Energy development, smart growth and transportation planning were the topics of choice at the 2012 Western Planner Conference in Billings, Montana. Western Planner brings together professionals from just west of SRDC’s borders to Alaska, many of whom work in small towns and rural areas.
Former Maryland Governor Parris Glendening, now President of the Smart Growth America Leadership Institute, gave a keynote on national trends. Smart Growth isn’t about Washington, DC, telling people what to do; Smart Growth is about making smart decisions about the future. Communities with a strong sense of place will attract footloose entrepreneurs. Smart Growth creates more choices, both for consumers and developers. Joe Minicozzi, Public Interest Projects, Asheville, NC, bookended the keynotes with analysis completed for the Sonoran Institute of the tax value advantage of downtown development. (This is the same idea Chuck Marohn and Strong Towns has been exploring in the Midwest.) On a developable square foot basis, mixed use development provides a far better cost-benefit than typical sprawl.
Smart Growth echoed through other speakers as well. Jim Strozier, Consensus Planning, gave a blow-by-blow on a contentious neighborhood plan for a revitalizing, mixed-use historic district in downtown Albuquerque, New Mexico. Getting people out walking the neighborhood, like we do with Active Living and Safe Routes to School projects, helps make maps less abstract and solutions more tangible. Allison Corbyn, Big Sky EDA in Billings, and Amber Vogt, Lawrence County SD, related Smart Growth opportunities in Brownfields Development. Billings has found changing “perceptions” of pollution to be as important and cleaning up actual environmental pollution. In the Black Hills, Homestake Mining has been working with local governments to bring streams polluted with century-old tailings back to fishable water quality. Gene Macdonald, PE with Ayres Associates, also explained how the City of Cheyenne and Laramie County, Wyoming, have used brownfield and stormwater management funding to begin redevelopment of the Lower Capitol Basin, an aging, flood-prone warehouse district along the Union Pacific railroad.
Last year, I was asked to participate on the Practitioner Advisory Group for a Transportation Research Board project led by a team at the University of North Carolina Center for Urban & Regional Studies. Dr. Brian Morton reported on initial results on the study, Impacts of Land Use on Travel Behavior in Small Communities and Rural Areas. Roger Millar, also with Smart Growth America, discussed fiscal constraints on state DOT policy. We simply can’t afford to keep doing what we’ve been doing with road building. Ben Orsbon, South Dakota Dept of Transportation, offered an overview of Freight transportation and multi-modal trends. Tremendous increases in grain productivity in recent years is putting extreme pressure on road and rail networks, especially in the Upper Midwest, but also at ocean ports like Duluth.
While the Bakken Oil Play won the majority of energy attention, renewable energy was also in mind. Mark Apel, Arizona Cooperative Extension, presented the Renewable Energy Opportunity Analysis (REOA) GIS model, which was developed in cooperation with the University of Arizona to evaluate land suitability for solar, wind and geo-thermal utility-scale siting. The model, still being optimized, could be particularly useful for county-level land use planning and economic development.
The Conference also offered ethics and case law training which are mandatory for American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) members for continuing education. And, as expected, Wyoming beat the World at Softball.