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Livable Commnities Forum

by Louis on September 24, 2010

I was lucky to attend a forum on Livable Communities Wednesday, September 22 held by Partners for Livable Communities. Partners has been around for more than three decades. “In 30 years, Partners has become the national leader on issues of livability and better communities.” The Partners model, helping communities with technical assistance, workshops and training, assists communities and leaders to empower themselves to identify priorities and act. Partners is a consulting practice to community empowerment with a proven record of grateful client communities. Starting from a focus on arts and cultural institutions Partners has evolved to be a leader in setting the agenda for urban improvement. This forum, held at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C, was typical. Partnering with the Hirshhorn helped highlight it’s new agenda of being a community museum.

Though Aging in Place was not the focus of this forum, all speakers and attendees were versed, concerned and engaged on the subject. Partner’s Aging in Place Initiative is one of their major program areas.

The roster and agenda were impressive. Beth Osborne, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Policy, US Department of Transportation provided a definition for Livable City- housing choices, transportation choices and destinations people are interested in that may not be completely shared, but functioned well enough for the day.  Ms Osborne and James Lopez, Senior Advisor to the Deputy Secretary, US Department of Housing and Urban Development were very much on the same page. They helped us understand that, though all Federal Departments have a role in making communities livable, having too many at the table has technical and functional difficulties that make it impractical.

Joe Cortright, President and Principal Economist, Impresa, Inc. brought the only powerpoint. It was excellent. He was funny and articulate. He pointed out that success in the era of knowledge based economies hinge on four factors – distinctiveness, innovation, connections and talent. He also cited data that the amenities Livability advocates are economic winners. With improved transit, people drive less so they have more money to spend on other things. Walkable cities have higher home values. Check your home out at

The cap to the forum was Mayor Ron Littlefield of Chattanooga. His topic, added after the online agenda was posted was “Amenities Strategy and Economic Growth”. He told the tale so lovingly I thought it was Garrison Keillor talking.

In 1969 Walter Cronkite announced that Chattanooga, a steel producing industrial city,  was the dirtiest city in the country. The community rallied to their city. By learning and adopting ideas from around the country, with help from Partners for Livable Community’s president Bob McNulty and others, Chattanooga cleaned and revamped their city with particular attention to natural and cultural amenities. As they have concentrated on these livable amenities the city’s employment base dropped, like so many industrial cities. But what Chattanooga found, is that those ‘intangible amenities’ that make their city grand and their citizenry proud are what has helped them attract corporations and business to redevelop their employment base. The incentives offered by other cities being the same, the amenities available in Chattanooga has been the city’s ticket to success. The lesson, as told to this mayor once by the late, noted developer, Jim Rouse, is to do the right thing and everything else will take care of itself.

This is similar to the impact of following Universal Design principles. Recognizing and committing to UD as a good and right idea has corollary benefits. See my earlier post on the Magic of Universal Design

At the delightful reception following the forum, Adam Griff, vice president of SarahCare, a provider of adult day services spreading across the country, summed it up pretty well, “A lot of people interested in these issues provided a great opportunity to see the topic from new vantage points.”

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