Welcome to our first match-up in the fourth annual Strongest Town Competition! In this round, 16 towns are facing off, and 8 will advance to the next segment of the contest based on your votes. We invite you to read the answers that representatives from these two towns provided to questions about economic resilience, citizen involvement, land use and more, then vote for the strongest.

Can’t decide? If you’re looking for inspiration, check out how we describe the Strong Towns approach, or maybe take a look at the questions that make up our Strong Towns Strength Test.

Voting closes at 12pm CDT on Thursday, March 21st.


Photo credit: Crafted PR, Inc., City of New Rochelle

Photo credit: Crafted PR, Inc., City of New Rochelle

New Rochelle, New York

Entry submitted by: Daniel Messplay, AICP, Senior Real Estate Development Manager; Luiz Aragon, Commissioner of Development; Noam Bramson, Mayor; Gina D'Agrosa, AICP, Deputy Commissioner of Development; Kevin Kain, AICP, PP, Director of Planning & Sustainability

At Strong Towns, we believe that local government is a platform for strong citizens to collaboratively build a prosperous place. How are residents in your town involved in shaping its future? How do residents’ experiences, struggles, and concerns directly inform the projects undertaken by local government? Provide one or more examples.

In 2015, the City of New Rochelle embarked on a comprehensive, collaborative, community-driven process to engage residents, business owners, and stakeholders in dictating the future of the City’s downtown. In partnership with a designated Master Developer, the City undertook what it called a “Unified Development Approach” (UDA), utilizing a strategy called “Crowdsourced Placemaking” to develop a “Recommended Action Plan” (RAP) for the City’s downtown. The concept of crowdsourced placemaking represented the City’s “triple bottom line” commitment to the community: social responsibility, economic responsibility, and environmental responsibility.

The City, in fulfilling its promise to the people, hosted over 100 public meetings with stakeholders, neighborhood groups, residents and local organizations. It established a website, social media platforms, and a 24/7 downtown brick-and-mortar office to solicit the community on its greatest priorities for the future.

From this community-driven process, the City adopted a new downtown overlay zone which paved the way for what is arguably the most transformational, streamlined, and context-sensitive system of land use regulation in the country—and one that has not been replicated in any other urban built environment in the US. This new zoning was combined with a 90-day guaranteed approval process [removing the uncertainty and extra cost that comes with long waits for project approval]. These changes have since opened the door to 6,370 residential units, over 1 million square feet of commercial and office space, affordable housing, public art and infrastructure improvements. Essentially, the community created a ‘shovel-ready’ downtown.

At Strong Towns we believe that financial solvency is a prerequisite for long-term prosperity. What steps has your community taken to ensure its financial security? Do local leaders adequately do the math on new investments proposed in your town to ensure that they’ll be able to afford them now and afford their maintenance in the future?

The City of New Rochelle lives and breathes the Strong Towns mantra of promoting downtown infill development to make productive use of its land. When the City adopted its form-based overlay zoning, it also completed a Generic Environmental Impact Statement (GEIS) under the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA). This extensive environmental review looked at all potential impacts under the overlay zone’s future build-out scenario—from traffic, shadows, wind, stormwater, wastewater, noise and construction impacts, to affordable housing, displacement, and historic and cultural resources. From this study, the City established what it calls a “Fair Share Mitigation Fund,” where developers of projects utilizing the overlay zone pay a fee based on the gross square footages of the proposed uses of their building. This fee is then applied against adjustment factors for each use that escalate as the downtown is built out closer to the thresholds established in the Theoretical Development Scenario (TDS).

The result of this system is that downtown development was incentivized for those who took the risk to develop first in New Rochelle. It also means that all new development “pays” for itself by providing a cash fund for the City to pay for the infrastructure improvements needed as a result of downtown projects.

If we took a walking tour through your town, what would we see? How does your community use its land productively to promote long-term financial resilience?

The City adopted... new zoning, combined with a 90-day guaranteed approval process. Essentially, the community created a ‘shovel-ready’ downtown.

If you walked through New Rochelle today, you would bear witness to the rapid urbanization of what has traditionally been called a New York City metro suburb. Since the overlay zoning for downtown was adopted in 2016, over 20 projects have been granted site plan approval. A taste of what is currently under construction includes 587 Main Street, a 24-story mixed-use residential project featuring the rehabilitation of the historic Loew’s Theater into a black-box theatre and performance arts space operated by the Venezuelan American Endowment for the Arts. Or, you could see the Standard, a 14-story mixed-use project renovating the old Standard Star newspaper building, complete with a ramen restaurant. Or, you would see the construction of NewRo Studios, a 100% affordable studio project designed to house artists, less than 1 block from the City’s train station.

What you might also see is a number of City-owned surface parking lots. These lots are set to be transformed into a number of new high-rise developments at no cost to the City, thanks to Master Developer Agreements entered into with RXR Realty and Renaissance Downtowns. These agreements provided public land at no cost to the developer in exchange for higher and better uses on what had been parking lots, generating a new revenue stream for the City.

All of this redevelopment means a larger property tax base, greater sales tax revenue to the City, and approximately 15,000 new downtown residents who will live in, work in, and spend money at New Rochelle businesses. You can view all of the approved projects at this link.

Tell us about your community's local economy. Who are the key players, big and small, and how do they help your town to be financially strong and resilient? What local businesses are you most proud of?

The City’s story is not unlike many others in America. The City was settled by French Huguenots as a maritime and trading port community on the Long Island Sound. Over time, the City’s economy became industrial, and a manufacturing base was established downtown, along the waterfront, and near the train station. In the 1980’s, the manufacturing centers had declined and moved out, leaving downtown a ghost town. People often said that, at its worst, you could shoot a cannon down the middle of Main Street and not hit anybody.

Today, the City is booming with a revitalized service-based economy and restaurant scene that draws visitors from all over the region and from New York City.

Fortunately, the City has survived thanks to strong anchors in the Montefiore Hospital Campus in the west, and three local colleges: Iona, Monroe, and the College of New Rochelle. Today, the City is booming with a revitalized service-based economy and restaurant scene that draws visitors from all over the region and from New York City. Local favorites include the Modern, an automobile service center-turned upscale Italian restaurant, with an extensive wine collection and craft cocktails. Or, get a feel for New Rochelle’s eclectic Caribbean roots and try Roc’N’Ramen, a Caribbean-Japanese fusion ramen shop serving up curried oxtail ramen and braised pork belly buns. Wash down your meal with Diner Brew Company’s homemade craft cider, owned and operated by New Rochelle native Chris Sheldon. To kickstart your day, you can try Pop’s Espresso, a family-owned brunch spot with a penchant for organic ingredients and creative coffee standbys.

What transportation options exist in your town for people of varying ages, abilities, and means? How easy is it to live in your town without regular access to a car? What transportation investments has your town recently made or is it in the process of making?

New Rochelle’s greatest asset is its proximity to Manhattan, with a Metro North Railroad Station in the heart of downtown. This means that you can hop on a train in downtown New Rochelle and be in the heart of Manhattan in under 30 minutes—a faster commute than from many parts of Brooklyn. The City’s Downtown Overlay Zone is focused on the concept of Transit-Oriented Development. The greatest allowable density (48 stories) is permitted right around the train station, which then steps down as you get farther and farther away.

In 2015, the City adopted its first Complete Streets Policy, aimed at making the City’s entire street network accessible for all users and modes, regardless of age or ability. Many of the changes anticipated by that policy are beginning to come to life. The City’s two main downtown streets, Huguenot Street and Main Street, are currently one-way streets set to be converted to two-way in order to slow traffic, increase mobility, and improve pedestrian safety. The City’s main north-south corridor, North Avenue, is soon to be equipped with bike lanes on both sides, to provide North End residents the ability to commute safely by bicycle to the train station and downtown. Lastly, the City is currently hoping to use a large portion of its recent $10 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative grant award to convert Memorial Highway (a highway to nowhere) into a massive linear park that will connect the Lincoln Avenue area of the City to its downtown.

In 2017, the City launched a city-wide bikeshare system. Scooters are to be introduced within that system later this spring.

The City is served by Westchester County’s Bee-Line Bus system, which provides safe and reliable bus transportation to over 50 municipalities within the Hudson Valley, and the Bronx.

How easy is it to become an entrepreneur or a small-scale developer in your town? What kinds of support are available for a resident who wants to open a business or build on a small vacant lot?

The City’s Department of Development has an extensive Business Development division, aimed at attracting and retaining entrepreneurs to New Rochelle. The City has published a step-by-step guide, “Starting and Operating Your Business in New Rochelle”, which lays out a roadmap for those looking to establish themselves in New Rochelle. The City’s Industrial Development Agency provides a number of financial incentives to new businesses in the city, including:

  1. Mortgage Recording Tax Exemption

  2. Sales Tax Exemption on Construction Materials; and

  3. A Payment-In-Lieu-of-Taxes (“PILOT”) for certain projects.

The City has a full-time Business Ambassador that helps get new businesses up and running, and connects them with downtown resources like the Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Business Improvement District. The City also has a retail and student housing business registration, aimed at fostering the growth of local business and protecting the health, safety and welfare of citizens of the City of New Rochelle.

Lastly, the City has a “Featured Business Program” offered at no cost to City businesses, which are identifiable on the City’s website and on city-wide interactive Wi-Fi kiosks all over downtown. Featured businesses can also receive free access to online tools that further their own marketing reach to residents and visitors.

The biggest issue facing downtown is ensuring New Rochelle retains a sense of place as it undergoes this massive revitalization, and remains a community for those who already reside here. The city cannot undergo this transformation and leave those who are already here behind.

What is your favorite thing about your town?

The best part of New Rochelle is the sense of community, which New York City couldn’t offer me. I live in downtown New Rochelle, and walk to work at City Hall. I know my neighbors, local business owners, and residents. There is an active and engaged constituency in New Rochelle, and we all work collaboratively to ensure that the city’s future is realized in a sustainable, community-driven way. I love that, within a five-minute walk of my apartment, I can either: 1) be on a train or bus to anywhere in the region, including NYC; 2) be having a picnic or relaxing on the beach in one of New Rochelle’s 4 waterfront parks; 3) be shopping, eating and exploring downtown; or 4) access the trailhead to a number of huge hiking trails and regional parks systems available to me.

What is the biggest challenge your town faces, and what are you doing to address it?

The biggest issue facing downtown is ensuring New Rochelle retains a sense of place as it undergoes this massive revitalization, and remains a community for those who already reside here. The City cannot undergo this transformation and leave those who are already here behind.

To address this challenge, the City established an incentive system within its adopted Overlay Zoning called the “Community Benefit Bonus”. In exchange for additional stories in a residential project, the developer is required to provide a community benefit or pay into a fund based on the gross square footage acquired through the additional stories. The community benefits that are available for developers include Historic Preservation, Arts and Cultural Space, Community Facilities, Transit and Parking, Green Building Technology, Open Space, Affordable Housing, and Pedestrian Passages. To date, the City has received over $5 million in community benefit funds, which it has then used to create public plazas, additional affordable housing, public art, and an apprenticeship and job training program for New Rochelle residents.


Photo Credit: Department of City Development, City of Sheboygan

Photo Credit: Department of City Development, City of Sheboygan

Sheboygan, Wisconsin

Entry submitted by: Charles Adams, David Biebel, Eric Bushman, Meredith DeBruin, Christopher Domagalski, Garrett Erickson, Marty Halverson, Darrell Hofland, Mayor Michael Vandersteen, Derek Muench, Chad Pelishek, Sandy Rohrick, Joe Trueblood, Natasha Torry

At Strong Towns, we believe that local government is a platform for strong citizens to collaboratively build a prosperous place. How are residents in your town involved in shaping its future? How do residents’ experiences, struggles, and concerns directly inform the projects undertaken by local government? Provide one or more examples.

The City releases an annual community survey to allow residents to rate how the city is doing operationally. It also includes open ended questions to allow people the opportunity to weigh on the community as a whole.

We also use Nextdoor.com as a social media platform to communicate with residents. Nextdoor allows residents to join the platform by neighborhood and unlike other social media platforms, a user needs to confirm they live in the neighborhood. Nextdoor also provides a polling feature that allows residents to participate in Sheboygan's operations.

Sheboygan has prided itself over the past thirty years on providing public access to the water. We are designated as one of the four U.S. Olympic Sailing Centers and the only one on freshwater, leading to the nickname of the “Malibu of the Midwest” for surfing.

At Strong Towns we believe that financial solvency is a prerequisite for long-term prosperity. What steps has your community taken to ensure its financial security? Do local leaders adequately do the math on new investments proposed in your town to ensure that they’ll be able to afford them now and afford their maintenance in the future?

We were recognized by Moody’s Investors Service with an assignment of an Aa2 rating based on the city’s outstanding general obligation debt. The Aa2 rating reflects a strong financial position measured by both liquidity and fund balance relative to revenue. This rating recognizes our stable tax base, moderate debt and pension burdens.

The Common Council reviews our Long Term Financial Plan on an annual basis, prior to initiating our Five Year Capital Improvements Program and Annual Program Budget for the subsequent year. The plan outlines trends, forecasts, financial stability and financial strategies along with input from the departments. Forecasting for projects and improvements are managed within the department and coordinated into the long term plan. All of these projects and improvements are vetted by the Capital Improvements Commission, comprised of city leaders and citizen appointees, through a series of public review meetings. The Common Council makes final confirmation of the Five Year Capital Improvements Program. This ensures all projects strictly adhere to the city’s Strategic Plan and its Long Term Financial Plan concurrently.

If we took a walking tour through your town, what would we see? How does your community use its land productively to promote long-term financial resilience?

Sheboygan is a very compact community. Given that Lake Michigan is on one side and the Village of Kohler on the western edge, most of new investment in the community happens through redevelopment of existing structures. If you walked through our community you would see densely-built well kept neighborhoods, significant arts and culture opportunities, plentiful public parks, and great quality of life assets.

Tell us about your community's local economy. Who are the key players, big and small, and how do they help your town to be financially strong and resilient? What local businesses are you most proud of?

Sheboygan has historically been a manufacturing community. Recently, Acuity Insurance has become the largest employer. Acuity, headquartered in Sheboygan, was named Forbes’s best mid-sized company, in 2018. Acuity is also a huge supporter of local non-profits and funds millions of dollars annually to non-profit organizations. The City's second largest employer is Nemak, a major manufacturing operation. We also have many other family-owned and operated companies including the Vollrath Company, Wigwam Socks, Torke Coffee, and Old Wisconsin Sausage.

Sheboygan is a very compact community. Given that Lake Michigan is on one side and the Village of Kohler on the western edge, most of new investment in the community happens through redevelopment of existing structures.

What transportation options exist in your town for people of varying ages, abilities, and means? How easy is it to live in your town without regular access to a car? What transportation investments has your town recently made or is it in the process of making?

The City funds on an annual basis approximately $511,000 of a total $4M budget for regional public transportation services (Shoreline Metro) to the City and surrounding areas. Given that the public transportation system picks up passengers on every corner along the routes and there are approximately ten routes, transportation services are accessible throughout the city. Shoreline Metro also provides para-transit services for disabled residents and specialty transportation services for elderly residents at a reduced cost. Shoreline Metro also provides free transportation year round for the Sheboygan Area School District.

How easy is it to become an entrepreneur or a small-scale developer in your town? What kinds of support are available for a resident who wants to open a business or build on a small vacant lot?

Most of the development happening in our community is from entrepreneurs and small-scale developers. Sheboygan development staff accommodates small scale developers and entrepreneurs frequently. We offer low interest business development loans, sign grants, façade grants, entrepreneur start-up services, business plan writing, and tax incremental financing incentives to encourage new or expanded business development in the community.

What is your favorite thing about your town?

Residents continually rank accessibility to Lake Michigan as the number one quality of life asset. Sheboygan has prided itself over the past thirty years on providing public access to the water, whether it is the Sheboygan River or Lake Michigan. All new development along the waterfront provides public access to the water. Sheboygan is designated as one of the four U.S. Olympic Sailing Centers and the only one on freshwater, leading to the nickname of the “Malibu of the Midwest” for surfing. We also have one of the best and largest fleets of charter fisherman.

What is the biggest challenge your town faces, and what are you doing to address it?

Like most communities across this nation, one of the biggest challenges facing the community is aging infrastructure, particularly water, sewer, storm and street replacement. The City has developed a fourteen year plan to reconstruct and resurface the 214 miles of the streets in the community. We also implemented a wheel tax that generates additional revenue to be used with other local, state and federal funding programs.

Another challenge is workforce development. Retaining and attracting new members of our workforce continues to be a number one priority for the city. Through initiatives like Someplace Better, an inclusive workforce recruitment platform, to the development of an Innovation District, the City has undertaken to make Sheboygan a favorable place to live, work and play.


Round 1 voting is now closed.

Voting is weighted so that Strong Towns member votes account for half of each town's score and non-member votes account for the other half.