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Valuing Our Downtowns as denser, transit-oriented development


Valuing Our Downtowns as denser, transit-oriented development

By Teri Shore, Greenbelt Alliance

The dollars and cents of investing in our downtowns was in the spotlight during a recent urban planning “boot camp” that drew standing-room only crowds at Bike Monkey in Santa Rosa’s Railroad Square.

Urban planning gurus Chuck Marhon of the non-profit Strong Towns and Joseph Minicozzi of Urban 3 consulting made the case that downtown offices, apartments and stores are worth far more to the city and its residents in the long term than far-flung big box stores, subdivisions and shopping malls.

Using eye-opening calculations, Strong Towns and Urban 3 made a strong case to the Santa Rosa City Council, city planners and community activists, that in the long run, revitalizing downtowns and utilizing existing buildings, streets and services is better for the budget. This holds true for every city and town across the country that Strong Towns and Urban 3 have scrutinized from Memphis, TN, to Modesto CA, and Asheville, N.C. to Lafayette, LA.

Urban 3 revealed the findings from a comprehensive financial assessment and three-dimensional modeling of Santa Rosa’s property values and sales taxes commissioned by the City of Santa Rosa. Urban 3 found that the estimated value per acre of a Fifth Street office building in downtown Santa Rosa was worth more than $10 million per acre compared to the local Target at a far lower $1.7 million per acre. Numerous other examples strengthened the argument for the value of property per acre in the downtown compared to that on the urban edge, as described in this North Bay Business Journal article.

Urban 3 also discovered that there was a total of six square miles dedicated to parking within Santa Rosa’s city limits that contributes very little to the city’s coffers.

The week-long marathon of events was initiated and organized by the new non-profit Urban Community Partnership, a multi-disciplinary collaborative that believes that transforming our approach to development is a key to financially resilient communities, a healthier quality of life, and reduced environmental impacts.

Strong Towns is turning modern city planning and land use on its head. While most of us realize that sprawl is expensive and unhealthy, we forget that until the 1950s and 1960s, freeways and suburbia never existed. It is an experiment built first on capital, then savings, and now propped up with debt.

And it isn’t working anymore, when you look at all the cities going under, the lack of money for repairing bridges, roads, gas lines and water pipes that are leaking, breaking and exploding.

With the strengthening economy and the current housing shortage there is no time to waste when it comes to planning for sustainable development. Development will come. The question is how to encourage it to maximize our community resources of land, water and infrastructure for the highest and best use, including the next generation.

Equally pressing is the need to create vibrant hubs around the new SMART stations which currently remain empty backwaters with little attraction for the upcoming passenger service slated to start in late 2016.

In Santa Rosa, Chuck and Joe were mostly preaching to a choir of smart growth advocates, developers, transit champions, and biking fiends. But for the first time, they provided us all with cool graphs, startling statistics and a solid economic case for why we need to build denser, transit-oriented development from here on in.

Urban Community Partnership is seeking funding support to expand the study and associated community “boot camp” to the other downtown cores along the SMART train line. This data driven approach can set the baseline for decision makers and help the community to prioritize development that will add value in line with the long term community vision. With this development pattern as a foundation the group plans to work to identify implementation opportunities toward a sustainable and dynamic urban community.


For more information on Strong Towns, please visit:¬if_t=mentions_comment¬if_id=1461191469408612