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MIBOR REALTORŪ Association Leverages NAR Smart Growth Grant for Walkability Workshop; Draws Dozens of City Planners & Leaders

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In March 2017, MIBOR REALTOR® Association (MIBOR) convened a group of city planners, elected officials and community leaders from across the region for a two-part walkability workshop in Franklin, Indiana which is located 25 minutes south of Indianapolis. MIBOR was one of the first local associations to secure a Smart Growth grant from the National Association of REALTORS® for this project. NAR initiated this effort because walkable communities reflect the basics of placemaking, creating and establishing places where people want to live and visit. These attributes are vital to the success of the real estate community.

How was the grant used?

With the NAR grant, MIBOR brought in two national walkability experts from Blue Zones, LLC to host an audit along a mile-stretch of US 31 in Franklin and an all-day WalkShop for local planners and developers. Franklin planners and officials joined with BlueZones, Indiana Department of Transportation officials and representatives from the Johnson County Chamber of Commerce and Johnson County Development Corporation to conduct a windshield and walking tour of a portion of US-31. This thoroughfare is like many others in our surrounding communities. It poses challenges with the connectivity between housing and retail and poses significant safety concerns. The group assessed the walkability and pedestrian safety of the road and several intersections and discussed ways Franklin can take steps toward making the area a more pedestrian-friendly place along with establishing needed connectivity.

Planning experts, elected officials and community leaders from across the Central Indiana region gathered the following day to see, feel and hear the treatments and principles of walkability and Complete Streets in action. They learned best practices for addressing challenges and enhancing strengths their communities already offer. Collectively the group worked to set shared next steps to take back to their communities.

What did we learn?

One of the overarching themes of the WalkShop was to focus planning on people and community first. “(If elected officials and planners) plan for cars and traffic, you get cars and traffic. If you plan for people and places, you get people and places,” said Dan Burden of Blue Zones, LLC.

Per the Blue Zones, LLC presentation, “Neighborhoods decline when the people who live there lose their connection and no longer feel part of their community. Recapturing that sense of belonging and pride of place can be as simple as planting a civic garden or placing some benches in a park.”

And regarding Smart Growth, the way to challenge status quo and make change is “one incremental model project at a time.” Blue Zones encourages municipalities to make all new projects ‘model’ projects. Assess all street projects with Complete Streets and placemaking in mind.

Participants in the WalkShop had an opportunity to take part in a mini walkability audit around the downtown courthouse and surrounding area.

The main takeaway was that small details like lane size, curb design, sidewalk size and utilities all matter. To make the big picture work, municipalities must pay attention to those small details, plan collaboratively and focus on livability and quality of life.

 “The built environment impacts health, well-being and happiness – either positively or negatively,” said Burden.

Overall, the event proved to be an eye-opening experience for all that attended. All respondents agreed that they left with next steps that they plan to pursue in their communities.

Blue Zones compiled a comprehensive report after the Walk Audit and Walkshop with observations and recommendations. The overarching opportunities and next steps they outlined include:

Taming and reshaping the suburban corridors and streets towards more people- and business-friendly places calls for the following overarching best practices and shared next steps, which emerged during the walkability workshop:

  • Adopt and Implement Complete Streets Polices – Create a Model
  • Address Target Speed
  • Use Paint
  • Make Narrower Travel Lanes the Default; Less is More
  • Improve Crosswalk Markings
  • Address Complex Intersections; Adopt a “Roundabouts First” Policy
  • Green the Street
  • Design for Livability and Human-Scale

The next step for the MIBOR team will be to share the Blue Zones, LLC report and recommendations with the planners and developers that attended the Walkshop and work with each to support actionable goal setting and execution. Furthermore, the team plans to help other communities in the MIBOR service area replicate walk audit and evaluation events, and engage local elected leaders and planners in the conversation.

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