The continuing push toward walkable communities and commercial corridors is spreading across the U.S. and shows no signs of slowing. As a result, many REALTORS® find themselves working with stakeholders in the public and private sectors to create multi-modal development corridors in their markets. Smart Growth America’s Complete Streets Program is one source of knowledge, guidance, and funding for commercial practitioners working on these unique opportunities.
Emiko Atherton, National Director of the Complete Streets program, oversees the National Complete Streets coalition whose goal is to “improve lives by improving communities.” NAR is a member of this community-minded coalition and has helped Atherton’s team roll out more than 1,300 complete streets policies across the country, building communities of all sizes.
Commercial Connections (CC): What is the primary goal of the Complete Streets Program?
Emiko Atherton (EA): We promote healthier, more walkable and bikeable communities by working with elected officials, transportation officials, developers, members of the community, and others to develop programs that improve communities and enhance people’s lives. Think of us as the home for all kinds of communities!
CC: Doesn’t this sort of urban design cost more?
EA: Smart Growth America conducted a study of 37 Complete Streets projects, looking closely at economic impact. We learned our projects are remarkably affordable compared to conventional transportation projects. Our data also suggests Complete Streets projects are related to broader economic gains like increased employment and higher property values.
CC: Can Smart Growth America work in suburbs, ‘county seat’ cities, and other rural settings?
More than half of Smart Growth projects are in these communities. Complete Streets takes into account what’s happening in each location and then works with engineers to identify the problems we’re trying to solve before offering solutions. We’re focused on rebuilding retail corridors and helping communities fight against high obesity rates. When you look at overall benefits in this manner, the dividends are huge and translate to increased revenue, retail growth, lower healthcare costs, less missed work, and more.
CC: Isn’t funding for smart growth projects confusing to understand and generally hard to come by?
EA: Not at all! We have a wide range of programs to help communities, provide technical assistance, and locate funds aimed at job creation and development. Part of our technical assistance is finding the best funding for the communities we’re working with on each project. One popular source is Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) Grants, which are offered by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
CC: Where can members go to initiate a dialogue with your organization?