country. Local perspectives were also provided through several sessions comprised of local developers, consultants, City staff and other organizations.
The workshop was designed to start the process of developing an infill policy for the City of Billings. A portion of the workshop was devoted to discussing the basic elements of an infill policy and beginning to define infill for Billings. A working group will be formed from the workshop attendees and others in the community in the coming months to develop a draft infill policy to present to the City Council for consideration in late 2011 or early 2012.