Smart Growth forum set for tonight in Williamsville - The Buffalo News

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Smart Growth forum set for tonight in Williamsville

The formula for building better suburbs isn’t a mystery.

Just look at East Aurora or the Village of Hamburg or the Village of Williamsville – concentrated suburban pockets offering stores, shops and restaurants within walking distance from the surrounding neighborhoods.

The question is, how can the suburbs do more of this?

That’s the focus of tonight’s forum in Williamsville on using villages as a model for growing suburbs the smart way.

“My main message in Williamsville will be about how good streets and good coding and zoning can add value to the tax base,” said John Norquist, president of the Congress for New Urbanism and an expert on Smart Growth.

Norquist, the former mayor of Milwaukee, will be one of the forum’s featured speakers, along with Paul Beyer, the director of Smart Growth Planning at the state Department of State, and Williamsville Mayor Brian Kulpa, an urban planner.

“Streets aren’t just to blow traffic through,” Norquist said in a phone interview last week. “They have two other functions: as a place of commerce and adding value to the neighborhood around it.”

The forum, “Smart Growth in Village Centers,” was organized by the Village of Williamsville, which has been out front promoting smart growth principles.

Williamsville, for example, is trying to “take back” Main Street by calming traffic and making it more walkable for its residents.

It wants new buildings next to Main Street, instead of set back.

It wants at least two-story buildings with a mix of apartments and retail along Main to make the village core more dense.

It wants to create more interesting places for people to walk to and gather, like the village center being proposed near the old mill on East Spring Street.

“It’s aggravating in any community to watch people fight over who can block development instead of fighting over who can create the opportunity for good development,” Kulpa said. “That’s what we’re trying to do.”

Kulpa, who also serves as president of the Association for Erie County Governments, believes more communities could do the same.

Aside from the local villages, Kulpa said, there are little hamlets all around the region that are ripe to be reinvigorated.

“What we need to do is promote these enclaves,” Kulpa said. “Unshackle these little pockets and let people make very localized land-use decisions.”

“People want to live in urbanized centers,” Kulpa said. “This is the movement.”

The forum tries to better define smart growth for people and continue the conversation that began last fall when development dominated the elections in Amherst.

“They took the word ‘smart growth’ and they made it the definition of anti-development,” said Village of Williamsville Trustee Chris Duquin. “That’s not what ‘smart growth’ is.”

The forum on Wednesday also sets the stage for the Congress for New Urbanism’s annual conference being held in Buffalo in June, when an estimated 1,500 planners, scholars, architects and officials will be in town.

“The National Historic Trust is still raving about the meeting they had here a few years back,” Norquist said, “so we’re excited about coming to Buffalo.”

The free forum is being held from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Williamsville South High School, 5950 Main St.

The public is welcome.

-- Jay Rey

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