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Jeff Fluhr, president of the Wichita Downtown Development Corp., sees big opportunities in Wichita’s participation in a yearlong program to help the city steer downtown development in a sustainable, cost-effective way.
The program is called the Urban Sustainability Accelerator, and it’s part of an innovative effort by Portland (Ore.) State University planning experts to help cities get where they want to go with their city centers. Participating cities will learn from each other and hear about what has worked in Portland, often held up as an example of smart planning.
Other cities in the project are Waco and El Paso, Texas; Portland, Maine; Louisville, Ky.; and Elk Grove and Rancho Cordova, Calif.
Fluhr was excited Portland State approached Wichita to participate.
“What is happening here is getting out,” Fluhr says. “I think that’s a strong indicator for our city. Someone from Portland, Oregon, took note of what’s happening in Wichita.”
He anticipates valuable input on the upcoming revitalization of Union Station, a 9-plus-acre site recently purchased by Occidental Management Inc. that is seen as a key link between Old Town and Intrust Bank Arena.
The Portland State program’s website says the city and the developers are interested in integrating Union Station’s redevelopment with sustainability elements of the city’s Project Downtown master plan, including green streets, improvements to bike and pedestrian access, shared parking arrangements, historic building redevelopment and mixed-use development along Douglas Avenue.
Robert Liberty, director of the Urban Sustainability Accelerator, visited Wichita for the first time last month and liked what he saw.
“I was very impressed with what had already been accomplished and also the opportunities,” he says.
Liberty says Wichita is clearly motivated to enact its downtown master plan, which made Wichita attractive for the program. There’s energy and creativity in Wichita, he says, and he hopes the program provides even more spark.
“Wichita has a plan for its downtown that I think is very impressive,” Liberty says.
Representatives from the participating cities will first meet in Portland in July. Wichita’s team is expected to include Fluhr and Scott Knebel, downtown revitalization manager for the city. Others also may join, Fluhr says.
Fluhr looks forward to learning from other communities’ smart development ideas and sharing Wichita’s message with other cities from coast to coast.
“I believe it’s an opportunity to market Wichita nationally,” he says.
Wichita has talked about how to improve walkability, the smartest places to put parking garages so people park once then visit two or three destinations, reducing the need for more garages and capital investment, he says. He anticipates putting real projects in front of other participants and asking them if they see opportunities that Wichita hasn’t considered.
“Conversations spark other conversations,” he says. “To me that’s a tremendous opportunity to (ask), ‘How do you strengthen Wichita?’”
Urban sustainability includes conserving what’s good, Liberty says.
“Be frugal about how you use resources,” he says. “To me, it’s living off your income, not your capital. It’s a pretty simple business idea. Live within your means.”
He sees a lot of sustainability ideas in Wichita’s plan that the program can help build upon.
“We’re not about adopting policy but implementing policy you already have ... to continue to increase the vitality of downtown Wichita,” he says. “That, I think, makes great sense.”