McCarthy: Good downtown planning leverages investment – and national award

This month, downtown Missoula was nationally recognized as one of America’s Great Neighborhoods by the American Planning Association.

Now in its 10th year, the the Great Places in America program recognizes communities that focus on visioning for the future with clear goals and execution. This honor recognizes and demonstrates the value of quality planning and execution, and we are proud to serve as an example for communities across America.

Planning helps maximize the health, safety and economic well-being of all residents, and it helps us create communities that are attractive and have lasting value. Quality planning brings residents, business owners, elected officials and others together to build a broad-based, forward-thinking strategy for our future.

The Downtown Master Plan is a good example of how a thoughtful, community-based strategy can be created and executed to maximize engagement, investment, infrastructure and activity.

The APA’s Great Places in America honors communities large and small, where quality planning has resulted in stronger, healthier communities. Missoula is the only Montana community to win the America’s Great Neighborhood award.

What makes a neighborhood great? It is a destination with a sense of place that helps define your community and its characteristics. It is a place that creates interesting and visual experiences. It fosters social interaction and accommodates multiple users. It is a place that is safe for children and families, enhances the environment, and protects and showcases its natural features.

A great neighborhood promotes active living, protects and sustains the natural environment and its resources (water, air, trees), and enhances the diversity of the environment. Great neighborhoods have attributes that contribute to our day-to-day living. They offer multi-modal transportation, encourage human interaction and activities, and offer memorable characteristics and experiences.

Downtown Missoula is all that and more, thanks to the efforts of many individuals and organizations: Mayor John Engen, the Missoula City Council and the County Commissioners, who invest in Downtown with time, talent and treasure, as well as folks like the Clark Fork Coalition, Missoula Parks & Recreation, and others who work to ensure our river corridor is clean, healthy, accessible and navigable.

Other parties who deserve recognition include the Heart of Missoula Neighborhood Council, Arts Missoula, and the Public Art Committee. The Missoula Redevelopment Agency and the Missoula Parking Commission are major contributors, as are many of our Downtown business owners and investors.

Imagine downtown without the Missoula Art Museum, MCT, the Children’s Museum or the Library. Imagine downtown without the Wilma, the Roxy, the Hip Strip and Caras Park. Remember what the river corridor was like before the Milltown Damn was removed, before the riverfront trails were built, and before the three pedestrian bridges were built?

Linda McCarthy

Remember downtown Missoula in the 1980s when there were nothing but vacant storefront and surface parking lots?

Through the explicit and dedicated efforts of the Downtown Missoula Partnership and its leadership, the Heart of Missoula is the best it’s ever been. The Downtown Master Plan team has been diligent in its focus on implementation, and today we have an estimated $850 million dollars of investment taking place. We should take time to celebrate these accomplishments and the Great Neighborhood Award.

However, we have already launched a campaign to update the Downtown Master Plan in 2018. Our goal is to raise the funds and roll out an RFP for planning services in the spring. Community engagement in the planning process will be one of the key priorities, and the update will focus on a variety of areas, including business and workforce development, technology and retail growth, development of housing and parking, plus street design standards and more.

For more information, visit our website or contact the Downtown Missoula Partnership office via phone (406-543-4238) or email (info@missouladowntown.com).

The Downtown Master Plan continues to be the guiding tool for decisions that impact downtown Missoula. We encourage all Missoulians to take ownership of their downtown and to engage in all the activities that make the Heart of Missoula one of America’s Great Neighborhoods!

Linda McCarthy is the Executive Director of the Downtown Missoula Partnership and has served as the lead staffer for Downtown Missoula since 1999. She holds two degrees from the University of Montana and previously served as a sports information director for Grizzly Athletics. She was named UM’s Montana Alumni of the Year in 2008 and was the recipient of Destination Missoula’s Jay Award for Tourism Person of the Year in 2015. Questions and suggestions can be directed to her at linda@missouladowntown.com.