Mayors Share Ideas on Regional Cooperation and Smart Growth
By Derrick L. Coley
Among several special concurrent sessions held on January 27th, mayors heard from their colleagues and national experts on the many issues pertaining to “Regionalism and Smart Growth.” Conference Vice President Boise Mayor H. Brent Coles opened the discussion, stating that “balanced and redirected growth is very important,” emphasizing how regional cooperation is key to addressing sprawl.
Coles led this special session which focused on the many federal policy reforms that are needed to help mayors and other local officials manage growth in their regions. He guided a broad range of discussions that featured creative city/county partnerships, incentives for brownfields redevelopment, strategies to integrate transportation with land use and tax incentives to preserve greenfields and promote redevelopment in existing communities. Coles noted Boise’s unique regional agreement, known as the “Treasure Valley Partnership,” that will guide local government actions and policies to shape future development in his region.
Chattanooga Mayor Jon Kinsey, Co-Chair of the Conference’s Regionalism and Smart Growth Task Force, spoke about his city’s efforts to formulate common sense practices to control sprawl. In order to address the challenges of growth, he said, “There is a clear need to build more working relationships with our surrounding areas to tackle these issues.” Kinsey also emphasized the need to address growth issues in metro areas, particularly given the economic strength of these regions, which, he pointed out, “provided 82% of all new jobs between 1992-1998.”
Joining with Kinsey on the challenges of regionalism, Rochester Mayor William A. Johnson, Jr. explained how his city is trying to educate citizens on the broader issue of a declining region, not just in the City of Rochester. “The population is not growing, instead people are scattering themselves and relocating” Johnson said.
Johnson, who serves as a Vice-Chair of the Regionalism and Smart Growth Task Force, discussed how land taxes have increased to $15 billion dollars, without the population growth to support these increases. Smart growth is necessary for survival in a global economy. We cannot resist or refute the imperative facing us on this issue. We must begin to plan in a more collaborative effort,” he said.
Rail Investment/In-fill Development
Fort Worth Mayor Kenneth L. Barr spoke on the Dallas/Fort Worth area’s efforts to stem sprawl through regional collaboration. Barr, Co-Chair of the Conference’s Regionalism and Smart Growth Task Force, said, “The importance of coalitions cannot be over stressed, as cities we have got to work with other organizations.” Mayor Barr talked about the necessity to incorporate an area’s mass transit system with its land use plans. Barr noted that the Dallas (DART) Light Rail System is years ahead of schedule on ridership. He also talked about the outer loop for the Dallas/Fort Worth area that has been mapped out for what type of use can be established at each segment. Mayor Barr then initiated a broader discussion on strategies for in-fill development, neighborhood/commercial district investment and economic revitalization.
Tulsa Mayor M. Susan Savage discussed the City of Tulsa’s efforts to work with Oklahoma City on regional issues, pointing out how the Tulsa and Oklahoma City regions account for two-thirds of the state’s population and economy. Among the challenges for the Tulsa region, Savage pointed out, is the many abandoned oil refineries. She explained how this type of real estate requires more significant environmental considerations and higher clean up costs. For these and other brownfields sites, Savage stressed the need for economic incentives to redevelop these properties to increase in-fill development.
Also participating in the session was Bruce Katz, Director of the Brookings Center on Urban and Metropolitan Policy. Katz laid out three specific areas of interest in smart growth: curbing sprawl, promoting reinvestment and fostering city/suburban collaborations. On curbing sprawl, he emphasized that for cities to effectively curb sprawl they must approach it from a regional standpoint, urging the mayors to seek out common areas of interest, such as transportation planning, environmental concerns, increasing workforces and mass transit development.
In promoting reinvestment in existing communities, Katz said, “Cities must level the playing field.” This can be accomplished, he pointed out, by providing tax incentives for people to purchase homes and increase ownership, and through commercial revitalization tax credits, improvements to transportation systems like rail investments and support for brownfield redevelopment. He also talked about opportunities for city/county collaborations.
Farmland/Open Space Preservation
Ralph Grossi, President of the American Farmland Trust, stressed the need for greater cooperation between his organization and cities to educate citizens on the true costs of sprawl. “Many people look at the American Farmland Trust and think that they want to conserve farmland because of possible food shortages, so farmers need their land to meet consumer demand. However, there is plenty of food in surplus, but the true issue is the loss of farmland that can never be regained after development,” Grossi said. He emphasized the need to increase incentives for redevelopment of already developed urban land. Grossi also stated that “in order to shape your communities, you must make sure you are smart in your conservation initiatives. Land conservation can also introduce an element of fairness in the political process.” By using incentives or credits for preservation, he noted, governments can show farmers that the public is willing to share the costs of preservation.
American Institute of Architects’ Vice President J. Richard Kremer talked about the need for urban revitalization and the importance of urban design. He pointed out how the AIA is in partnership with the Conference on these issues. Kremer stated, “Smart growth is planned growth.” He also said that “Each city’s neighborhood has it’s own character, like Boston is different than San Francisco.” He emphasized that the acknowledgment of these traits is crucial to the planning process, because often they determine why people move or stay in particular neighborhoods.