Tuesday, November 13

Envisioning Missoula

It seemed like there were over 100 of us gathered tonight at the University ballroom, clustered around a dozen tables with giant maps of Missoula in the center. This was one of the three Envision Missoula workshops that the transportation division of the Missoula office of Planning and Grants is putting on this week. We all had our chance to strew colored tape and glue development projects all over the map in order to find a way to fit the next 100,000 residents into this valley.

I was pleasantly surprised to see a remarkable amount of consensus over the ideas at each table. Many of us traded in our suburban and commercial chips and opted for higher-density mixed-use clusters. Almost all of the groups had either light rail lines or heavy bus systems to connect these town and city clusters. Bike lanes along existing roads, and designated biking and walking trails along former rail corridors figured heavily in each plan. Open space, of course, was a big hit. Our table, in particular, wanted to maintain the agricultural viability of much of the current rural land. There were really very few outright conflicts throughout the whole process.

(I did find it a little curious that industrial growth was not even an option. We didn't get a heavy industry chip to place. I suppose we are assuming the triumph of the service economy.)

One of the things I appreciated most about the whole process was that growth, both population and job, was implied from the outset. Often agendas to protect open space and limit sprawl are perceived to be pure anti-growth obstructionism. Now that we have our seat at the table we want to close the doors to everyone else! That sort of thing. This whole workshop, on the contrary, was an exercise in planned growth - both land use and transportation thrown in together.

The cynic in me inevitably pops up about now. What about market forces? Is this economically and politically reasonable? Shouldn't cities evolve naturally through a gradual process rather than on paper in a workshop? One person at our table joked, "I agree that Missoula would look wonderful like this, but I think I'd like to put my own country estate over here." I thought that was pretty funny, and maybe a little closer to the truth than I would like to admit. As important as this envisioning is, all of it would really amount to nothing at all unless we are each willing to live within our own vision.

It was encouraging to get a feel for where this roomful of Missoulians would like to head in the next few decades. I think it's the right direction.


jhwygirl said...

100 people?! Man, that sounds like a pretty good turnout!

Was it a mix? Young and old? Etc?

I can't wait - I planned on Thursday, in part so I could see what was done the first two days.

Shame, though, we aren't planning for industry. Are we so resigned to a service-based industry that we don't even fake it anymore?

Daniel Nairn said...

I would say there was an ok mix of young and old. Mostly 40-50, with a good number of people in their 20s and 30s. Didn't see many seniors or college students and younger.