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: Tupelo, MS vs. Annapolis MD. 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 Zvi Leve, a Strong Towns member from Montreal, Quebec.
Land Use and Transportation
The perceived land use patterns really depend on the scale which one observes. Viewed from above on Google Maps, one sees lots of green space within the Tupelo limits with a very clear density gradient. At a scale of 1km the suburban development patterns are very apparent with lots of green space between the neighborhoods. In the 200-500m range the built environment begins to become apparent and I notice quite a lot of big-box style development.
The North Mississippi Medical Center seems to be a massive activity hub in a central location. There are a variety of commercial enterprises all around it, yet everything seems to be 100% auto-oriented accessibility (parking lots are the focal point of everything). Improving active transportation accessibility around this area seems like it could be a good beginning; encourage people to walk somewhere for lunch instead of reflexively getting in their cars. There are even many residential neighborhoods nearby. Could people actually walk to work there?
At 50m I see lots of parking — lots and lots of parking! Zooming in even closer, I see that downtown has angled parking to presumably slow down traffic. Off-street parking is still extremely plentiful and there is no visible cycling infrastructure anywhere. The sidewalks do seem quite generous in size and do see some intersections and traffic circles. I suspect that the cycling infrastructure is essentially “multi-use paths” or perhaps paved shoulders along highway-scaled arterials.
The residents seem to be on-board for funding their transportation needs locally, and it is refreshing to see a growing interest in public transport. Given the sprawling land use patterns, it may be better to develop some form of ‘para-transit’ system, perhaps in collaboration with major local employers.
There seems to be a strong sense of community involvement, across all sectors of society — community, municipal, and business. It's perhaps worth noting that this seems to be ‘volunteer-based’ involvement which is significantly supported by the area’s big employers. This may indicate a ‘top-down’ approach which could be fragile to shifting economic trends.
Per their responses, this town seems to have a fairly healthy local economy. My only concern is that I am not certain that small-scaled businesses are well represented here.
Commentary by Zach DeBoer, a Strong Towns member from Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
Land Use and Transportation
Annapolis' historic downtown is dense and well-preserved with narrow, brick streets that encouraging pedestrian activity. The core is also surrounded by dense, colorful row houses. However, once outside Main Street, there appears to be a large sea of parking lots and auto-oriented development. The arial views show a large amount of empty parking lots and big box stores occupying large portions of Annapolis' small city boundary. There are also many parking lots and streets that physically separate downtown from the beautiful harbor located nearby.
Despite it's small footprint, the transportation system in Annapolis appears primarily auto-oriented. However, plans and studies for bicycle amenities and infrastructure are being explored.
Over the past year, the city organized several open-house/public input meetings for their 'Forest Drive Sector Study' that saw great public involvement and participation. Additionally, creative solutions to homelessness are being explored through 'hospitality training' at local restaurant, the Light House Bistro.
The recently formed 'Eastport Working Together' is great example of different community stakeholders coming together to pool resources, time, and ideas aimed at solving important issues like mental health and drug use.
Annapolis is home to a wide variety of job sectors and industries including government agencies, maritime, technology, education and tourism. Because of this and their proximity to Baltimore and Washington D.C., Annapolis does appear to have a healthy economy.
Voting is now closed.