Longview’s legacy

The booming Cowlitz County seat is still a community by design

Just over 80 years ago, Longview began life as the largest planned community of its time built by private funds – every sidewalk and street name was planned before construction began. Today, Longview continues that legacy of community by design by participating in the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Sustainable Design Assessment Team (SDAT) program, administered through the AIA’s Center for Communities by Design.

Sustainable design
Longview was one of eight cities nationwide – including New Orleans – chosen this year for the SDAT program. According to the AIA, the SDAT program "brings together architects and other professionals assembled from across the country" to help communities meet their current environmental, economic and social needs without negatively affecting future generations’ ability to meet their needs.

The SDAT program consists of six steps, including a preliminary visit by the SDAT team leader, a three-day visit from a multidisciplinary team, a written report, consultations following the three-day visit, a conference call six months after the delivery of the written report and a one-day follow-up visit to complete a secondary assessment one year after the SDAT report is delivered.

The Longview SDAT project is expected to cost $20,000 to $30,000. Longview has received a $15,000 grant from the AIA and will need to raise the remainder, including a $5,000 cash contribution.

Josh Johnson, Longview’s storm water manager, was primarily responsible for applying for the SDAT analysis. In the application, he outlined the economic, environmental and cultural challenges that Longview faces, which according to City Manager Bob Gregory, include downtown revitalization, sensibly managed growth and sustainability/quality of life.

Controlling growth
Controlled growth is the biggest challenge for Longview. Gregory said that in the last two years, the city has seen a boom in its economic development portfolio. For example, Lyman Lumber Co. has recently begun construction at the Mint Farm Industrial Park, and hopes to employ 500 people by 2011. The Triangle Center, a 15-acre retail mall, just finished a last round of improvements and hosts such tenants as WinCo Foods, Ross department store and Applebee’s. The hardware giant Lowe’s has built a 200,000-square-foot store on Longview’s west end. Gregory reported that Longview has seen a 13 percent to 15 percent sales tax increase from 2004 to 2005, approximately 10 percent of which is due to retail sales – the rest is due to new construction. Finally, prior to 2004, said Gregory, Longview processed fewer than 50 residential building permits annually – but in 2005, they processed more than 100.

Such a boom, while good for the city coffers, poses a danger as well – Longview teeters on the edge of becoming an amorphous mass with an identity crisis. Even before the SDAT evaluation, Gregory said that the city had started updating its comprehensive plan, with the goal of completing it by year’s end. Also, in 2001, the city did a comp plan specifically for the downtown area. But Gregory wanted assurance that they were on the right track, and the SDAT program seemed tailor-made for Longview.

"The application was well done – their goals were directly in line with the SDAT program goals," said Erin Simmons, program manager for the Center for Communities by Design, explaining why Longview was chosen over many other applicants.

The analysis
The SDAT team spent three days analyzing Longview’s strengths and weaknesses in early May, held a debriefing session on May 11 with the public and city officials, and will provide a written report within two months. At the debriefing session, SDAT team members made several recommendations in five categories of analysis:

Livability. Highlighted the need for a vibrant downtown area and increased safety throughout the community.

Community development. Encouraged the city to consider mixed-use developments that provided places to both shop and live and to ensure affordable housing was available.

Water management. Recommended low-impact development techniques.

Connectivity. Suggested how to improve public perception of how easy it was to get from one place to another and analyzed Longview’s parking situation.

Process. Looked at current codes and regulations to see if changes could be made to help meet the city’s goals.

"We were impressed with the community, and enjoyed our time there," said Simmons. "They had a lot of enthusiasm." She said the SDAT review reinforced a lot of the good things about Longview and provided ideas for making it even better and more sustainable.

Timothy Buckley, an architect with Vancouver-based LSW Architects and immediate-past president of the Vancouver chapter of the AIA, helped coordinate local resources to assist the SDAT team, primarily in recording public and roundtable meetings. He said the SDAT team for Longview included an architect, a city planner, a code specialist, a low-impact development expert, a civil engineer and a transportation consultant, among others. The team members, who volunteer their time, are purposefully gathered from outside the local area, said Buckley, to enable the team to be as objective as possible, without vested political or economic agendas.

Gregory was very pleased with the SDAT’s recommendations.

"The ideas from the SDAT process were consistent with our comp plan," said Gregory. "It was an affirmation of the work our staff has been doing up to this point. Now we’re moving on to strategy – SDAT really reinforced our need to drill down to the details."

AIA’s Ten Principles for Livable Communities

By participating in the American Institute of Architects Sustainable Design Assesment Team program, Longview will achieve many of the following goals:

1. Design on a human scale – compact districts with pedestrian access
2. Provide choices – variety of housing, shopping, recreation, transportation, and employment options
3. Encourage mixed-use development – integrated land uses and building types
4. Preserve urban centers – restore, revitalize, and infill to curb sprawl and promote stability
5. Vary transportation options – allow walking, biking, and public transit in addition to driving
6. Build vibrant public spaces – stimulate face-to-face interaction
7. Create a neighborhood identity – create pride in the community through a "sense of space"
8. Protect environmental resources – balance nature and development
9. Conserve landscapes – meet environmental, recreational and cultural needs
10. Design matters – successful and healthy communities feature design excellence

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