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The Planet

Community Revitalization

For a state to successfully manage growth it must work to make city centers and existing communities safe, lively and healthy places to live. Some of the states we studied are taking strides in that direction.

To tame sprawl, states must invest in their downtowns and inner suburbs. Some state decision-makers are starting to understand that this is part of the equation.

Revitalizing older neighborhoods is the perfect antidote to sprawl. In many cases, older neighborhoods were designed for pedestrian safety and have a scale and style that allows people to meet their everyday needs by walking. States that cherish the resources they have also value the historic properties that give their neighborhoods character, and often invest in historic preservation.

States that are doing the best job at revitalizing communities are working to keep financial resources in their city centers. They know that sprawling suburbs siphon taxes to build new water and sewer lines, new schools and roads, and expanded police and fire protection. These costs are not fully paid by the taxes of new residents. Instead, sprawl forces existing residents -- some of them cash-strapped seniors or low-income taxpayers -- to pay higher taxes. Savvy state policy-makers know that when families flee to the countryside, it drives up costs and erodes the city's tax base, forcing cities to raise taxes on remaining taxpayers to pay for city services.

The best states work to keep businesses in population centers, rather than promote sprawling new developments that gobble up open space and encourage flight from our cities. This downward spiral eventually destroys existing communities -- shoppers are pulled from once-thriving locally owned stores and restaurants to large regional malls. Soon, unemployment, lowered property values and fewer investment opportunities add up to a city that has lost its livability.

The states that rate low in this category are failing to invest in their existing communities. Most often, they rely on the standard style cookie-cutter suburban development. Residents must depend on cars for all their trips. Traffic congestion is the norm. Sadly, a sense of community is often lacking.

To rate the states on how they're doing on community revitalization, we used four measurements: (1) the health of the urban communities in the state; (2) the state's efforts to provide and preserve adequate housing for its citizens; (3) how well the state is preserving historic places; and (4) how well the states are cleaning up brownfields.

Vermont

Vermont is well-known for its vibrant towns and charming atmosphere. What's not as well known is the role the state has played in keeping these communities, like Middlebury (above), healthy.Vermont's land-use law regulating large projects -- Act 250 -- has given the state the clout needed to fight the giant chain stores. In some cases, citizen outrage has kept the stores away entirely. In other cases, stores have tailored their plans to fit Vermont -- building on a smaller scale, or building in redeveloped downtown areas rather than sprawling into open space.

State Ranking:

  1. Vermont
  2. North Carolina
  3. Maryland
  4. Minnesota
  5. Oregon
  6. Georgia
  7. Indiana
  8. Connecticut
  9. Rhode Island
  10. Maine
  11. New Hampshire
  12. Texas
  13. Florida
  14. Mississippi
  15. Arizona
  16. Missouri
  17. New Mexico
  18. West Virginia
  19. Hawaii
  20. Arkansas
  21. Idaho
  22. Alabama
  23. Nevada
  24. Illinois
  25. New Jersey
  26. Montana
  27. Kansas
  28. South Carolina
  29. Oklahoma
  30. Virginia
  31. Washington
  32. Wisconsin
  33. Kentucky
  34. South Dakota
  35. Alaska
  36. Iowa
  37. California
  38. Delaware
  39. Tennessee
  40. Nebraska
  41. New York
  42. Massachusetts
  43. North Dakota
  44. Utah
  45. Colorado
  46. Ohio
  47. Michigan
  48. Wyoming
  49. Pennsylvania
  50. Louisiana


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