Almost every community in the United States is looking at smart growth concepts, a federal housing official said Tuesday.
Those concepts include maintaining distinctive, walkable neighborhoods built around sustainable development practices and offering a range of accessible and affordable housing for residents.
“Whether large or small, every community wants to win the economy. How the economy is going to be, people want it invented in their community,” Harriet Tregoning, of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Economic Resilience, said during the ninth annual Louisiana Smart Growth Summit. “People have choices, and millennials are very mobile. They want to live in interesting, distinctive places.”
The three-day summit, sponsored by the Center for Planning Excellence, will conclude Wednesday at the Shaw Center for the Arts in downtown Baton Rouge.
Tregoning was the smart growth officer for former Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening and the former planning director for the city of Washington, D.C., before joining the staff at HUD.
Baton Rouge is forecast to see a 4.9 percent uptick in the number of jobs by the end of 2016. That means it’s important for leaders to have a plan.
“The Baton Rouge area is looking to grow very rapidly,” Tregoning said. “Growth can be a blessing if you use it to shape the communities you want to have. Growth is good, but not if you let it happen willy-nilly. You have to channel it.”
AC Wharton Jr., the mayor of Memphis, Tennessee, who was the other keynote speaker for the summit, said he doesn’t like to use the term “smart growth.”
“Everything has to have a name, but I truly believe that we’ll get much more of a following if we simply say, ‘This makes sense.’ From every perspective, it makes sense to do things right and not simply to follow the path of least resistance,” Wharton said during his address Monday night.
Wharton said he’s focused on what Memphis residents need. That’s an issue in a place where 27 percent of the population lives in poverty. “Everything we do should start on how will this impact those individuals,” he said.
To that end, Memphis has made an aggressive effort to address the needs of the urban core, going in and cleaning up blighted areas, making it safe for businesses to invest in those communities.
“We have to deliver our municipal services on rifle-shot basis because of the city’s density,” said Wharton, noting that the city limits of Memphis encompass 348 square miles, a larger area than the city of Chicago. At the same time, the population of Memphis is one-quarter that of Chicago’s.
“Where is the greatest room for property tax appreciation? In the inner city. Everything is there for municipal services.”
The efforts to restore activity to a blighted part of the city are tougher than building out in the suburbs and annexing property, Wharton said.
“It may be rough, but not to do this is even rougher,” he said.