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Sustainable Missoula: Planning for a sustainable future

Neva Hassanein

Why would a sustainability scholar and farmland advocate support a new plan that will likely convert another 450 acres of prime agricultural soil to other uses? I have asked myself that many times as the so-called “Mullan Area Master Plan” has moved through the public process.

That’s a lot of a finite, valuable resource. I was not an easy sell.

Now, though, I am totally convinced this cutting-edge approach is the way to go. I am one of the members of the City-County Consolidated Planning Board, which recently voted unanimously for the plan and code, along with a recommendation to change the name (more on that below). I write on my own behalf.

What makes this plan different from previous ones? A lot.

Here are some of my favorite aspects:

First, the plan creates seven neighborhoods in the area west of Reserve, south of Broadway, and towards the airport. A variety of housing types will absorb at least 20 years of anticipated population growth. Mixed land uses will create neighborhoods and town centers where people can shop, dine, and work close to home.

Second, the plan has an accompanying zoning code, which means its vision has teeth. Simultaneous passage of the code critically ensures that what the illustrative plan depicts will basically be built. This kind of zoning, called “form-based,” specifies the desired character and physical attributes of an area, rather than simply allowable uses.

Third, unlike sprawl, which is car-centric, the level of housing will be sufficiently dense so that a variety of transit options can be provided. These so-called “complete” streets are designed to accommodate all modes. Bike lanes and trails will crisscross through the area. New parks and open spaces will enhance quality of life for residents.

Fourth, new community farms and gardens will not only echo the past, but will also become a vibrant part of future neighborhoods. Cottage food businesses and the like will be encouraged through the zoning. This plan can also set the stage for future protection of precious agricultural land to the west in Grass Valley and elsewhere.

Fifth, the “green infrastructure” aspects of this plan are on the leading edge of sustainable design. For example, to manage stormwater in this area, the code requires the use of natural processes – incorporating features like grass swales and detention ponds – to slow runoff, reduce pollution, and protect our waterways.

Sixth, this plan (along with the BUILD Project) calls for the restoration of Grant Creek, which has been channelized over the years. The plan creates a 200-foot buffer on each side of the stream.

Seventh, the cultural heritage of this place will not be lost, but rather reimagined and made more inclusive. Historical and educational initiatives can inform residents and visitors about this rich, cultural landscape.

For thousands of years, the Séliš and Ql̓ispé people used this open prairie, rich in bitterroots and other plants, and managed the area with the careful, regular application of fire. Historic structures, harkening to the agricultural production of the last century, will be preserved.

For all these reasons and more, the Planning Board unanimously recommended approval of the plan and code.

In addition, the full Board also recommended that the governing bodies work to find a more accurate and inclusive name for the plan. Specifically, we did not want to continue to name things after Captain John Mullan, who was very disrespectful of the self-determination and sovereignty of the Séliš, Ql̓ispé, Kootenai, and other indigenous groups. Mullan’s biographer and other historians have repeatedly described him as racist and his opinions as “vile.”

The City Council and Board of County Commissioners will hold a joint hearing on this plan, code, and the proposal to change the name on Monday Dec. 7 at 6 PM.

Once the plan and code are formally adopted by early 2021, Missoulians will have to collaborate in our characteristic fashion to bring the innovative features to fruition. If we do this right, we will be creating neighborhoods that reflect the uniqueness of this place and the sustainability values we share.

Neva Hassanein is a member of the Missoula City-County Consolidated Planning Board and a Professor of Environmental Studies at the University of Montana. This Sustainable Missoula column is brought to you – via the Missoula Current – every week by Climate Smart Missoula and Home ReSource.

Sustainability Happenings

As COVID-19 has altered many community events, some have moved on-line or found creative outlets. Here we offer ideas about sustainable ways to stay involved in our community. If you like these offerings, consider signing up for Climate Smart’s eNewsletter here. And sign up for Home ReSource’s eNews via their homepage here.

Through April. Missoula Valley Winter Market. Located in the Southgate Mall (in former Lucky’s Market). Market hours: Saturdays, 9am-2pm through April 17. Also open Wednesdays from 4:30-7pm through December 30th.

November 22 – December 13. Gather – The Fight to Revitalize Our Native Foodways free screening. In honor of Native American Heritage Month and the closing of 21-Week Racial Equity in the Food System Challenge, AERO is providing a FREE screening of the documentary film Gather. “Gather is an intimate portrait of the growing movement amongst Native Americans to reclaim their spiritual, political and cultural identities through food sovereignty, while battling the trauma of centuries of genocide.” See Facebook event HERE for regular updates and resources.

December 4. Buy a beer to support Climate Smart Missoula! Imagine Nation Brewing collaborated with Climate Smart Missoula to brew “Silver Linings,” a New England style IPA to celebrate finding the silver linings even when skies are dark and daunting. The beer will be available starting 12/4 until it sells out. Purchase the beer at Imagine Nation, the Good Food Store, and Worden’s. $1 of every 4-pack goes to support Climate Smart’s work – make sure to get some to enjoy while you tune into Climate Smart’s year end party on December 10th.

December 6, 12-6pm at Imagine Nation Brewing. Glass Recycling Drop-Off. Recycling Works is hosting another glass recycling event! Details, updates, and COVID guidelines will be posted on the Facebook Event page.

December 8, 1pm. Plastics: A Complex Topic – The Global Perspective webinar. Plastic and plastic recycling are among the hottest topics being discussed. It’s not just an issue in the US, it’s global. On this webinar we will hear about the challenges associated with plastic use, recycling and disposal around the world.

December 10, 11:15am. Science and Solutions for a Planet Under Pressure webinar. Join the National Council for Science and the Environment’s Executive Director Michelle Wyman and Project Drawdown’s Senior Director of Research and Technology Chad Frischmann in a discussion of the most current science to inform technical and policy solutions for a healthy planet.

December 10, 5-6pm. Climate Smart Missoula’s Year 5 (Virtual) Celebration. Tune in from the comfort of your home for our annual Smarty Pants awards, updates from the Climate Smart team, raffle items, and even a special collaboration beer with Imagine Nation Brewing! More information and link to join will be posted HERE.

December 13 – February 13 (dates added periodically). Virtual Fixit Clinics. Want to try fixing from home? Present your broken item to a global team of expert community repairers and get suggestions for things to try. After all items are presented, participants move to Zoom breakout rooms to implement the suggestions and, hopefully, fix the items.

December 19. Missoula Christmas bird count. This annual event is organized by Five Valleys Audubon Society and led by Larry Weeks. Contact Larry at bwsgenea@gmail.com or call 549-5632 for more information.

Find more activities and events at Missoulaevents.net and on Montana Environmental Information Center’s Conservation Calendar.