Washingtonians are used to telling the rest of the country how to run things. Now experts from beyond the Beltway have a chance to turn the tables.
Cities across the United States have arrived at innovative solutions to pressing problems, and they are eager to show them off. Planners, architects, developers and politicians from a half dozen of these cities are among the speakers featured in a Smithsonian Resident Associates Program lecture series -- The Livable City: Learning from America's Best -- that may shed light on the challenges facing Washington.
"The most important resource for a livable community is a partnership that is willing to work together," said Robert H. McNulty, whose group, Partners for Livable Places is a sponsor of the series.
The series began with a symposium that asked the question "Is Washington a Livable City?" Although none of the participants would answer unequivocally yes or no, there was a general consensus that Washington could learn from the achievements of other cities.
A year ago, Partners, which was established in 1977, published a book,titled "The Return of the Livable City," which chronicled the progress of 40 North American cities, exemplary in their approach to restoring vitality. Six of those cities were chosen to represent the trends in urban revitalization in the Smithsonian program. All of the speakers for the series are members of Partners for Livable Places, a coalition of more than 1,000 groups and individuals from around the country.
Ronnie Brooks, executive director of the St. Paul Downtown Council, described a development climate in her community as one in which public-private cooperation thrives, producing "negotiated arrangements where each sector is able to do something that they wouldn't be able to do alone."
One of the trademark public-private developments in St. Paul is the skyway system, a walkway connecting many of the buildings in the downtown core, making the severe winters manageable.
Another product of St. Paul's private-public partnership is the Negotiated Investment Strategy, in which federal and state representatives, with public and private community leaders, develop an agreement on the problems facing an area and devise relevant investment plans.
Representatives from each city in the series will discuss the tactics that have succeeded best in their communities. A city planner and a landmarks preservation official from Pittsburgh, spoke this week on adaptive reuse of sites, such as Station Square, a renovated railroad station. Next week's lecture will feature the regional approach to development used in Richmond.
Upcoming programs will focus on waterfront development in Portland, Maine, San Antonio's cross-cultural development strategy, and Seattle's development of neighborhoods in which commercial and residential activities coexist.
The final session will survey the major issues raised by the representatives from the various cities.
Although the speakers throughout the series do not offer specific prescriptions for development in Washington, many of their experiences could provide useful guidelines for local planners and residents alike, McNulty said.
"Motivated people don't have to be taken to the water fountain to have a drink," McNulty said. "You throw out ideas, and they know how to adapt them to their own problem solving."
For more information call 357-3030.