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Chamber conducts forum on sustainable growth

As the city gets ready to start its long-awaited comprehensive planning process, some of the private sector want to be in a position to play an educated role.

As the city gets ready to start its long-awaited comprehensive planning process, some of the private sector want to be in a position to play an educated role.
To get some knowledge and discussion flowing in that area, the Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce held an educational forum on sustainable growth.
Open to the public, the forum was to bring participants up to speed on the popular planning trend. Also known as smart growth, the concept got a big boost last year from Gov. Jesse Ventura. In addition, the Minnesota Smart Growth Network was formed by a variety of organizations in the Twin Cities area.
While the concept is not strictly defined, it is often linked with containing sprawl and making more efficient use of existing infrastructure.
Keynote speaker Matt Mega said it is heavily laden with individual and social values. "It's not a precise concept," he said. "It's a local issue. Smart growth is a way of accommodating growth that's coming."
Mega is a planner with 1,000 Friends of Minnesota, a nonprofit group that promotes patterns of development that balance growth with economic development, natural resources and quality of life.
He said the group's focus is smart growth, land and water conservation and community outreach.
Mega explained that smart growth is more of a process, rather than a check list or a template. It's looking at reshaping business, government, community and the environment together.
He said the most important part of that process is the community's shared vision for the future. "The vision has to respond to the local citizens' needs and desires," Mega said.
Residential density has been an issue in smart growth, with some planners advocating a mix of housing rather than a lot of single family units. This relates to the quality of life issue and the fact that people what to live somewhere with a sense of place and certain conveniences.
A related trend is "new urbanism," which has people returning to cities and desiring traditional neighborhoods.
Mega stressed that smart growth encourages collaboration rather than conflict, and promotes revitalization of existing communities.
In response to audience questions, Mega said there were no easy answers as to how the concept would apply to a negative growth area, but there would be a need for more developers and business people in the comprehensive planning process.

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