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Community Builders sparks ideas for healthy development

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Jillian Sutherland from Community Builders organization introduced the half-day workshop at Memorial Hall in Hotchkiss on April 23. The audience represented the full spectrum of valley residents: retail business owners, representatives from Region 10, DCED members, chamber members from the surrounding towns, mayors, trustees and interested citizens.

Community Builders focuses on the infrastructure that supports the healthy economic development of Colorado towns and cities. Sutherland compared the planning of community downtown areas to the cultivation of successful gardens. Diversity, accessibility and aesthetics all contribute to a productive garden, just as these elements create a thriving social, business and cultural milieu.

Data support the need to create walkable downtown areas. Having an attractive business area that encourages foot traffic not only contributes to successful business, but also to the overall health of residents. According to studies, shoppers who arrive on foot or bike spend "25 percent more at businesses per month than do those arriving by car." Property values also increase in proportion to walking and biking accessibility.

Jim Charlier of Charlier Associates spoke next. His firm is a transportation design company specializing in designing successful community spaces which increase mobility, creating thoroughfares that support the social environment that they access.

Charlier referred to "placemaking" -- creating public spaces that comfortably accommodate a variety of users: children, families, seniors, disabled residents, businesses and through traffic. In town planning parlance the "8 to 80" rule of thumb refers to areas that appeal to those between the ages of 8 and 80. To create spaces that are comfortable and invite social and economic participation, roads should sync with given spaces and users, not dominate them.

Public roads bear the burden of providing safe passage to motorists, while also allowing walkers and bikers the same degree of safety. These routes should ideally blend into the environment. For many Colorado towns, with old roads that were built with getting from point A to point B in mind, retrofitting with those multiple needs becomes a challenge.

Charlier stressed that these rather technical issues are the foundation upon which towns need to construct their ideal social settings. This is not to dismiss the need for trees, smooth pavements, public art and attractive storefronts. These details are equally important parts of the mix, he stresses.

With these heady directives in mind, the approximately 60 participants broke into groups and took a short tour of downtown Hotchkiss. They paid close attention to the traffic flow and parking design of Bridge Street. Afterward they shared their observations about the shortcomings or strengths of their respective towns. The presentation gave everyone a great springboard for future developments in their communities.

Hotchkiss received a $3,000 grant from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment for hosting the workshop. This money will be used for a Quick Start project, which is still under discussion. Anyone interested in the vision for Colorado downtown streets can find information at community

builders.org.

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