As a Redevelopment Forum Partner, Project for Public Spaces attended the recent NJ Future’s Redevelopment Forum 2011- and we want to share some of the valuable things we learned there.

The Redevelopment Forum is an annual event where movers and shakers in the public, private and non-profit sector who are committed to a smart future for New Jersey through sustainable redevelopment come together, discover good work happening around the state, and discuss opportunities.

Trends and Take-Aways

Many great redevelopment resources emerged from this year’s Forum and you can download lots of the Forum’s presentations for free here.  Discussions focused on topics including Energy & Environment; Housing & Community; Legal, Technical & Financial; Transportation & Infrastructure Planning & Design.

This is a must do if not only if you are working for smart growth and sustainable development in New Jersey, but also if you are working somewhere else: there is a great deal to be learned from the challenges and opportunities that New Jersey is facing.

Tom Murphy, Peter Dontas, Peter Kasabach, and Anne Hoskins spoke at the 2011 NJ Future Redevelopment Forum

Place-Based Redevelopment is Key to a Sustainable Future

New Jersey is our nation’s densest state (1,185 people /sq mi). It sits between two of the countries largest metro regions (New York and Philadelphia), yet has many cities of its own, as well as small towns, townships, boroughs and villages (NJ has 566 municipalities), as well as significant agricultural and natural preservation areas.

These realities make redevelopment a key component of sustainable development for New Jersey’s future. In his in his opening remarks, NJ Future Executive Director Peter Kasabach said, “redevelopment allows us to re-use infrastructure that we have, take advantage of historically strategic locations; maintain and improve our communities; and preserve our remaining open space.” Kasabach emphasized “there is no better time than now to make redevelopment the first way we think to develop.”

In New Jersey and elsewhere, successful redevelopment will start from place; it will build off of existing destinations, historically important places, and infrastructure networks to build more vibrant communities. This was the message that we were pleased to hear and a vision that we look forward to seeing NJ Future and others help New Jersey achieve.

A place-based strategy for redevelopment is a powerful way to turn underused infrastructure into some of the state’s greatest assets- and take places that are merely functional and turn them into extraordinary destinations.

Beware the “It’ll Do Disease”

Tom Murphy

In his keynote address, Tom Murphy, former Mayor of Pittsburgh (now Senior Resident Fellow for Urban Development at the Urban Land Institute) warned forum attendees to beware the “it’ll do disease.”

His message was that no city or community wants to be an “it’ll do” city-settling for just what will do, rather than what it wants and can envision for itself. He argued that communities need to clear about their values and the place they want to be, and warned that money is “always the excuse, and never the real reason” for not making positive change.

He highlighted many things he thinks are critical to achieving positive redevelopment and change including committed leadership, a strong vision, institutional capacity, a transparent process, flexible and entrepreneurial financing, land control, and design excellence.

In the end though, he said, success comes down to the community’s will to make things happen, and the most powerful person in the room is not necessarily the one holding the purse strings, but the one who can bring everyone to the table, the person who can speak everyone’s language – the translator.

The Forum was organized by New Jersey Future, a “statewide research and policy group advocating a smarter way to grow: one that protects our open lands and natural resources, revitalizes neighborhoods, keeps housing affordable, and provides more transportation choices.”  For more, check out their coverage of the launch of the “Strategic State Planning Process” at the Forum.

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Pippa joined PPS as a project manager with the Streets as Places campaign. Pippa is a landscape designer and urban planner whose work strives to integrate design and planning in improving the public realm, specifically making spaces of transportation successful public places.