Northern Project (Helena) Town Reclaims Unused Space
Development in Helena is booming. In 1990, there was $15 million worth
of new construction in the town. In 1998, that number tripled. With all this construction
going on, the pressure to sprawl can be intense. Fortunately, developments like the Great
Northern Project, designed by the architecture firm of Dowling-Tintinger, show that smart
growth can help even rapidly growing places curb sprawl.
This urban revitalization project, which won the American Institute of Architects of
Montana award in 1998, is being developed on 11 acres of vacant industrial land just north
of the downtown area. Great Northern features homes, office space and green space galore
-- all within a walkable environment. The proximity to jobs, stores and nearby Carroll
College means that residents can enjoy easy access to work, school and other necessities.
The projects within the development exemplify smart-growth design principles. To
encourage an active streetscape, buildings are required to rent at least 75 percent of
their ground floor to retail-type businesses. Second and third floors can be retail space
or office space, and living units are encouraged on the top floors.
To help preserve open space, the city of Helena is creating a 20-acre park that will be
connected to the downtown through a pedestrian path. Public transportation also serves the
area, giving residents and workers alike a range of transportation choices.
Perhaps most importantly, the developers conducted an extensive public-consultation
process to ensure that the new development will meet the needs of the community. Some of
the unique features, such as the hand-carved, all-weather carousel, are the result of
ideas that flowed from public discussions. The Great Northern Project may herald the start
of a new gold rush for Helena -- one that will create jobs and build community while
slowing the growth of sprawl.
Interchange (Billings) Developer's Pet Project Leads to Sprawl
After the Montana Department of Transportation completes the I-90 Shiloh
interchange, the small town of Laurel, just west of Billings, will never be the same. What
is now a site for some of the best farm land in the state will soon become strip malls,
subdivisions and sprawling development. This project will propel Billings' sprawl westward
into the more rural areas of the state. In fact, the interchange is situated in such a way
as to practically guarantee that the town of Laurel and the city of Billings will sprawl
into one another.
The interchange, created at the behest of a local developer, is only five miles from
another exit. Although the ostensible reason for this road project is to relieve traffic
congestion, it is really meant to encourage more development.
With careful planning, road projects can serve to actively support the vitality of city
centers, ensuring that sprawl is kept to a minimum. Unfortunately the Shiloh interchange
will do the opposite by destroying open space, creating unneeded development and bringing
more traffic to this area of Montana.