Thursday, October 8, 2009

Regional Dialect

Posted By on Thu, Oct 8, 2009 at 11:10 AM

Last week, the Center for Livable Communities (CLC) made a strong case for regional collaboration.

At its Third Annual Summit for Neighborhood Leaders, the CLC focused on the connection between neighborhoods and the overall region with keynote speaker Bridget Jones, executive director of Middle Tennessee/Nashville’s Cumberland Region Tomorrow.

Cumberland Region Tomorrow encourages growth planning in a 10-county area in Middle Tennessee.

“Look at where your neighborhood fits in the spectrum,” Jones said. “See what you’ve got and what you need.”

CLC consultant John Lawrence and Josh Whitehead, head of planning for the city of Germantown, presented some disquieting data on population, sprawl, and retail growth.

[Side note: This week, in our paper product, I used some of their data in a piece about that Holy Grail of redevelopment — RETAIL — and asked if maybe it isn't something of a shell game, especially in Memphis.

Whitehead suggested that the different area jurisdictions have overzoned for commercial development because they are hungry for the sales tax it brings. “What you have is way too much retail space,” he said. “Bringing up tax sharing is probably worse than consolidation, but it helps to address constant sprawl.”]

In the last nine years, Austin has grown 32 percent. Atlanta has grown 27 percent. Dallas has grown 22 percent. Nashville has grown 18 percent.

Memphis has grown 5 percent.

And that is for the Memphis region, which includes growth rates of 81 percent in Hernando and 53 percent in Horn Lake.

In the category of adults 25-44 years old — the demo paying for a bulk of a city’s services — Memphis proper lost 28,000 people.

Andrew Trippel, coordinator of the local chapter of the Urban Land Institute, said the regions should support amenities for their residents — especially important in a knowledge economy — and address issues of air and water quality.

“We want professional sports teams; we want great museums and parks,” Trippel said. “Bartlett can’t support a FedExForum, but Memphis as a region can. Some amenities can only be provided at the regional level.”

Jones said that the Memphis area was already addressing smart-growth through the Sustainable Shelby initiative, but “the trick is how to get everyone working together,” she said.

“I cannot stress enough the importance of approaching the work with a collaborative mindset,” Jones said. “It takes people from all areas to make this happen.”

After looking at 20-year trend data for the Cumberland region, Jones’ group presented two scenarios: their future land-use if they didn’t change what they were doing, and an alternative best-case scenario if they chose a more sustainable path with in-fill development along transportation corridors.

“We want to keep our beautiful areas beautiful, and we wanted to save money,” Jones said. “Even if we don’t do the best-case scenario, a compromise would save us land and money.”

The difference between that alternatives was astounding: Instead of consuming another 365,000 acres of farm land surrounding Nashville in the next 20 years, they could only consume 91,000 acres. Under the base scenario, infrastructure costs would be $9,657,085,995. Under the alternative scenario, that number was less than half.

And instead of 1.13 persons per acre of developed land, they found that alternative scenario would support 5.8 per acre.

“We’ve got to work on density, everyone is scared to death of that,” Jones said. “A dense development in the wrong place is not smart growth. It’s not just how you build a building. It’s where you put it.”

Jones suggested that successful redevelopment projects could spur other projects.

“We have just enough [in Nashville], it makes you mad,” she said. “People want more of it. They want it in their neighborhoods.”

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