What does it take to compete in the 21st century? Sports stadiums? Convention Centers? Here’s what the mayor of Carmel, Indiana has to say:
“We had to figure out how we were going to compete,” Brainard says. “We realized that if we wanted to succeed, we had to make Carmel a place that the best and brightest – from around the country and around the world – would want to live in. And we had to do it through the built environment.” (emphasis added)
Carmel’s top priority was quality of life achieved through the built environment. And it paid off. Carmel, once a suburban bedroom community of Indianapolis, was just voted Forbes #1 mid-size city in America. The key for Carmel was Smart-growth.
“People were yearning for what we realized was a ‘traditional’ town: being able to walk almost everywhere, not needing a car,” Brainard says. “So we thought, ‘Why can’t we build that?’ It’s what the community wanted and the financial benefits were great too, because developing in a cluster significantly brings down costs, especially compared to less concentrated development.” (emphasis added)
Furthermore, they are doing it with a Strong Towns approach. Likewise, they included extensive bicycle paths and pedestrian accommodations to make Carmel a walkable, bike-able community.
The built environment (and the focus on quality of life) is just as important, if not more important, than the big “one-offs” – “one-offs” such as luring a big company to town or building a football stadium. While these “one-offs” are important, they can never provide the sustained economic growth a city needs.
San Diego can become a competitive, first tier city by focusing on Smart-growth, quality of life, and the built environment. Unfortunately, City Hall and the U-T seemed to be focused on the “one-offs” – the football stadium, the convention center, luring the important big company. Why? because these projects look good for politicians and their legacy. There is no ribbon cutting ceremony for smart-growth.
Carmel is different than San Diego, but not so different than Hillcrest, or North Park, or City Heights. The infrastructure and the “bones” are in place in these neighborhoods. What is needed is the political will, and a change of focus and priority from City Hall to make San Diego a truly great city.