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The Potential of Small Cities

Andre Leroux of the Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance writes a great piece in Communities & Banking (pdf) on the potential of older, smaller cities in future growth, drawing from work in New England:

While sprawl was continuing in many suburbs, smart growth developments nationwide were emulating the traditional patterns of small New England cities, with lively and walkable squares, downtowns and neighborhoods. Advocates of cities were drawing attention to their human scale, enriched by numerous amenities: railways, rivers, and parks; historic mills, homes, and churches; institutions such as museums, small colleges, and hospitals; diverse populations; and competitive housing and job opportunities.

The article describes a project organized by Dartmouth University’s  Urban Initiative that outlined several recommendations, with improved neighborhoods and urban parks on top of the list. Other ideas included: investing in civic life; improving municipal governance; prioritizing state infrastructure investments that strengthen smaller industrial cities as opposed to supporting infrastructure sprawl; leveling the development playing field (e.g. brownfields); supporting education reform and lifelong learning and lastly; incubating a green economy (e.g. re-using industrial sites, home weatherization).

With so many small cities with good bones, such as walkable parks, amenities and good housing stock, this issue goes far beyond New England, and there might be some ideas worth copying in other parts of the country.

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