Welcome to another match up in 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.


Wausau, WI

Entry submitted by: Andrew Plath

Give an example of an incremental project that has happened in your town.

One of the major projects in Wausau in the past few years has been the revitalization of sections of its east side riverfront. Imagine taking a seedy vacant old industrial area, tearing every thing down, filling it back in with grass and new soil, opening up an underground stream, and putting together plans for new apartments, parkland, and even a restaurant along with extending the city's River Edge Trail through the area making what was once ugly into something to be proud of.

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

Although we struggle with getting our Metro-ride Bus System out into the suburban communities (too much politics in the way), we have created together a metro area network of bicycle routes that are both on and off road through out the metro area. We have worked hard to become recognized as a bike friendly city that is also highly walkable.

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

The city has several citizen advisory committees covering every issue. Significant changes have been made on street projects through the influence of the city's Bicycle & Pedestrian Advisory committee. We also have numerous neighborhood groups that discuss issues that affect their part of the city. We work to put everything into a positive light.

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

For years the City of Wausau was an obstacle to cyclists. Those on long distance tours would wind up leaving Wausau grumbling how the whole infrastructure, traffic laws, and general public attitudes seemed to object to cycling. The creation of a metropolitan area bike route system helped to change all that . We can now promote out town as a bike friendly city.

Is your town financially strong and resilient for future generations? How do you know?

We look for growth. We look for attracting young professionals. The fact is that we are willing to redevelop areas even when the financial picture looks bleak.

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

Our Downtown River District is a alive with restaurants and locally owned stores. The 400 Block in the heart of the downtown is the site for many things from art festivals to open-air concerts, to ice skating in winter. Across the street from the 400 Block is The Grand Theater, a classic place for the performing arts. We have many fine arts galleries including the Center for Visual Arts next door.

What is your favorite thing about your town?

Wausau is a very friendly and welcoming city.


No Oaks Ridge, the first SmartCode thoroughfare in Fitchburg, showing T5 and T4 development and the East Cheryl Pkwy cycle track (green, at bottom, from Google Maps)

No Oaks Ridge, the first SmartCode thoroughfare in Fitchburg, showing T5 and T4 development and the East Cheryl Pkwy cycle track (green, at bottom, from Google Maps)

Fitchburg, WI

Entry submitted by: Steve Arnold

Give an example of an incremental project that has happened in your town.

The mayor holds monthly listening sessions to solicit low-cost, low-risk suggestions for improving Fitchburg. At the July 2014 listening session, a resident asked, "Why doesn't our neighborhood have street trees?" The neighborhoods has old housing stock, primarily garden apartments, with high poverty, immigrants, and residents of color. After more than a year of planning, annual "growth" funding (to increase the urban canopy) was directed to the neighborhood, and 43 new street trees were planted, including the last four by six classes from the local elementary school. The kids now "own" those trees! 

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

A former town and more recently developed in conventional suburban form, Fitchburg is transitioning away from complete auto dependency. Blessed with a world-class network of off-road multi-use trails and paths, the business community has taken on bicycle-friendliness as a defining characteristic. This has led to investment in local paths and bike lanes, bicycle parking, and bicycle friendly events, policies, and programs. Businesses have called for the extension of Madison's B-cycle bike-share program to Fitchburg, and city leaders are working to make that a reality.

Fitchburg is served by Metro Transit, but current service is oriented toward Madison, and there is no para-transit service, service to the city hall campus, or cross-city service. The mayor is committed to expanding service, and a reluctant Council seems to be warming to the idea, funding a shared-ride service for 2017.

Fitchburg is replacing street pavement at the rate of every 45 years, but the mayor is harping on the need to increase road maintenance funding, develop in-fill sites, and build more productive thoroughfares. Because of debate between Council and mayor, and terrible and worsening pavement condition, residents are beginning to understand the details of this issue.

The city has participated in several plan for health grants, and is a data analysis area for Active Living Index. One elementary school has a walking school bus, and the MPO is undertaking to fund a safe routes to school coordinator for the MPO service area. The mayor is investigating pursuing Walk-Friendly City designation.

The mayor holds monthly listening sessions around the city to solicit suggestions and answer questions.

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

City commissions consist of residents with interest and expertise in specific areas, like parks, historic preservation, and senior services. Policy decisions are referred to these commissions for recommendations to Council. Over the last three years, efforts have been made to diversify commission composition by neighborhood, race, age, gender, and linguistic tradition. The mayor holds monthly listening sessions around the city to solicit suggestions and answer questions. Such issues as neighborhood and transportation planning, park design and naming, and agriculture policies, are subject to extensive public outreach.

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

The conventional suburban development form covering most of the city does not generate enough city revenue to meet on-going service and infrastructure maintenance expenses. The mayor and staff know this, and are seeking to develop more productive thoroughfares in greenfield neighborhoods. The current mayor brought the SmartCode transit-oriented and traditional neighborhood development and zoning code to the city in 2010, and three new, large neighborhoods have been zoned to SmartCode New Community.

The mayor uses parcel shape files, assessed valuations, and ArcScene to show staff and city leaders Urban-3-style value landscapes to illustrate his goals for neighborhood revenue productivity. Use of the SmartCode and a focus on city revenue from new projects has started to slow the rise of tax rates and improve the infrastructure in the city.

We are now working to project road maintenance liabilities and achieve sustainable road maintenance budgeting.

Is your town financially strong and resilient for future generations? How do you know?

Fitchburg has an Aa1 bond rating, based on evaluations that unfortunately look only at short term financial projections and do not expose long-term infrastructure maintenance liabilities. The city will switch from a 5- to a 10-year capital improvement program in 2017, and has already inventoried all future park maintenance liabilities for the useful life of each asset. We are now working to project road maintenance liabilities and achieve sustainable road maintenance budgeting. (Most city roads are in their first or second 25-year generation.) The mayor and staff are committed to analysis of long-term maintenance and service obligations, and are bringing along the Council.

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

Developed Fitchburg is best understood as Madison overflowing over an arbitrary line, and so conventional sprawl development dominates. However the Comprehensive Plan calls for new, urban (traditional and transit-oriented) neighborhoods to be developed down its eastern rail line, and is sticking to that program. "Uptown Fitchburg" will be 4- to 6-story mid-rise development under our SmartCode, and is targeted by Fitchburg and Madison plans to be served by both bus rapid transit and commuter rail. Each new neighborhood reserves space for a rail station, and conventional bus transit is in place. Residential density is 20 units or more/A, and commercial develoment is on the near horizon.

What is your favorite thing about your town?

As a former town, the incorporated City of Fitchburg is one-third suburban with growing urban nodes, and two-thirds natural and agricultural areas. It has blossomed into the most diverse city in Dane County, with 31.3% residents of color, with religious and economic diversity to match. It is thus a microcosm of Dane County and all of Wisconsin. Fitchburg leaders are not afraid to innovate, and so have introduced the SmartCode and experimented with new trends in regional planning, solid waste management, public safety, and public health, serving as a laboratory for the county and the state.


Voting is now closed.