As part of this year's Strongest Town Contest, we've invited Strong Towns members and activists to provide guest commentary on each of the towns in our first round based on Strong Towns principles. While these commentators have not had the chance to visit each town themselves, they read the town's application to the contest, as well as conducted additional background research on the community.
Today, we've got two commentaries on the contest's next match-up: Pensacola, FL vs. Palmetto Bay, FL. Visit this page to see each town's submission, then read on below to hear a Strong Towns member perspective on these communities. Contest voting closes at 12pm CT on Friday, March 9.
Commentary by Grant Henninger, a Strong Towns member from Anaheim, California.
Land Use and Transportation
Pensacola, FL has a real mix of land uses. Some make wonderful use of land, while others are as wasteful as they come. Downtown Pensacola is a picturesque mixed-use neighborhood that appears to make efficient use of the land. However, just north of downtown is a freeway that bisects the city and connects the downtown to an auto-oriented regional shopping mall. The majority of the land area in Pensacola is made up of blocks and blocks of single-family neighborhoods, with no neighborhood-serving commercial uses.
Pensacola has a largely intact historic street grid that can serve as a basis for a world-class transportation system. In recent years, the city has worked to convert some of their wider roads to be more multi-modal, especially around their downtown. These incremental investments have lead to outsized returns. However, the majority of the city is still entirely auto-dependant, mostly because there is nowhere to walk or bike to within a reasonable distance of most houses, and there is no mass transit serving large parts of the city.
A Pensacola resident just wrote an entire book called, Building a Vibrant Community: How Citizen-Powered Change is Reshaping America, about how the community in Pensacola is coming together to transform the city. If an entire book can be written about the strong citizens of a single town, then not much more needs to be said here.
Residents and community groups have also come together in Pensacola to advocate for more funding from the Federal Government and the BP oil spill settlement funds to help rebuild the city. This might not be the most Strong Towns type of approach to prosperity, but at least it shows the community coming together for something.
Pensacola appears to be very reliant on outside funding to enact any of its projects. It received a $2 million grant from the EPA for an estuary program and the city is applying for funds from the BP oil spill settlement to complete a road diet project. Furthermore, the city appears to be using its own funds for larger scale gambles to enhance future city revenue and so far those gambles seem to be paying off.
Today Pensacola's economy appears to be healthy. The City has rebuilt its tourism industry and worked to diversify its economy since the BP Horizon oil spill in 2010. However, the city is still largely reliant on tourism and the military for its economic well-being, both of which can see large fluctuations during turbulent economic times.
Palmetto Bay, Florida
Commentary by Sarah Kobos, a Strong Towns member from Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Land Use and Transportation
The majority of the land in Palmetto Bay appears to be single-family residential, with auto-centric commercial districts lining US-Hwy 1. Palmetto Bay has identified an area for more intensive, mixed-use redevelopment in the southeast corner, where they hope to create a walkable downtown urban village. They have reduced parking requirements and created a form-based code to incentivize mixed-use, pedestrian-oriented development in this area.
Arterial streets are laid out on half-mile grids, with narrow streets, and tree-lined sidewalks that are nicely separated from the traffic lanes. However, long neighborhood blocks and a lack of connectivity due to several canals creates inconvenient travel routes that discourage walking and biking as a practical way to get from place to place. Destinations appear to be auto-centric, which further discourages walking and biking.
The citizens of Palmetto Bay organized to prevent a bridge project that they perceived would generate additional traffic through their neighborhood. They also engaged with local leaders when the new plan for a downtown village appeared to incentivize large-scale projects that did not match the vision of the community when the plan was created.
If the town’s vision to create a human-scaled, walkable urban village along HWY 1 succeeds, Palmetto Bay may be able to diversify their economic opportunities by bringing more people, jobs, shops, and restaurants into an area that is planned to be walkable, bikeable and served by transit. Transforming underutilized, single-use, car-centric land into a compact, mixed-use place for people may increase the town’s economic diversity, efficiency, and long-term ability to pay for public services.
Palmetto Bay appears to be primarily a commuter town, where people must drive to jobs throughout the Miami-Dade region.
Voting is now closed.