Welcome to our Sweet 16 Round of the Strongest Town Competition. We invite you to read the answers that representatives from these two towns provided to questions about transportation, incremental growth, adapting to challenges, and more. Please scroll down to the bottom to vote!


Photo by Doug Kerr

Photo by Doug Kerr

Carlisle, PA

Entry submitted by: Brenda Landis-Carlisle West Side Neighbors; Chris Varner-Elm Street Project Manager; Andrea Crouse-Parks and Rec Director; Neil Leary-Greater Carlisle Project; and Debra Figueroa-Assistant Borough Manager

Describe your town's transportation system and what transportation options are available for residents.

Over the past 10 years Carlisle has made incredible strides to expand transportation options to residents in and around town.  The 2 main streets that cross through the heart of Carlisle used to be 4 lanes wide.  This was much more than what was needed in our town of 19,000 residents.  A road diet was implemented to remove one lane each direction, create a middle turning lane and add bike paths in each direction.  To compliment that, Parks and Rec created a Bike and Pedestrian Trail Network that is 13.8 miles of trails for walking, running and biking and includes on-road and off-road trails, connects all 18 Borough parks, schools and downtown Carlisle. 2 years ago an in-town bus route was implemented that expanded the regional bus route that connects us to the greater Harrisburg area.

Give an example of an incremental project that your town has undertaken.

Dickinson College, the borough and many local businesses and orgs came together to create the Greater Carlisle Project (based on the Oberlin Project) which created an 8 part mission statement to address issues and improve our community with a focus on social and environmental sustainability.  Multiple open sessions were held to get views from residents and policy makers to see areas to focus on first.  One session focused on poverty and had 150 people in attendance.  From that, smaller working groups were started to further the process. This year we applied for and were awarded the Orton Heart and Soul grant to help engage the community and focus our direction by capturing the stories of our residents and finding what it most important to them.  This is a slow process but will help us to build support for projects that we would want to undertake in the future with the backing of our community.

Carlisle is very open to change and encourages residents to take an active part in these processes.

Describe how residents of your town are actively involved in local decision making.

Carlisle has a strong borough/neighborhood organization partnership and the best example of how this has been successful is through park improvements.  Starting in the 90's, neighbors came together to fundraise and build a large wooden playground by the Letort Spring Run.  In 2010 the East Side Neighbors focused their attention on Biddle Mission Park by raising funds for a walking path, playground equipment, pavilion and volley ball court. In 2012 the SOSO neighbors wanted to elevate a small pocket park that was neglected and again rallied neighbors to raise funds for improve play equipment.  Since 2013 the West Side Neighbors have been working on improve Heberlig-Palmer Park by adding in edible landscaping (fruit trees, shrubs), community garden, walking path, natural playscape, picnic area and improved parking.  All of these improvements only can happen when the borough supports the idea and allow neighbors to lead the process.  The Downtown Carlisle Association (a non-profit) allows us to use their 501c3 status to raise tax deductible funds for the improvements, Parks and Rec work with neighborhood orgs to follow best practices and laws in the design and Borough Council in the end has to approve the changes for the renovations to move forward.  Carlisle is very open to change and encourages residents to take an active part in these processes.

Tell us a story about how your town adapted to a challenge in some way.

Over the course of 3 years (2008-2010) Carlisle saw 3 manufacturing plants close in the heart of the town.  This left 3 brownfield sites that would require environmental remediation but the 50 acres of vacant property left in their wake creates a substantial urban redevelopment opportunity for the future. Since their respective closings, private sector interests have purchased and expressed redevelopment interest. All indicators show that reusing the sites for industrial purposes is not feasible or attractive.  The private sector owners of these sites have indicated a willingness to consider the creation of walkable, mixed-use infill redevelopment concepts that includes residential, commercial, and possibly light industrial uses. In order to promote redevelopment activities that are context sensitive, mesh well and do not conflict with the fabric of the surrounding neighborhoods the Borough prepared an Urban Redevelopment Plan for the area. The plan will integrate land use, transportation, and economic development planning to create a comprehensive urban redevelopment strategy for the northern part of the Borough. The Borough received state and federal grant funds along with local matching funds to undertake the planning process.

When traveling through the tree-lined streets and historic buildings, you begin to feel something special and unique about Carlisle. It is an atmosphere that is unmatched

Does you town have a central "downtown" or district? If so, please describe this place.

When traveling through the tree-lined streets and historic buildings, you begin to feel something special and unique about Carlisle. It is an atmosphere that is unmatched...a reflection of days gone by, but also in-the-moment excitement with each distinct possibility. It's a quiet and relaxing downtown during the day, but wait until you see the town light up on First Friday or during a car show weekend. Everything from shopping to fine arts, from Dickinson College to the Carlisle Theatre...all within walking distance. One of the unique opportunities in Carlisle is the ability to taste foods that span the globe. Sporting over 30 restaurants within few shorts blocks of each other, you can dine around the world. Enjoy tastes from different culinary styles, including Belgian, Italian, Japanese, English, Thai, and more. Since 1981, the Downtown Carlisle Association has been striving to enhance the civic, cultural and economic vitality of the entire community – retail, service, academic, government and industry.

What is your favorite thing about your town?

We love the can-do spirit of the people who live here, their passion for this small but thriving community and the ability to push our town forward while still embracing our rich history.  Carlisle has a diverse population our large African American and Bosnian communities help shape our values and strengthen our multi-cultural values. Carlisle embraces and promotes education through our 3 large, historical institutions; Dickinson College, Penn State Dickinson School of Law and the Army War College.  These schools are not islands but are engaged in the community and collaborate with each other and open their doors so the public and can learn from their rich knowledge through their many events and speakers.


Photo by high limitzz

Photo by high limitzz

Annapolis, MD

Entry submitted by: Alex Pline

Describe your town's transportation system and what transportation options are available for residents.

Annapolis is for the most part very walkable in the downtown area and older neighborhoods. It is 8 square miles and you can get anywhere in the city and even the developing outskirts within a 2 mile radius, easily done by ordinary people by bike, although there are many holes in the safe routes around the city. We have several bus options: a city owned bus system that services the immediate surrounding area that is low quality substance transit as well as state run commuter buses to Washington DC, which does attract mostly choice riders.

Give an example of an incremental project that your town has undertaken.

There have been a variety of smaller very successful residential and mixed use infill projects. There has been movement toward reducing minimum parking requirements in some areas to help further these kinds of small projects. The city has just hired an outside firm (SP+) to consolidate on street and off street parking management, which will provide a holistic way to better utilize the existing assets with market-based pricing strategies.

Describe how residents of your town are actively involved in local decision making.

For its size (40,000 people), the city has a large number of citizen advisory boards and commissions, some even with quasi legal authority (the Planning Commission and Board of Appeals). Furthermore, we have many neighborhood and community groups including homeowners associations that are very active in the public debate. The city does "sector studies" as part of its comprehensive planning process and tries to be very inclusive with residents and businesses.

Annapolis has weathered the 2008 economic storm reasonably well.

Tell us a story about how your town adapted to a challenge in some way.

Annapolis has weathered the 2008 economic storm reasonably well. There were some huge challenges to the budget immediately following, but the city under two mayors did a good job at getting spending under control while maintaining most city services at an acceptable level. In addition they were able to replace a 100 year old water treatment plant and shore up pension funds with some, but not large tax increases. It was a realistic look at all facets of the problem approach to solving the problem. It was able to do this because they do not have a huge amount of geographically distributed infrastructure.

Does you town have a central "downtown" or district? If so, please describe this place.

Yes, we have a historic colonial downtown and a traditional Main Street with a terminated vista at BOTH ends (Church and harbor). It is also the state Capital. We have a place downtown by the water that is a natural "gathering place" that contains a focal Market House originally used to sell seafood unloaded from the docks downtown. We also have a very vibrant corridor on one of the spokes emanating from the central Church Circle which has been dubbed the "Arts District" by a collection of business owners. It contains local restaurants, bars, offices and housing units (including one of the aforementioned infill projects).

I can live here and go about my daily life often without using a car.

What is your favorite thing about your town?

It's a charming small city. Small enough that we say there are only 3 degrees of separation. The older parts (pre 1980s) are extremely walkable, with a good street grids, colonial and other eclectic housing stock, and despite 30+ zoning districts, still a fair amount of permitted mixed use. It has an old, small town feel, yet is within commuting distance to two major metropolitan areas (Washington and Baltimore). We have a decent arts and entertainment scene (a local orchestra and historic Maryland Hall for the performing arts) and it is known as the "Sailing Capital", a funny play on the fact that it is the state capital and a town with a rich sailing history. I can live here and go about my daily life often without using a car for many days on end as I use the combination of my bike to the bus stop to DC for work and use my bike for most around town trips year round. While there is a little sprawl around one edge of the city into the surrounding County which has much looser development regulations, we have significant geographical constraints due to the shoreline and tributaries which will ultimately limit the kinds of growth that happen when there is plentiful room on the edge. The land here is very valuable and if people are willing to accept that we are a walkable and bikeable city, not an autodependent suburb, this additional growth/intensification can occur organically and successfully in a Strong Towns kind of way. This is a huge leg up on the surrounding County that is growing in an unsustainable way.


Voting is now closed.