A new series of free workshops on smart growth development are catching the attention of policy makers and community leaders across the country.
The set of 12 workshops, run by Smart Growth America and several partner organizations, are designed to show local leaders how smart growth strategies can support a local economy and protect the environment while preserving the character of a town and making it more attractive to visitors or new residents.
The one or two-day workshops address a number of smart growth topics, including how to create pedestrian-friendly streets, the benefits of regional planning, innovative parking policies, and zoning changes that benefit small cities. “Transportation Performance Measurement,” for instance, empowers citizens and elected leaders to look at the roads, transit systems, walkways and bike lanes in their area as tools for achieving their objectives for economic vitality, public health, environmental protection and neighborhood character – in addition to the classic transportation objectives of access, circulation and travel.
It's not just big cities that are interested in these strategies: leaders from across the country want to use smart growth strategies, and so far there’s more demand for these workshops than there is supply. With the application deadline still over a week away, civic leaders in 43 states and the District of Columbia have already expressed interest in the program, including towns as disparate as Mobile, AL; Boise, ID; Eau Claire, WI; and Tucson, AZ.
The workshop series isn’t scheduled to start until next year, but Smart Growth America has already led similar workshops elsewhere. In Billings, MT, the organization helped civic leaders develop an infill policy to revive neighborhoods struggling with blight. Leaders in Muskegon, MI, meanwhile, wanted help identifying smart growth strategies to promote business expansion and retention, another key part of this workshop series.
The goal of the Billings, MT workshop was to offer expert perspectives on infill development to the community in preparation for the City’s goal of developing an Infill Policy. More than 80 participants from Montana and North Dakota attended the two-day workshop in April 2011. 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.
One local architecture firm, Collaborative Designs, offered citizens their expert insights on:
Another local expert, Citiventure Associates, offered a developer’s perspective on challenges and opportunities regarding infill development.
Suburban infill’s biggest challenges:
The free workshops are made possible by a Building Blocks grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Sustainable Communities. The first round of Building Blocks grants, awarded earlier this year, provided technical assistance to 32 communities across the country. This round of Building Blocks grants have allowed Smart Growth America, along with the Cascade Land Conservancy, Global Green USA and the Project for Public Spaces, to give these tools to even more communities.
Local and regional governments interested in smart growth technical assistance should act fast. Communities of all sizes and at all stages of growth planning are encouraged to apply. The deadline to apply for Smart Growth America's technical assistance is October 26.