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Wisconsin Downtown Action Council
Position on Smart Growth
September, 2000

The Wisconsin Downtown Action Council (WDAC) is a statewide membership organization that facilitates the physical, economic and social revitalization and management of Wisconsin's downtowns through education, coalition building and advocacy.

What Is Smart Growth?
"Smart Growth" has been a response across the country to the issue of sprawl and congestion. At its heart are economic environmental and sense-of-place issues. These issues are important to both large urban areas and small cities and present tremendous opportunities to our traditional downtowns. The Urban Land Institute (ULI) defines smart growth as growth that is economically sound, environmentally friendly, and supportive of community livability. It is typically characterized by a higher concentration of amenities, a mix of commercial and residential uses, and a pedestrian-orientation. Livable communities are a way of life in which economic dynamism, green spaces, and friendly civic streets all coexist.

With the enactment of smart growth legislation in the 1999 Wisconsin budget, our state has the opportunity to address land use issues in a comprehensive fashion which interrelates important community attitudes and issues. These plans will require communities to address key topics including the role of their downtown areas. Downtowns are positioned to be a key element in the comprehensive plans of communities throughout the state.

Downtown Revitalization as a Smart Growth Option
Existing downtowns provide a head start for many communities planning for sensible growth. They use land efficiently and already have public infrastructure such as streets and utilities. Downtowns are by nature compact developments and provide many infill opportunities. They are "center focused" with a mixture of uses. Downtowns often have existing transportation options in place including public transit and bicycle access, and are typically pedestrian friendly. Finally, they convey the character of the community and its history, celebrating a community's unique sense of place.

For downtown to be a viable smart-growth option, new development must be economically viable and preserve open space and natural resources. Land use planning must be comprehensive, integrated and regional. Public, private, and nonprofit sectors must collaborate on growth and development issues to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes. Redevelopment of infill housing, brownfield sites, and obsolete buildings must be actively pursued. Overall, downtown must again become an integral component of the regional economy.

WDAC Response to Smart Growth
The Wisconsin Downtown Action Council (WDAC) views downtown as a critical component in smart growth comprehensive planning and a viable smart growth option. This organization believes that effective and sensible planning can lead to revitalization of downtown areas. Accordingly, WDAC will:

  1. Champion downtown as a key component of smart growth
  2. Provide a toolbox for local/regional comprehensive planning and help communities develop the component of a quality downtown plan
  3. Illuminate the benefits of downtown to developers
  4. Work to identify/remove barriers to downtown development
  5. Coordinate efforts with other organizations that promote smart growth and recognize its relationship to downtown

WDAC will accomplish these by serving its members, the public, downtown organizations, governmental leaders, planners, consultants and private developers through education, advocacy and alliance. Specific strategies under consideration include:

  • Coordination of panel discussions including prominent local leaders instrumental in implementing a downtown revitalization plan. Insight gained from these discussions will be documented and shared statewide.
  • Recognize communities that have undertaken down- town planning efforts that follow smart growth principles.
  • Develop a web-based listing of financial and technical resources to assist in local comprehensive planning efforts. This listing will direct users to sites that specifically address the ingredients of a quality plan (housing, transportation, adaptive reuse, brownfield redevelopment, etc.) champion downtown as a key component of smart growth.

Through these steps, a number of legislative initiatives may evolve such as:

  • Partnering with other interested parties on removing barriers to downtown development.
  • Enhancing resources for State and University programs aimed at expanding services to communities undertaking downtown projects.
  • Providing support to foster other types of community planning programs including downtown revitalization elements.
  • Providing financial support to business improvement districts, downtown non-profits and local government units that undertake planning efforts supporting down- towns and smart growth principles.

For more information about the WDAC or their position on Smart Growth you can contact:

Wisconsin Downtown Action Council
2701 University Avenue #442
Madison, WI 53705-3700


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