Six Takeaways from the New Partners for Smart Growth Conference
By Joan Pasiuk, Program Director
I am still humming jazz upon my return from Kansas City, MO, which hosted the 2013 national conference of the New Partners for Smart Growth-an annual assembly to further the sustainable communities movement. The range of sponsors underscores the interdisciplinary draw of the gathering: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; Centers for Disease Control; National Association of REALTORS; HDR, Inc.; Kresge Foundation; Smart Growth Network.
This was the 12th
annual New Partners for Smart Growth Conference, gathering people from across
the country to share lessons learned about building sustainable communities.
Photo credit: New Partners for Smart
Bike Walk Twin Cities was invited to present as part of the panel, "Bike Sharing and Active Transportation for Communities Large and Small." Also on the panel was Bill Lyons, Technical Advisor at the U.S. Department of Transportation and very valuable research partner to the Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot communities. My corresponding presentation, "NTPP as Community Incubator & Accelerator: The Bike Walk Twin Cities Story," provides a quick overview of the impact of a comprehensive, holistic strategy paired with a dedicated funding source for bicycling and walking investments in a community. There are many ways to tell the story and describe the outcomes of the pilot (still in progress through 2013), but the evidence of accelerating the network build-out and incubating cultural and institutional change in support of walking and bicycling as mainstream transportation is significant.
The New Partners for Smart Growth Conference was a valuable opportunity to share insights from the Bike Walk Twin Cities program with a national audience. And the rest of this year's conference was equally energizing. I came back to Minnesota with my thoughts on six key takeaways:
1. Crowdsourcing for public projects is effective engagement, cutting edge and soon to become mainstream. The premise of crowdsourcing for public projects is to gather, inspire, and share ideas and input ("No One Knows as Much as Everyone")-in ways other than a public meeting (which 48 percent of Americans have never attended)! I loved the crowdsourced urbanism executed in Kansas City with a Better Block program. The Mindmixer digital platform worked really well and looks like something I could use easily as a respondent and maybe even as an organizer.
2. Equity is alive and well in the sustainable communities movement. From all across the country, there are heartening stories of progress on affordable housing developments, health improvement through active living investments, and more access to open space and healthy foods. Still when I hear that a small rural community in California had to organize and advocate for clean tap water I know the work endures. Policy Link continues to help move us forward.
The Equitable Development
Workshop's pre-workshop featured Kalima
Rose of Policy Link, Jay Thomas Bad Heart Bull of Native American Community
Development Institute, Charlie Sciammas of Poder, and Anita Maltbia of Green
Impact Zone (L to R). Photo credit: New Partners for Smart
3. Walkability, bikability, and sustainability are not just story lines for top ranked major cities; smaller communities are making commitments and investments that will redefine their cities, sometimes neighborhood by neighborhood. This is what I saw on a bus/walking tour to the 18th & Vine Historic Jazz District. Our local tour guide talked about the era of segregation that locked African Americans into an area on the east side of the city where the corner of 18th & Vine became the social cornerstone. Rich in African American history, the neighborhood was once a thriving cultural hub, but it began falling into decline in the late 1950s. On the rebound with tourist attractions, restaurants, theater, and new/rehabbed housing, residents and businesses are beginning to return. Today the district is prime walking territory. Useful, safe, comfortable, and interesting, it captures all four of the critical features of a good walk identified in Jeff Speck's Walkable City. Now this great place just needs more people!
Photo credit: Jazz District Redevelopment Corp
4. Elders need more walk/bike/transit access, an important ingredient for aging in place. As we've heard firsthand from Twin Cities residents, mobility, independence, and wellbeing are closely linked. It's of notable concern in the Twin Cities area, where the senior population is expected to more than double by 2040. A quick conference reference about aging in place led me to the Village Movement initiated as a grassroots effort in Boston-an interesting model since replicated around the country and based on interconnected communities that enable seniors to age in their homes with support from neighbors.
5. Moving from an auto-centric to a truly multi-modal culture is prime social change territory involving many stakeholders. The Stanford Social Innovation Review and especially its assessment of conditions for collective impact offer good context: "Our research shows that successful collective impact initiatives typically have five conditions that together produce true alignment and lead to powerful results: a common agenda, shared measurement systems, mutually reinforcing activities, continuous communication, and backbone support organizations."
Look who it is! Minneapolis's Mayor R.T. Rybak was a plenary presenter, talking about a more democratic model for cities that "embraces the world one street corner at a time." Photo credit: New Partners for Smart Growth.
6. Bike sharing is an increasingly hot topic, gaining momentum in a growing number of cities across the U.S. It's exciting to see these cities specifically tailoring their systems to meet the needs of their residents. For example, the bikes in the Chattanooga Bicycle Transit System have seven speeds. Hilly terrain conquered! A presentation of "Public Bikesharing in North America: Early Operator and User Understanding" (Susan Shaheen, Ph.D. and Elliot Martin, Ph.D.; University of California Berkeley Transportation Sustainability Research Center) noted there are 19 systems in the U.S. now and 18 more on the way. A few key points of comparison: As a result of using public bike sharing, the use of public transportation is higher for 28 percent of Nice Ride Minnesota users and 18 percent of bike-share users overall. Similarly, 37 percent of Nice Ride users said they walk more and 53 percent drive less because of bike sharing versus 23 percent and 40 percent respectively of users across all systems.