Urban planning community

+ Reply to thread
Results 1 to 23 of 23

Thread: Planning for very small towns

  1. #1
    Member
    Registered
    Jan 2007
    Location
    Wilson, Texas
    Posts
    6

    Planning for very small towns

    I'm looking for folks that have had experience planning for very small, population under 700, towns. I've recently taken the city manager/planner position for a small town with a projected growth over the next ten years of - (yes, that's a minus) 100 residents according to the water source analysis I located in a drawer. The previous manager worked non stop to implement new services and improvements that were shot down at every turn by the city council. The city has a plan from 1980 that I found, that has never been followed through on and I'm lost for a way to show the city council that their town is dying. The main problem seems to be a "status quo" mentality. Anybody with some words of wisdom?

  2. #2
    Cyburbian Budgie's avatar
    Registered
    Feb 2000
    Location
    Sans Souci
    Posts
    5,265
    The wide open nature of your question should generate a very long thread. I have dozens of thoughts on the matter but I'll start with a couple of very basic observations.

    The good news... you're in a small town... the bad news... you're in a small town.

    Working through a concensus building process you can find out exactly what the community's priorities are. With 700 people this is easier than with 100,000 people where 99,950 of them will be silent. However, small town politics generally allows 3 or 4 people (you already know who they are) to derail good ideas.

    The that will be set should be realistic both in terms of the cities means to make them happen or to accomodate the change once it occurs. Realistic small town plans will likely include basic service improvements (replacing or repair of aging facilities), neighborhood clean ups, dangerous structure demolition and increased enforcement of existing ordinances (cats and dogs, inoperable vehicles, vegetation control, refuse control, etc...).

    Another difficulty IMHO is that there is no zoning authority for Texas Counties. There is no control just beyond your borders.
    "And all this terrible change had come about because he had ceased to believe himself and had taken to believing others. " - Leo Tolstoy

  3. #3
    Cyburbian Joe Iliff's avatar
    Registered
    Aug 1997
    Location
    Clowns to the left, jokers to the right
    Posts
    1,438
    An argument I've used in the past is that you have to work to maintain the "status quo". If change is inevitable, than you have to work to stay the same, you have to change into what you already are to avoid changing into something else. Think of it like drifting with the current of a river. To maintain your position relative to the shore, you have to be going upstream as fast as the current is pushing you downstream. Status quo won't stay unless you work at it.

    Another thing that can scare very small communities is that "the plan" is too big, too complex for them. You can scale a plan so that it coordinates actions that are in proportion to your community, so each action is something comfortable to your community, something congruent with the status quo. The plan doesn't have to introduce "strange" elements and actions to the community. Try to focus on coordinating what you already do for maximum effect.
    JOE ILIFF
    ________________________________________________________________________
    Debt is normal . . . Be weird!
    Dave Ramsey

    "Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think."
    Martin Luther King, Jr.

  4. #4
    Super Moderator luckless pedestrian's avatar
    Registered
    Aug 2005
    Location
    in a meeting
    Posts
    8,496
    I work for a town with 5k year round, so not as small but it's New England, so it's really small...

    well, at least you can get to know your audience - you might want to start out just by simply meeting everyone - pot lucks, door to door, open house, whatever it takes - informal conversations have often brought me the best information - people are more relaxed and insightful over a cup of coffee

    you can find out why they shot things down in the past so you won't do the same thing - you also need to find out why people are leaving (though it's likely why anyone leaves a town, jobs, education, etc.)

    you have time, it doesn't sound like you have any emergencies to deal with so just blend in with the people and gradually you will figure out what they want

    keep us posted and good luck!!!!

  5. #5
    I would start by showing the trend in population from census data. Make simple graphs/charts on excel showing the decline in population. This should be easily understood by anyone above a 5th grade math level.
    I concur with Joe's recommendation about the master plan, although it is over 25 years old, the data may need updated. If you could update the important parts of that data in-house or thru a consultant, that could also be valuable to your council.
    What are your town's strengths (what do they do well)? Services? Businesses? Parks? Those items you want to strive to keep at a high level.
    Whatever will make you "stand out" will keep and draw more residents to your town - if that is your goal.
    I am assuming you are looking for low-cost improvements, do alot of grant-hunting (state, federal, for funding that applies to towns your size. Any money you can get for free is a bonus.
    Subcommittes with nay-sayers focusing on specific items may also help (parks improvement, downtown improvement, neighborhood improvement, business development, etc) the local economy would also be a good start. Assign key staff members to these committes who can actually make these things happen.
    If you don't have good staff that can make improvements happen or don't "buy into" these ideas, that is a another animal. You may need to give a "pep talk" to staffers to get them on board first. Address those who don't want to buy into your ideas and see their concerns.
    Good luck, it sounds like a challenging job ahead of you.
    Who's gonna re-invent the wheel today?

  6. #6
    Member
    Registered
    Jan 2007
    Location
    Wilson, Texas
    Posts
    6
    These are all wonderful suggestions and I look forward to hearing many more of them. I have found that there are several reasons for the outflow of residents from our town, among them are the school system that has been moving in a downhill direction for the past few years, along with the lack of amenities like having all the streets in town paved, park upkeep, etc.. The main problem that I've found so far is that about 20 years ago this city was having to borrow money to fund its day to day operations and the city council of today is still somewhat gun shy about expenditures because of that. Parks are the mayor's pet project and I'm doing my best right now to make updates to the parks and draft a parks plan for the city in order to better utilize the one city park and the now defunct little league field as well as address future needs. Beyond this I'm trying to address things like a lack of water rate increases in the last 25 years along with a break even mentality on other city services billing. The greatest challenge at the current moment is that the city council is afraid that more people will begin to leave if they update their service rates. It's a long road ahead, and I'm trying to baby step this city into the future so it doesn't get ahead of itself and fall into a big hole. As far as service, retail, or industry, there is a cotton gin. Nothing more. And a severe lack of available housing that is up to code and standards of living. Those are changes that I trully hope to address over the next year with both code enforcement efforts and development of an incentive plan for new businesses. Thanks for the advice and keep it coming. I'm gonna need it.

  7. #7
    Super Moderator luckless pedestrian's avatar
    Registered
    Aug 2005
    Location
    in a meeting
    Posts
    8,496
    wait a second, did you say you have a mayor?

    700 people with a mayoral form of government?

    wow

    yes, baby steps!

  8. #8
    Member
    Registered
    Jan 2007
    Location
    Wilson, Texas
    Posts
    6
    yep. very scary.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian RandomPlanner's avatar
    Registered
    Mar 2005
    Location
    Dibs on the Northeast
    Posts
    648
    Quote Originally posted by Joe Iliff View post
    An argument I've used in the past is that you have to work to maintain the "status quo". If change is inevitable, than you have to work to stay the same, you have to change into what you already are to avoid changing into something else. Think of it like drifting with the current of a river. To maintain your position relative to the shore, you have to be going upstream as fast as the current is pushing you downstream. Status quo won't stay unless you work at it...
    Oooh, what a great and true statement. The question to ask yourself then becomes how do we remain the same?? (if that's the goal here) What are the important things that the community wants to maintain?
    Quote Originally posted by Joe Iliff View post

    Another thing that can scare very small communities is that "the plan" is too big, too complex for them. You can scale a plan so that it coordinates actions that are in proportion to your community, so each action is something comfortable to your community, something congruent with the status quo. The plan doesn't have to introduce "strange" elements and actions to the community. Try to focus on coordinating what you already do for maximum effect.
    And remember, your comprehensive/master plan doesn't need to be in one consise document. It can be the 25 year old MP, with adendums and other related documents or studies.

    Also, what is the acreage of this town/city? If it's an ag community, are the farmers raising junior farmers or are the kids all leaving? Are people being bought out or or they just letting property go for taxes?
    The questions may be: What's happening? Why? And what do we think about that? to start.
    How do I know you are who you think you are?

  10. #10
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
    Registered
    Jun 2003
    Location
    at the neighboring pub
    Posts
    5,301
    If you want some assistance drafting a new plan, etc., I'd strongly suggest you contact the planning departments at University of Texas and Texas A&M. They have graduate programs that go out to small towns, often with high poverty levels and major infrastructure issues, and help them put together a plan of action for free.

    For the substandard housing, you need to get in touch with the Texas Office of Rural Community Affairs and the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs. They have a bunch of grant money available through Community Development Block Grant and HOME Investment Partnership programs that can be used for rehabilitation and new construction. There's also some park grants available out there (I think through Parks & Wildlife Department)--you can contact Bulverde, TX for information about that grant.

    Wilson is reasonably close to Lubbock... for economic development you should look for ways to take advantage of that. Also, you could look in Lubbock to see if any Community Development Corporations or other non-profits are interested in expanding their area of work to Wilson.

    Also, talk to your state congressional rep and state congressional senator... You'd be amazed at the strings they can pull to help you out--especially with that classic West Texas good ol' boy network.

    "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

    - Herman Göring at the Nuremburg trials (thoughts on democracy)

  11. #11
    Member
    Registered
    Jan 2007
    Location
    Charlottesville, VA
    Posts
    1
    Check out TJPDC.org, in their resource section there is a Design Manual for Small Towns. The design aspects you know, but what may be useful is the manner in which it is presented. It is very simple to understand and could be a good resource to help local officials learn.. The trick of course is to somehow allow them to believe they found it on their own and they aren't actually learning anything. In my small town I find that people love two things, griping, which can be very useful, and food. Food is the most important way to bring small towns together, because while they may be small there are still cliques and divisions that can be erased with good BBQ. It sounds simplistic, but that is the point and it will bring more people out and togther than anything I know. The non-profit I work for is going to try and go the next step with this resource tjpdc started and actually expand into neighborhood design and provide actual code language written and ready to go. All you need is one advocate that everyone either likes or needs. In our town it was a mortgage lender that everyone trusts and needs, and he had an interest in revitalization and he was comfortable speaking before groups and always in a friendly and respectful wway no matter how sticky the situation. Let that person sell your new ideas, work with them and think in terms of facilitating rather than leading. You may not be able to actually change anything big, but you could help improve the quality of life. I suspect their are plenty out there willing to participate, but they won't be at any meetings and they haven't been vocal for years. Long time residents who support your efforts will start showing up. (especially if there's food).-

  12. #12
    Corn Burning Fool giff57's avatar
    Registered
    Jul 1998
    Location
    On the Mother River
    Posts
    4,570
    I love small towns, but working in them is a challenge. Find out what the utlity rates are in other towns to combat the fear that people will leave because of that. It costs a lot to move and it would have to be a very large difference to make people leave.

    It is all about the amenities, people live where things are nice and are more apt to move because the infrastructure is crap than having to pay a few extra bucks. If you can get people to attend, (it may involve free food) a public meeting where your citizens can tell your electeds what they would like to see happen in the next few years can be helpful.
    “As soon as public service ceases to be the chief business of the citizens, and they would rather serve with their money than with their persons, the State is not far from its fall”
    Jean-Jacques Rousseau

  13. #13
    Cyburbian biscuit's avatar
    Registered
    Nov 2002
    Location
    Paris of Appalachia
    Posts
    3,902
    Quote Originally posted by luckless pedestrian View post
    wait a second, did you say you have a mayor?

    700 people with a mayoral form of government?

    wow

    yes, baby steps!
    Ha, the first town I worked in (for free) had a mayoral form of government and a population of <200. The plan was pretty basic, and being my first probably not of the highest quality, however, it sits on a library shelf never to see the light of day again. I think the Council there was looking for a document that validated their poorly thought-out utility expansion and when they got something that said the very opposite they decided it wasn't worth a second look. So tread carefully, and get to know your audience before you proceed.

    In other small towns I've found that doing a basic asset profile/ needs assessment that involves the community helps smooth things over in the beginning.

  14. #14
    Cyburbian Tobinn's avatar
    Registered
    Aug 2005
    Location
    Clearwater, FL
    Posts
    260

    Ownership

    My advice is to foster a sense of buy-in. But first you need to see if you can convince these folks that there is a problem. If they don't see a problem then you can pretty much forget everything else. If you can get them to see the problem then you need to get them to come up with the plan (with your expert guidance, of course).

    For example, here in Clearwater, FL we worked on a downtown design guideline document. We formed a steering committee made up of representatives of every downtown organization, some business owners, residents and a City Commissioner. We then brought the document, section by section as we (and I mean the collective "we") wrote it. Because we had complete buy-in from all the affected parties there was "0" opposition and almost no discussion at the public meetings. This is because the people that would normally oppose the plan helped write the thing and the Commission saw and approved the plan section by section in easy to read and digest chunks so when we got to the end with a decent sized document everyone had already seen everything and had a say in it's creation - no opposition.

    Of course, there was agreement that there was a problem in the first place and that there was a need for design guidelines.....

  15. #15
    Member
    Registered
    Jul 2006
    Location
    philadelphia pa
    Posts
    2

    planning for small towns

    have you looked at Tom Daniels, "Small Town Planning Handbook". It has some interested insights which may help your cause. It is layed out (as are all his books) in a very textbook fashion (in fact he is a prof. at UPenn). Hope it helps...

  16. #16
    Member
    Registered
    Feb 2008
    Location
    Lockport, NY
    Posts
    3

    Small Town

    I agree with some of the others. Since it is a small town, you have the opportunity to get to know these people....and you should.

    By allowing them to get to know you - they will trust you more and will be more likely to help you fight for the change that is needed.

    Also, IMHO, a plan should constantly be reviewed and updated (an "evergreen" document). It should not be something you write and stick in a drawer...that's for the last will and testament.

  17. #17
    Member
    Registered
    Feb 2008
    Location
    Austin, TX
    Posts
    1
    I agree with the suggestion to tap into state resources, and want to add that the Texas Department of Agriculture-Rural Economic Development Office has some great resources for small communities.

    I don't know if you have any historic buildings in your downtown, but you may also want to look into the grant programs offered by the Texas Historical Commission - I seem to remember sending something out to our members about this just a couple of weeks ago.

    I work for a non-profit association that works with downtown professionals from across the state and a lot of our members are from smaller communities. Contact me offline at info@texasdowntown.org if you'd like more information.

    All the best,
    Catherine Sak

  18. #18
    Member
    Registered
    Feb 2008
    Location
    Denver, co
    Posts
    1

    Estimating Commercial area need upon population within area

    Does anyone know of a QUICK way to estimate potential commercial area based upon population or number of residents?

  19. #19
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
    Registered
    Aug 2001
    Location
    The Cheese State
    Posts
    9,943
    Quote Originally posted by lveckel View post
    Does anyone know of a QUICK way to estimate potential commercial area based upon population or number of residents?
    Standard practice in the "reality-based" planning I do. Reference the Economic Census and consumer expenditures publications from the census bureau. You can derive averages for household expenditires and average sales per square foot in the state. You may want to tweak these based on local demographic characteristics to get numbers you feel are comfortable.

    I usually let the committee or public do the next part. Provide an overview of the area you are planning. Talk about the population, market potential, traffic patterns, and competing sites. Go over the various things we spend money on, like cars, groceries, etc. Ask the committee members or public to then estimate how much of the market potential in the area they think can be captured on-site, versus what people will travel elsewhere to buy. It surprises me, but in most places, people have a pretty good sense that the district may support a grocery, but not a discount store, or that it may attract a pharmacy but not an auto dealer. Anyway, then you can average the results or provide a range, and estimate the square footage that should be accommodated. I'll usually go the next step, then, to actually plan a couple alternatives for a site (i.e., strip center, town center) using the square footage expected.

    Example: The community has a pretty typical demographic for the state. Household spending on the categories selected is $23,350, and average sales per square foot in the state are $264. The expected number of households in the trade area is between 6000 and 7000. The results from the survey came back that people thought the neighborhood might capture from 7 to 50 percent of the total spending, but averaged 20 percent. This came out to $30-35 million in total spending. At $264 per square foot, the neighborhood commercial center should be designed for 114,000 to 133,000 square feet of space.
    Anyone want to adopt a dog?

  20. #20
    Member
    Registered
    Mar 2008
    Location
    Bay Area Cali
    Posts
    15
    My only advice would be to get to know as many of the 700 people as possible and gain their trust. Spent some time in the local bar, cruise the ranches, get your hands dirty.

  21. #21
    Member
    Registered
    Dec 2007
    Location
    La Plata , Maryland
    Posts
    1

    Rural Development

    Here in Maryland, State Planning Department embarking on process to develop State Development Plan (SDP), like NJ, RI and others have completed. I am looking for examples, guidance for inclusion of a a rural development element within the proposed SDP.

    dmj

  22. #22
    Member
    Registered
    Jan 2007
    Location
    Wilson, Texas
    Posts
    6

    Perhaps a long winded update.

    It's been quite a while since I started this thread and I've been quite busy during that time. We have experienced some good things as well as some difficulties in the last few months. When I first wrote my plea for help we were ramping up a major water works grant project for water main improvement and I've been quite busy with that. The council has taken a good hard look at the aging water and wastewater infrastructure and past billing practices, through the wonderful help of our contracted engineers. The wastewater system will likely not have its permit renewed.
    I'm up to my eyeballs in grant information at the moment trying to figure out how we are going to fund the facilities if I can't convince the state to allow us an extension on our permits. The consultant helping with this process, along with our engineers and myself, have discussed with the council the need to use the money that's been saved on the governmental side to attract residents or businesses to town to help fund the business of water and sewer. We have been encouraging the council to form a planning committee to look at future needs and what can be done to attract the needed people.
    The major consensus among the council is that the first thing that is needed is to clean up the town. I agree with that and have set up community cleanups as funding has been made available, although those efforts are not allowed to exceed a very limited amount of money. We have weak, but enforceable ordinances regarding property appearance but the only city employees are myself and the city secretary, which makes enforcement very difficult. Recently, I spoke with local business owners who feel like the clean up efforts are worthwhile and have pledged equipment as well as individual staff members of those businesses that have pledged time to a cleanup effort. The only issue with the project now is that the city must foot the bill for disposal costs, which I agree with, however the council, read the most vocal and oppositional member, feels that I should be able to find a way to get the money donated for the disposal as well.
    This may seem like a rant, but its really just a long way of saying that we have made some strides forward as far as really looking at the past financial decisions of the city and the understanding that cheap is not always best. At the same time, the adventure of getting the council to fund the efforts that it has requested continues. There's good and bad, I choose to remain optimistic and continue encouraging local residents to attend the council meetings and see firsthand what is happening with their tax money.

  23. #23
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
    Registered
    Aug 2001
    Location
    The Cheese State
    Posts
    9,943
    A majority of my clients tend to be rural. About a year ago I did an exercise with a larger, but still rural community, that you might consider. We met with representatives of the business community one-on-one to assess their perceptions of the business climate and issues (positive and negative) that were impacting the city's growth and quality of life. We then followed up with a survey of employees. It asked questions regarding community appearance, housing quality, recreation and entertainment, crime and safety, infrastructure, leadership, schools, and a variety of other issues.

    Importantly, we included questions to allow us to sort responses based on whether the respondent was originally from the area or had moved there from outside fo the area (we defined as beyond two hours away). What this showed was that there was some general agreement on issues that needed to be addressed, but that the "born and raised" crowd and newcomers radically differed on their perceptions of some social and cultural concerns. For example, locals thought they had a serious crime issue, the city offered good restaurants and shopping, and rental housing quality was not a problem. Newcomers were opposite.

    As a result of our work the city has assembled task forces to work on some of the top concerns to come out of the analysis. The knowledge of the different perceptions of newcomers has allowed them to target their marketing and the concerns they need to address to attract new workers and businesses. All of the results have provided political support for the city to fund expenditures to address their initiatives (including capital expenditures on infrastructure).
    Anyone want to adopt a dog?

+ Reply to thread

More at Cyburbia

  1. Why so many elderly in small towns?
    Rural and Small Town Planning
    Replies: 20
    Last post: 12 May 2013, 9:17 AM
  2. Replies: 4
    Last post: 04 Dec 2012, 2:13 PM
  3. Best small towns?
    Rural and Small Town Planning
    Replies: 32
    Last post: 17 Jul 2012, 10:52 AM
  4. Replies: 10
    Last post: 16 Jul 2009, 1:08 PM
  5. Are there some small towns that just can't be saved?
    Economic and Community Development
    Replies: 43
    Last post: 08 Apr 2007, 12:34 PM