Big Ideas in Small Towns

This month K.A. Oldham Design, Inc. was invited to visit the Cusseta/Chattahoochee County Chamber of Commerce to speak about development planning for small towns and municipalities.  As a point of conversation, we presented our work for the City of Newnan which has come to be known as the Newnan Central Park Plan.

The Newnan Central Park Plan is, of course, specific to the situational context and the needs and expectation that were identified through the project process.  But the process and the philososphies by which it was conducted are a framework suitable for a point of beginning for any similar venture.  The Cusseta/Chattahoochee County area is faced with defined growth expectations from the expansion of the adjacent military base, as well as the increase in industrial economy in the area.

There is a perceived division between those community members that are adverse to the idea of growth of economy and population and those that see it as inevitable and positive.  This disconnect can only be resolved through education from experienced sources and communication among the community members.  I am sure that this sounds cliched but it is the reality.  There is also another thing that is reality and that is that if the community’s expectations are not defined and a plan to meet them is not put into place, then no one will be happy, except perhaps the first generation developers that struggle through the system and put in place low-budget projects with little benefit to the people affected around it.  The truth is that dollars are going to be invested in the local economy and that investment can either be a part of an overall plan with multi-faceted benefits to the area or it can be a stand alone instance of effort that has limited value to anyone including the  investor.

So what can we say, briefly, about creating a plan that can help an existing small town environment prepare for the inevitable future and reap some incredible rewards for their efforts? In our presentation to the Cusseta/Chattahoochee County we suggest five elements to focus on:

(1) Redevelop First

– Evaluate previously developed sites to determine re-use potential

– Encourage use of existing infrastructure and services, rather than the construction of new infrastructure in undeveloped areas

-Identify brownfield sites and provide incentives for the redevelopment of these sites

-Emphasize re-use of existing buildings for compatible uses

(2) Restore + Enhance the Environment

– Identify and protect existing wildlife habitats, cultural/historical landscapes, and environmentally sensitive areas

-Support projects that involve environmental remediation of damaged sites

-Encourage the creation and preservation of usable open space, including recreational sites

-Improve areas that pose a health or public safety risk

-Increase the quality, quantity, and accessibility of public open space

(3) Concentrate Development

-Support development that is compact, conserves land, integrates uses, and fosters a sense of place

– Encourage walkability by providing multiple uses and activities within each district, and connecting these uses with safe, convenient, and accessible pedestrian paths

-Promote increased development density by including a blend of housing types within each district

(4) Encourage Connectivity

– Evaluate existing patterns of pedestrian and vehicular traffic and identify areas of need

– Reduce dependence on single occupant vehicles:  promote commute alternatives such as carpool, ridesharing, bicycling

-Investigate options for regional connectivity:  consider commuter rail, regional bus service, trolley system, etc. with a central multimodal transit hub

(5) Conserve Resources

– Support projects that use alternative technologies for wastewater treatment, storm water management, renewable energy, recycled materials, or reduced energy consumption

-Provide incentives for projects that use LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) or other recognized green building standards for high-performance buildings

Consider adoption of LEED standards for all new municipal and government facilities

As you can imagine, a truly effective plan is much more complex and defined.  But with these elements as a base from which to launch, there is distinct hope for immediate and future successes.  If you are curious to find out more about how a plan for  your project or your community can come together, give us a call and let us come and discuss it with you.

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