December 11, 2018

New Partners for Smart Growth Conference

Last week I traveled on my employer’s dime (not the city’s) to Seattle for the annual New Partners for Smart Growth conference. The conference participants generally included government staff and elected representatives, private sector planning consultants, and non-profits. The conference spanned a range of issues, including transit, walkability, Safe Routes to School, better land use planning, integrating land use and transportation planning, and community sustainability.

I already mentioned HUD’s $100 million grant program on my Facebook page [http://bit.ly/bR3YKR]; here are some other highlights:

A panel of folks from small towns discussing some of the strategies they’ve used to deal with growth, including widespread “zombie subdivisions” (subdivisions with high foreclosure rates and lots of empty homes, and subdivisions where the project goes under before the roads, homes, and infrastructure are completed).

A “Safe Routes to School” panel highlighting projects across the country. Some recent findings:
• Substantially more parents drive their kids to school in the morning than in the afternoon, meaning there may be a good opportunity to increase the number of kids walking and biking in the morning.
• The highest levels of walking and biking occur among 5th and 6th graders.
• The two biggest issues are the distance to the school and safe crosswalks.
• The biggest distance threshold seems to be in the ¼ to ½ mile ballpark.
• Photo radars for speeding in school zones often make a big difference.
• Some communities have a “Walking School Bus” where kids and their parents all walk to school together.

Golden has a Safe Routes to School program, and we’ve made progress in recent years with projects like the Kimball/Crawford pedestrian improvements. We’ve got more to do, though, with the Jackson Street Corridor project queued up and the North Washington project (to improve safety for schoolkids crossing Washington north of the 58 bridge) after that.

More and more communities are doing regional food system studies, looking at how much of a community’s food is produced locally versus imported from more distant areas and how to make it easier for local agricultural producers to sell in local markets.

A local Seattle group called CityLab7 tried an interesting collaborative experiment: they invited conference participants to join them at Pike Street Market, they purchased food together (spending a lot of time talking to vendors to understand how and where the food was produced), and they prepared supper together with the help of a nearby deli. They had more food than they needed, so they invited passers-by to join as well, and had what sounds like a wide-ranging discussion about sustainability, climate change, and food.

I’m not enamored of the “smart growth” moniker, and the term’s accumulated baggage doesn’t help either (for low income communities and for communities of color smart growth often means gentrification). But there are many, many communities around the country dealing with challenges that are similar to ours, and the underlying ideas of the Smart Growth community are important: how do we preserve the character of our neighborhoods and our downtown even as they change, how do we help ensure that communities stay vital and healthy, how do we make sure our land use and our transportation planning complement each other, how do we ensure that neighborhoods are effectively connected with one another and that communities are connected with other communities?

Too often communities like ours end up reacting to changes within and in the region instead of having our own vision for our own future, and we end up reacting to proposals by developers instead of the other way around. Our Golden Vision 2030 process and our neighborhood plans are fundamentally about making sure that we are clear about our vision so that we can chart our own course.

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  1. […] Growth conference that I attended a couple of weeks ago: it’s all about walking. I posted my highlights from the conference last […]