Augusta can take advantage of exciting development opportunities



The work to build an effective development agenda for all of Augusta, which will set direction for the next two decades, is in its seventh month. We have six months to go. City officials and our citizens' Advisory Task Force have been actively engaged reviewing issues and opportunities and contributing ideas.

The ongoing work of crafting this agenda is progressing according to plan. Recently we presented our findings report, an essential first product, to the mayor and the Augusta commissioners in attendance. An independent panel of preeminent planning professionals commented on the work to date. The commissioners and others there voiced general agreement, as well as thoughtful concerns, for the direction that the plan is proposing.

When we began this effort, we met individually with each of the commissioners and the mayor. We all agreed that the only way that this plan could be successful is to speak to one another freely and openly, thus allowing a productive, give-and-take discourse. As seen in the last meeting, we remain frank and honest with one another, We listen to each other and we are definitely moving in the right direction.

Many of your best and brightest citizens have contributed to this effort, both in private meetings and in public session. A series of public workshops have established a clear set of goals and objectives for the agenda. Basic findings, translated into actions, include:

- Build your economy on your inherent strengths, particularly as related to health sciences, green technology, tourism and urban revitalization.

- Augusta is really big (more than 300 square miles). It has three diverse aspects: its rural farmland in the south; its post-World War II midlands; and the traditional core city. Each has its own attributes, and each should have its own development approach and standards.

- Concentrate future development at transportation crossroads and adjacent to key resources and venues to maximize efficiency and the chance for long-term stability, Examples range from hamlets in the south, to village centers in the midlands, especially at the intersection of Windsor Springs and Tobacco roads, to a new regional center at Rocky Creek and Deans Bridge roads.

- Redevelop and revitalize existing built-up neighborhoods and subdivisions before allowing new development on outlying land not previously developed. Stop sprawl.

- Build on ongoing initiatives, such as Augusta Tech and Augusta State University expansion efforts; Fort Gordon's growth; the Kroc Center; and the recently completed Urban Area Plan.

- Focus along the network of major transportation corridors serving Augusta. Particular attention should be given to creating attractive gateways; repositioning Gordon Highway as a jobs corridor rather than a retail corridor, and converting key arrival corridors into scenic parkways.

- Establish a strong urban growth area -- we call it a "city link" -- that connects the downtown medical complex with a major new initiative to realize a new economic, jobs-oriented destination along Rocky Creek and Gordon Highway.

- Build a continuous, multimodal transportation corridor (cars, bikes, paths, transit) through this city link, lined primarily by dense residential development.

- Reposition older highway-oriented shopping centers into community-based centers serving the surrounding neighborhoods,

- Capitalize on Augusta's network of creeks, other waterways, woodlands and farmland to create restorative areas for people and the overall environment.

- Work to make zoning and regulatory changes necessary to realize this agenda; enforce them; put someone in charge of implementation; and, finally, give that person or entity the power and the resources to see it through.

As the mayor and others remind us, compared to most other cities, Augusta is doing just fine. However, we all know that the city -- given its location, its natural and historic resources, its institutions and its people -- can do much better. Many in Augusta are working hard on that.

Still, seven months into this effort is a long enough time that we are all growing a little impatient. Indeed, some have been trying to address critical issues such as the Regency Mall reuse for nearly two decades, with little success to date. Thus, the urge to vent is upon us. It is the time to do so, and it is natural.

Now, we just need to keep the faith and move forward together. There is no elusive "silver bullet" out there. Remember, however: While this is a 20-year agenda, there is opportunity that we can capitalize on today, and there are long-term initiatives that must be started now. Working together, we will do it.

(The writer is President of shieldsDESIGN LLC of Boston, the firm selected by the Augusta Commission to lead the Augusta development agenda effort.)