The future of CIDs: Truly connected communities
By Guest Columnist TRACY RATHBONE STYF, executive director of the Town Center Community Improvement District
Connection. It is a word, feeling and experience that gained a new and perhaps more poignant sense of meaning for each of us over the past 18 months. Through the pandemic, it is clear that being connected to other people and experiences is a fundamental necessity for a meaningful life.
When community improvement districts first began in the metro Atlanta area in the late 1990s, their primary purpose was to enhance commercial property values by creating infrastructure such as roads and bridges, providing connectivity for commuters and commerce. Since that time, CIDs have evolved to not only create infrastructure in their respective commercial cores, but communities where people want to connect by adding parks, trails, art and more. Simply put, connection always has – and always will be – at the heart of what CIDs do.
Since its founding in 1997, the Town Center CID has been dedicated to economic growth and community wellbeing. We have delivered strategic infrastructure improvements, provided long-range planning to guide development and added amenities that benefit all segments of Town Center’s diverse community – commercial property owners, businesses, residents, students and visitors.
Connecting Through Partnerships
In 2015, the CID established the Town Center Community Alliance as a nonprofit partner focused on placemaking that enhances the quality of life in our area. This includes parks and greenspaces to conserve and protect the environment, public art and activation that inspire the community, and programs that engage people of all ages. The creation of the alliance is a forward-thinking endeavor that allows for broader community engagement. The collective work of the alliance and the CID creates a vibrant, connected Town Center with enhanced public spaces that fosters quality economic development.
Connectivity is evident in the CID’s partnerships. We collaborate with businesses, organizations, higher education and all levels of government, from local to federal to bring projects to fruition. Whether working with Cobb County and the Georgia Department of Transportation to build new roadways or conduct traffic studies, or collaborating with Kennesaw State University to add art and educational exhibits to our trail network, we strategically plan for the future of our community through research, public outreach, data collection and surveys.
Connecting Through Technology
The use and deployment of technology is a growing priority for connecting communities across the nation, and the Atlanta region is no exception. We have partnered with the Georgia Department of Transportation and Cobb County to develop and implement a regional connected vehicle program that will help improve safety and efficiency along roadways throughout the metro area and specifically in the Town Center CID.
Connected vehicle technology enables cars, trucks and buses to “talk” to each other and share safety and mobility information. The data are then used for transit signal priorities, signal preemption for emergency vehicles and assuring sufficient pedestrian intervals at crosswalks. This technology improves trip times, enhances traffic signalization, decreases accidents and provides for a better user experience whether traveling in a vehicle, walking or biking. It creates a framework for other smart technologies such as in-ground lighted crosswalks, digital kiosks for wayfinding as well as public Wi-Fi and device charging areas.
Connecting Through Placemaking
There is much research exploring how local placemaking and outdoor recreation amenities can drive, or at the very least support, economic development. It shows that trails and greenways elevate the quality of life in a community, thereby attracting more businesses and residents.
The Town Center CID fully embraces that approach, and it is what drove development of the Noonday Creek Trail. A vision born in 2000 and completed in 2012, the CID wanted to take advantage of underutilized greenspace and create new infrastructure for alternative modes of transportation and recreation. The 2015 installation of five bikeshare stations cemented the trail’s value as critical multi-modal infrastructure for the community, further enhancing aesthetics, recreation and connectivity throughout the area.
The Noonday Creek Trail is just the first part of a larger system that we believe can create a sense of place, provide transportation and recreation options and ultimately knit together the vibrant communities of Cobb. Cobb County’s Greenway and Trails Masterplan proposes over 200 additional miles of trails and will continue to make critical connections throughout the county.
As our community enters its next chapter of growth, the Town Center CID will continue to adapt to the technological landscape while addressing the central needs of improving roads, addressing multi-modal mobility, alleviating traffic and creating a sense of place for a new generation.