Throughout America, economic development has become a primary focus for communities of all sizes. Growth has become the predominant goal if communities are to survive. The question becomes: What kind of economic development can be sustained in communities where population growth is slow or stagnant? This is one of the main challenges that face Davenport's new city administrator, Craig Malin.

Malin is arguably ideally suited to deal with the nuances that define sustainable-growth development. His previous work experience in Vernon Hills includes involvement in the creation of a unique mixed-use development called Prairie Crossing. At a minimum, Malin brings a different vision to the table for stimulating development that addresses more than bricks and mortar, and encourages quality-of-life considerations.

Prairie Crossing is more than just an economic model for development. Besides architecture, infrastructure, and definitive land-use planning, Prairie Crossing imposes a conservation effort that has as its foundation a set of stated goals that speak more to a way of life than a set of home-association rules. Consider the 10 "guiding principles" of Prairie Crossing for a moment: environmental protection and enhancement (which they implement through a comprehensive land management plan); a healthy lifestyle (which includes a fitness center, 10 miles of trails, a beach and lake, a resident organic farm that provides fresh produce and individual plots for gardening); a sense of place (which includes a restored barn as a civic center, a charter school, landscape and architecture inspired by prairies, marshes, and farms); a sense of community (which boasts a 2,500-acre Liberty Prairie Reserve with stewardship programs throughout); economic and racial diversity (meaning that all races are welcome, even essential, and where residential properties are affordable to a wide range of incomes); convenient and efficient transportation (the development sits amid three major highways and is connected to the Chicago rail system); energy conservation (provides that buildings are constructed to reduce energy consumption by at least 50 percent, a community-wide recycling program; and an emphasis on walking and biking for short trips as an alternative to driving.); lifelong learning and education (education from child care to college instruction is provided on site or nearby, along with informal learning at the community center.); aesthetic design and high-quality construction (the highest of standards are imposed on all construction with a continuity and cohesiveness that complies with conservation efforts); and finally, economic viability (which means that the development is planned with complete oversight and adherence to fiscal goals that inspire such developments to occur elsewhere).

Two weeks ago, Malin introduced a handful of his staff department heads, including Economic Development Director Clayton Lloyd, Public Works director Dee Bruemmer, and Parks and Recreation Director Jef Farland, along with several members of the recent 53rd Street and Eastern Avenue Ad Hoc Committee, to Prairie Crossing and several other such innovative developments in the Chicago and Madison, Wisconsin, area, during a day-trip he initiated to tour four different mixed-use developments. The four developments included Woodland Hills Court, Centennial Crossing, Prairie Crossing (all of which were located in northern Chicago suburbs), and Middleton Hills in Madison (whose architectural style was that of Frank Lloyd Wright).

Malin was one of the first homeowners in Prairie Crossing, and was one of the principal founders of its charter school. His enthusiasm is contagious when he speaks of this particular development as one of stewardship in tandem with a community that collectively aspires to sound conservation goals. While he acknowledges that Prairie Crossing was a little like living in a theme park and that he prefers more real places, he affirms the loftier ideals of land stewardship and a sense of community as integral to quality of life. Malin plans to introduce a similar concept for the city-owned land at 53rd Street and Eastern Avenue. The first step was to take several city staff to visit and see for themselves what kinds of development projects were possible. The staff now has the mandate to create a Request for Proposal (RFP) to hire a consulting firm to implement the process of creating a development that would introduce practical sustainable growth principles to the development process.

"I have no intention of becoming a no-growth community," Malin said. "Unfortunately, sustainable growth is often interpreted as no growth by developers who are not familiar with such principles. The standards can be lofty and ill-defined, and actually not found at work in the marketplace. However, I am all for practical sustainable growth standards and guidelines."

Sustainable growth has gotten some attention in Davenport, but mostly as a litany of campaign promises that were abandoned once the current council took office two years ago. Sustainable growth was resurrected during the 10 months of dialogue by the 53rd Street Ad Hoc committee members, and the one land-use plan that proposed such development guidelines won the support of the public by a nearly two-to-one vote during the committee's public connectors. Sustainable-growth principles, such as adequate public facilities and mandatory-green-space ordinances, have proven cost-effective and marketable in many developments throughout America. The problem lies in resistance by developers and cities that perceive higher costs coupled with less profitability. However, most of these perceptions have been dispelled over time and with proper implementation.

Sustainable growth mandates that municipalities' capital-improvement budgets be tied into economic development and the path of progress. Such practices and policies allow communities to appropriately absorb the cost of growth in terms of infrastructure and services. At the same time, it ensures the income streams necessary to support the growth. Sustainable growth is not just about conservation of natural resources, but about fiscal conservation and management of city resources. It is also about building social capital, a critical ingredient to the success of a community, but often undervalued.

"Environments change people's behavior," Malin explained. "In trying to develop as a city, it gets back to building social capital. Everything about Prairie Crossing helps build social capital, from the proximity of some of the homes to the diversity of the income streams to the civic spaces to the open green spaces. My children could walk to four different parks within two minutes. All the programming events are about getting the community together."

The four development projects toured can all be classified as traditional neighborhood developments (TNDs) because they employ principles of diversity with respect to income ranges, architecture, land-use, green space, and density. The homes were located closer to the streets in most cases, with alleys and civic places (such as parks, walking trails, gazebos, etc.) strategically placed throughout to encourage pedestrian participation. Stormwater management was a function of conservation as much as flood and waste control. Prairie Crossing employed a natural and biological filtration system of graduated prairie grasses and root systems. The lake functioned as a retention pond and was so clean and pure that endangered species of fish are relocated to the lake for survival and repopulation.

"The original premise of suburbs is that they are better for children," Malin observed. "Traditional neighborhoods are about diversity. With TNDs, a life change [such as a divorce, or a job loss] didn't mean you had to move out of your neighborhood. You could keep those connections. Modern development is about mass marketing and sales velocity. Your life circumstances determine where you live. You can estimate a person's income by their address. But if you have a significant life change, you easily become disconnected. To function as a democracy, you need those social connections. It is interesting how people think they have arrived based upon how much lawn they have to mow. But the craft of developing neighborhoods is declining. TNDs are more walkable, have more diverse architecture, incomes, and sizes. They have surprises within them. Cities have a stigma of more density as equal to more crime, less safe neighborhoods. Media contributes significantly to that perception. The more recent phenomena of the return to the center-city neighborhoods and their revitalization is a cyclical thing and reflects affordability."

It is important to note that Malin claims most of the Prairie Crossings of the world are not consistent with their community's comprehensive land-use plans. "Most cities don't want these developments because they don't understand them," Malin said. "People usually have to fight for them. People want something that provides a better place to live, but that is usually more idealized than realized. To create such a place is a process. My goal is to expand the conception of the development and redevelopment opportunities out there. I worry when people try to stop things because they aren't perfectly in line with their ideal."

The process necessarily begins with the creation of a charrette that defines the development project, including design, land-use opportunities, and a methodology to include public input. Malin emphasizes that perhaps the most important component of determining land use is to engage the public in broad discussions about the issues that surround development. He suggests hiring a firm with the expertise in these areas to work through the various and myriad development issues. Because it will involve fairly rapid decision-making, and should be fully operational within the next six months, the cost will be $25,000 to $50,000 in his estimate. Malin views this city-owned property as a possible microcosm of development where development standards and guidelines can be implemented by incorporating public participation and building community consensus, then expanding the model to envelop the city as a whole. The three areas of review and specific discussion include zoning ordinances, the comprehensive land-use plan, and the development standards as they currently exist, then compared with other models that incorporate different philosophies and standards for consideration.

"Because the market reacts faster than government can act, it is easier to get people to focus on one particular project and build consensus than to tackle the entire city in the context of overall development and a comprehensive land-use plan. It is a way to begin dialogue that will be somewhat new to the community, creating some positive civic engagement prior to a comprehensive land-use plan. As a city, we will begin drafting development guidelines and standards as a starting point for discussion," Malin promises. "My goal is to get the economic-development department excited about planning."

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