Strong Towns visited Grand Forks, ND in the spring of 2015 and the impacts of that visit—and the conversation it sparked—are still being felt today. Strong Towns member, Jonathan Holth, a resident, business owner and activist in Grand Forks, recently contacted us to tell us that Strong Towns principles are being incorporated into a new citizen-led planning effort for downtown Grand Forks. Jonathan serves as chair of the Mayor's Downtown Advisory Group and, together with his fellow committee members, has devoted hundreds of hours to the process, which is "completely citizen and private sector-led effort."
Jonathan explains, "Throughout the process, we’ve visited Winnipeg, Copenhagen, Fort Collins, Fargo, Bismarck, Minneapolis/St. Paul, and Duluth to meet with city leaders in those communities about best practices and what works/doesn’t work."
Most recently, the group presented a report titled "Engage. Animate. Catalyze." Jonathan stresses, "This is a visioning document, not a technical document. We’ve understood from the beginning that our group doesn’t have the technical expertise to address a lot of these issues, but we know that conversations need to continue, so our goal was to ensure that we produced something that “got the ball rolling” on these issues."
The focus of the report is shaping the best future for Grand Forks' downtown and the report highlights five key issues:
- Creating bold public spaces.
- Animating street life downtown.
- Improving access to and around downtown.
- Spurring development in key emerging areas of downtown.
- Mobilizing the right community policies, partners and resources to improve downtown.
Jonathan states, "[Strong Towns' visit] to Grand Forks played a key role in a lot of the things that are talked about in this document." Indeed, concepts that Strong Towns champions such as ensuring a good value per acre for local properties, building incrementally over time, making decisions at a local level and focusing on affordable transportation options rather than prioritizing parking above all else are all present in the document.
Jonathan tells us, "I wanted to pass it on to you [...] just so you could see the influence of your work as you visit communities. You’ve made an enormous impact on our downtown, and that will continue to come to fruition as the years pass."
We appreciate Jonathan's kind words, his dedication to his community, and their efforts to incorporate Strong Towns principles into shaping a better downtown Grand Forks. We're hoping to visit the region next year to see this progress.