Smart Growth

Rebuilding Local Economies

How can small towns and cities adapt to changing conditions that affect the industries, technologies, and land use patterns that help form the foundation of their local economies? EPA’s new report provides case studies of seven communities that have successfully reinvigorated their struggling economies by emphasizing existing assets and distinctive resources. The report, How Small Towns and Cities Can Use Local Assets to Rebuild Their Economies: Lessons from Successful Places, draws on these case studies to offer strategies other communities can use.

Through the Smart Growth Implementation Assistance Program, EPA worked directly with Kelso, Washington, to explore how these types of strategies could address the city’s economic challenges brought about by the decline of the logging and smelt fishing industries. The resulting report, Using Smart Growth Strategies to Foster Economic Development: A Kelso, Washington, Case Study, provides a tool for communities looking to create their own smart growth economic development strategy that emphasizes existing assets, and it illustrates the use of that tool in Kelso.

Strategic EconomicsRebuilding Local Economies
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Strategic Economics was one of the Project Leads for the Using Smart Growth Strategies to Foster Economic Development: A Kelso, Washington, Case Study (2015). This study aims to help cities like Kelso rethink how to address economic development challenges with small, manageable solutions that create stronger, more resilient communities. A smart growth economic development strategy needs to support businesses and workers and improve quality of life. Smart growth approaches bring together these elements and recognize the balance among them and the need to create long-term value in addition to short-term gains.


See full report here

Strategic EconomicsSMART GROWTH STRATEGIES – Kelso, Washington
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Smarth Growth -Kelso,WA

Strategic Economics went to Kelso, Washington this past week as we work towards developing a Smart Growth Economic Development Toolkit for the Environmental Protection Agency. Dena and Dominic participated in community meetings, with workshops focused on three areas in the South Kelso neighborhood. Strategic Economics expects to have the Toolkit completed sometime in early 2015.


Strategic EconomicsSmarth Growth -Kelso,WA
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Dena Delivers Keynote Address at New Partners for Smart Growth Conference

DB at New Partners Conference 2-2014bIn February, Dena had the honor of being asked to give the closing plenary keynote speech at the New Partners for Smart Growth Conference.  This was a very last minute invitation because it was only that morning when the conference organizers learned that the scheduled speaker couldn’t get to Denver due to the now infamous Polar Vortex that dumped much snow and bad weather on the East Coast, right at the same time as the conference.  While Dena’s speech was brief, it was intended to inspire conference attendees to go home thinking about the future in slightly different terms than they might have been coming into the conference, and to inspire people to take on new and different approaches to building healthy, sustainable and just communities.

In her speech, Dena focused on five trends facing the planning and smart growth world– which are all interconnected and can be broken out in many ways, but here is her cut:  (1)  technological innovation will continue to shape the  built environment in ways that will almost certainly continue to create “winners and losers”;  (2)  there is an increased need for government be to be more proactive in shaping the built environment using a cost/benefit calculus that is more equitable or just than the way we have calculated the costs and benefits of public investment in the past; (3) there is continued fragmentation in the way people define “community,” and a growing interest in funding “what I want to fund,” rather than being willing to invest in a shared future beyond one’s personal interests; (4)  there is an increasing tendency of government to be reactive—in “crisis management” mode, rather than acting in ways which encourage sustainability, thus better positioning ourselves to get out in front of rapidly evolving trends, and (5) there is increasing tension across generations—between those who don’t want to change versus those who are accepting of change, and an increasing income inequality within generations that also serves as a source of tension around community change.

To address those needs, Dena suggested, we have to redefine our role to focus on being the implementers of smart growth, not just the dreamers who paint the picture of what a more beautiful world we could have, if we could only grow “smarter.”  But to do this, we have to acknowledge the types of barriers to implementation that the trends Dena pointed out will make this a challenging task.  Therefore, what we must all do is take on the hard work it takes to understand how to deliver –actually deliver our vision across a wide range of contexts, using a wide range of solutions, knowing that we might not reach our full aspirations, but that we can still have a positive impact.  We can no longer  merely spout high-minded ideals and produce vague plans that make us feel good, but are in fact, impossible to execute.  In a word, we need to focus on what works for people in a particular place, and not get mired in the intricacies and ideology. We must learn how to make the vision of smart growth an implementable reality for all people and all communities.

Strategic EconomicsDena Delivers Keynote Address at New Partners for Smart Growth Conference
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Incentivizing TOD: Case Studies of Regional Programs

One of the things I love about our work at Strategic Economics is that we’re exposed to the range of approaches that local jurisdictions and regional agencies across the country are taking to encourage transit-oriented development in their communities. In some cases, such as our series of case studies for the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) last year, we get to profile a few of the most innovative programs for our clients. Because the strategies and challenges illustrated in these case studies are relevant to a broad audience, I thought I’d use this blog post as an opportunity to share the report with Strategic Economics’ partners and friends.

The six case studies in the report describe the structure, funding and implementation of regional programs aimed at encouraging TOD. While the case studies focus on regional organizations, the roles of other actors—local jurisdictions, community groups and developers—are highlighted throughout.  Four of the programs are led by Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs), one is a joint development program led by a transit agency and one is a regional collaborative of community-based nonprofit and philanthropic organizations. Key themes that emerged across the case studies include the need to advance TOD in a diversity of place types, trade-offs between planning and capital funding, and the importance of ongoing evaluation of program goals.

The programs profiled are:

The case studies were conducted as part of PSRC’s Growing Transit Communities (GTC) program, funded by a Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development . Over the next 20 years, the Puget Sound region will be investing $15 billion in light rail and other forms of public transit, creating a significant opportunities for TOD in new and existing station areas and other transit hubs. Other work conducted by Strategic Economics for GTC included a TOD market analysis, TOD housing and commercial demand estimates, and recommendations for promoting equitable development around transit.

Link to report on Incentivizing TOD: Case Studies of Regional Programs.

Strategic EconomicsIncentivizing TOD: Case Studies of Regional Programs
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New Report on the Savings and Revenues Generated by Smart Growth Development

Earlier this week our friends at Smart Growth America published a fascinating and innovative report entitled Building Better Budgets: A National Examination of the Fiscal Benefits of Smart Growth Development.  Strategic Economics staff members Sarah and Alison led the firm’s contribution to this report and were supported by Dena and Sujata. The report is a must read because it is the first of its kind to aggregate the studies that municipalities across the nation have conducted to understand both the costs and revenues associated with smart growth development. In some cases, like Charlotte, North Carolina the team’s research revealed that the increased road connectivity enabled via smarter development allowed the fire department to reach residents more easily, and thus lowered the city’s service costs. In other instances, like the original research Strategic Economics conducted on smart growth development in Nashville, Tennessee the findings were similarly interesting. SE’s Sarah Graham found that a smart growth project in a brownfield location could generate two times as much revenue per unit (and 42 times as much revenue per acre) as a conventional suburban development in a greenfield location. Wow, talk about incentive to reconsider the ways we develop land!

You can check out SGA’s full press release here and download the full report here. Happy reading and happy Memorial Day Weekend!

Strategic EconomicsNew Report on the Savings and Revenues Generated by Smart Growth Development
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APA Conference 2013: Invigorating Sessions and Audiences

This last Sunday (April 14th) I blew through Chicago to attend the American Planning Association’s big annual conference. I had the privilege of being on two panels, one of which was organized by John Beutler from Calthorpe Associates and also featured that rock star Jeff Tumlin. This session was about why job location is important to regional planning and what we can do to make more pedestrian/transit friendly employment districts. I talked about why employment locations matter and why regions should work to prevent employment sprawl. John gave a very clever presentation demonstrating how things would look if we treated pedestrians like cars, i.e., privileging the pedestrian and subjecting the cars to all of the absurd things we make pedestrians  do to walk from point A to point B. Can you imagine that? Jeff then showed that if you can’t take the jobs to the transit, companies can provide their own transit. He used the company Genentech and its South San Francisco campus as a really excellent example. Overall, I ended the hour feeling that we did a good job of “making the case” and the audience seemed really engaged.

My other session, organized by David Dixon from Goody Clancy and Kaid Benfield from the Natural Resources Defense Council, addressed the issue of planning for smart growth in low income communities. I won’t summarize the content because Jared Green provides an excellent recap on The Dirt (be sure to check the post out). However, beyond the excellent content, I was very impressed by the diversity of the audience. There were many more young people of color in this session than I’ve seen in practically any conference session I’ve ever been to. It was thrilling to see the next generation of planners vote with their feet for equitable planning by showing up in such large numbers for this session! Keep it up!

denabelzerAPA Conference 2013: Invigorating Sessions and Audiences
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