We’re lucky. Lansing’s founders planned their community and downtown in a way that has withstood the test of time, providing residents across the generations an attractive place to live, work and play. Mostly they got it right, but today’s village leaders want to ensure that current and prospective generations find Lansing equally hospitable. So, recently, they've been taking a more pro-active approach in planning the community’s future — and bringing in skilled practitioners to assist when necessary.
In the first of many planning efforts this year, Lansing recently served as host to a group of experts from Washington, D.C. In town to offer guidance on sustainable development strategies, representatives from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and consultants with the Renaissance Planning Group were joined by Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning staff and conducted a Sustainable Communities Building Blocks workshop.
The Building Blocks workshop brought together local leaders and community volunteers not only from Lansing, but also from Olympia Fields and Park Forest. Over an intense two-day period, the visiting experts provided technical assistance and shared best practices for retooling residential and commercial markets. Following comprehensive inventories and on-site visits, they proposed recommendations and “green” strategies that could help to make each of our communities more competitive and sustainable.
In Lansing, they built upon the foundation established last year through the Homes for a Changing Region planning initiative, which keyed in on residential and commercial redevelopment opportunities within the downtown area. Last week’s workshop used those findings as a launch pad and took it another step further.
The urban planning experts offered sustainable community-based models that will help the business district flourish. They also showcased how to incorporate a design strategy called Placemaking to improve neighborhoods throughout Lansing.
Placemaking is a multifaceted approach for creating an environment — and policies — that integrate commercial corridors, residential neighborhoods, natural areas and other amenities into a sustainable mix that works. EPA officials offered participating villages and local leaders valuable insight on ways to use Placemaking tactics to reinvigorate our respective downtowns and communities as a whole.
Of course, it will be up to individual municipalities to embrace those cutting-edge design tenets and take the necessary actions that will see these ideas into fruition. Our next steps should be to update local plans, policies, codes and regulations so that livable physical environments with well-thought-out patterns of development become part of the fabric of the community.
Lansing already has these next measures in mind. Post Building Blocks workshop, we’ll be tackling a new comprehensive plan to capitalize on all the worthy suggestions, and reviewing existing ordinances and land use maps to make sure they serve our current needs.
The goal is to build a community that is sustainable over time, with character and amenities that make it a desirable place to live, work, visit and recreate. It is what the town’s founders planned — and what this and future generations deserve.
Kristi DeLaurentiis is director of planning and development for the village of Lansing. The opinions are the writer's.