VOL. 132 | NO. 86 | Monday, May 1, 2017
Mayors and Planners Challenge Assumptions at RegionSmart
By Bill Dries
At the end of last week’s day-long RegionSmart Summit Downtown, Tipton County Executive Jeff Huffman remarked on how roomy and comfortable the chairs at the Halloran Centre had been for the mayors, planners, developers and others who gathered for the Urban Land Institute event.
The Daily News was a sponsor of the summit presented by the Mid-South Mayors Council at the Halloran Centre for Performing Arts & Education.
But in a challenge to the several dozen people who stayed until the end of the Thursday, April 28, session, Huffman said the goals of a range of subjects under the general heading of regionalism were the same.
“Regionalism is not going to go away,” he told the group. “We don’t have a choice. … We’ve got a lot of work to do.”
The work for the mayors is different than goals outlined by the planners and others who don’t hold elected office.
Former Charleston, South Carolina Mayor Joseph Riley, a 10-term incumbent who just left office in 2016, came with plenty of pictures of buildings saved during his 39-year tenure – enough to match any of the case studies other speakers came armed with.
Riley didn’t talk economic impact dollar figures or return on investment as he detailed his city’s decision to buy housing about to be demolished for renovation as affordable housing.
“It’s the public realm,” he said of his policies. “It creates a sense of shared citizenship. It gives our citizens a sense of pride.”
Riley also talked about turning down a Hard Rock Café that developers wanted in a place that Riley didn’t think was the right spot. It’s a struggle some of the mayors in the room are familiar with – making a long-term specific plan for what type of development goes where in a city and then feeling intense pressure to accept projects that may be good, but which are contrary to the plan.
“I’ve never met anyone from the Mafia and no one’s ever tried to bribe me,” Riley responded to a question about “restorative development” and the temptations to cast it aside.
“There are times when you have to look a gift horse in the mouth,” he said. “Sometimes in a city, something hard and worthwhile takes a generation.”
Georgia Tech architecture professor Ellen Dunham-Jones talked of retrofitting office parks with mixed-use development including residential and retail as well as main street-type developments.
“Increasingly, urbanism is the new amenity for office parks,” she said before showing images of a converted office park in Hyattsville, Maryland where the “main street” was conventional strip retail that she said didn’t “reward pedestrians.”
“I know it’s not sustainable, but I hope it burns,” she said of the addition.
She also said mall parking lots should be viewed as “the new cheap land” for developers and “underperforming asphalt.”
Germantown Mayor Mike Palazzolo talked about mixed-used urbanism in Germantown where there are now three such projects on the books – two under construction.
“You cannot accept the status quo,” he told the group.
Palazzolo was among those challenging assumptions and images, saying with 500,000 people coming through Saddle Creek’s Apple store in a year, “It is our Graceland.”
New York City Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver came to talk about his prior job as chief planning and development officer and planning director in Raleigh, North Carolina.
“The office park model as currently put together is fading away in the 21st century,” he said by way of agreement with Dunham-Jones.
Silver said the Raleigh-Durham region’s famed Research Triangle Park, one of the largest research parks in the world, is also due for change.
“They realize it is time to change,” he said of leaders in an area whose regionalism is defined by the development that doesn’t bear the name of any city or town.