The Sioux Falls Argus Leader ran a story last Sunday (July 20) on how residents and city planners are making changes in response to rising gasoline prices in the booming community. According to the story, “Sioux Falls residents increasingly are using bikes and scooters, catching buses and moving closer to their jobs as reality sinks in.” It cites several Sioux Fallsians that parked the SUV for their bike, scooter, or bus pass instead, including Miss South Dakota USA 1978, Nadene Oppold, who has no car and says she doesn’t want one. The article also presents New Urbanism and the idea of a community less auto-oriented and makes alternative transportation easier and more convenient.
Sioux Falls has been growing at a tremendous rate for the past 10-15 years, adding over 3000 new residents just since 2007. The city limits have expanded also, with the majority of development suburban and auto-centric, abandoning Sioux Falls’ historic street grid and characterizing the whole city as one large suburb. Not to say development in peer metros are any less suburban; simply the rate at which Sioux Falls is expanding, and all within the center city’s limits, authenticates the “one big suburb” depiction. The fact that a significant and growing portion of the City proper has been developed in post-war low density, single-use fashion, its identity is no longer the downtown but in the sprawling expanse of monotonous subdivisions and “upscale” strip centers with ample parking.
Sioux Falls city planners are trying to change that image by changing behaviors and modernizing land-use rules. The 25 year-old zoning ordinance is being overhauled, “with an eye toward more green space and less concrete” and ultimately to make mixed-use, more compact, efficient development a bigger part of the city’s future growth.
Earlier this year the Planning Department conducted a “visual listening” survey called Shape Sioux Falls to determine a community-wide vision for land-use standards that will be integrated into the updated zoning regulations. I came across this survey a while ago and found it particularly interesting. It was a collection of over 150 images of examples of all the general land use categories (commercial, industrial, residential, etc.) of varying aesthetic quality, to be rated on a scale of -5 to +5 on favorability for Sioux Falls. About 1500 community members participated and results show preference for human-scale, vibrant streets; plenty of green space, and less design emphasis on automobile use. This was a good format for identifying and analyzing what the community values in new and existing development in the city.
While Sioux Falls is making progress, the future success of these initiatives will ultimately depend on the attitude of residents. While high gas prices have become more than just a burden, now an economical hardship for many, I believe this will lead to a positive shift in the way we develop and interact in our urban – and suburban – environments. Thanks to high fuel costs, transit ridership is up all around the country and people are consuming fewer resources and making more sustainable lifestyle choices. It’s good to see Sioux Falls adapting to these changes for a better city tomorrow.