Post-Trip Wrap Up, Part 2
No doubt, all of us have been involved in discussions about the "quality of life" in our community. It's a phrase I repeatedly heard mentioned during my cross-country trip. In fact, it seems to have become the umbrella term just about everyone uses -- from local elected officials and planners to citizens attending public meetings -- to describe what they want for their community.
Just go online and do a quick Google search, and you'll find a wealth of pages to browse through. You'll also find organizations devoted to quality of life (and its close cousin, "livable communities") issues.
I tried to listen to how the term was used by the planners and planning commissioners I met with. One thing that struck me was the link between quality of life and the health of the local economy. This, in turn, often related to positioning the community to be able to attract good paying jobs and highly educated individuals.
And in place after place I visited, I was shown the regional hospital (and the related medical offices that go with medical centers) -- or the site for a new and expanded regional hospital.
I knew medical centers were of growing importance, but I was truly surprised by how often during my travels planners and planning commissioners stressed just how important they were.
[photos of just some of the regional medical centers I saw: top left, Newman Regional Health in Emporia, Kansas; next row left: Montrose, Colorado; right: Placerville, California; bottom row left: existing medical center in Moab, Utah; right: new site for Moab medical center]
Indeed, I think I heard more about medical centers than about K-12 schools (though, of course, K-12 schools still retain their importance in any discussion of quality of life).
It probably shouldn't surprise us that with changing demographics, and our aging population, the role of health care facilities has assumed even more importance in our lives.
In addition, regional medical facilities are frequently one of the top employers in a region, and bring with them a large number of highly educated, well-paid staff ... which brings me to my next point.
There's also a constellation of quality of life issues that relate to a community's ability to attract folks like the doctors who are needed by regional medical centers. These include providing high quality recreational facilities, cultural attractions such as performing arts centers, and, interestingly enough, an attractive, lively downtown.
On the last point, this is from my notes of my lunch meeting in Parkersburg, West Viriginia. As Keith Burdette, the President and CEO of the Wood County Development Authority, put it, for Parkersburg to thrive it needs to become a "24/7 city ... because businesses recruit nationally and internationally. Young execs look at the downtown's vitality as an indicator."
As an aside, you might recall from my post on Parkersburg, the folks I met with there saw no contradiction between having a strong downtown and having big-box retailing located outside of the central core. In fact, they felt that traditional retailing wasn't an essential part of their vision of vibrant downtown -- but having plenty of restaurants, theaters, a good hotel, and some downtown housing was.
[photo above right: the Smoot Theatre, one of two active theatres in Parkersburg's small downtown. Below, the Blennerhassett Hotel was beautifully restored two years ago. The 89 room hotel has been a key factor in recruiting businesses to Parkersburg, while providing important downtown meeting space for local groups and organizations].
The growing interest of suburbs in developing their own downtowns or town centers also seems to relate, at least in part, to having a vibrant place where people can get together not just during the day, but late into the evening. I touched on this in my last post.
Another plus in the quality of life arena is having a college in the community. In many of the places I visited -- Emporia, Kansas; Vincennes, Indiana; Gunnison, Colorado; and even the small city of Ely, Nevada -- those I met with emphasized how valuable it was to have a college. In part, this is because colleges, like hospitals, are a major employer. But also important is the fact that colleges help provide the vitality and cultural amenities that attract professionals to a city.
[photos: top above, Western State College of Colorado is located just east of the center of Gunnison, Colorado; immediately above, Vincennes, Indiana, Mayor Terry Mooney, on the stage of the Red Skelton Theater, recently opened on the campus of Vincennes University].
And to close off this post, one other factor that was often highlighted to me was the community's recreational facilities -- especially parks and trail systems. Again, the strength of a city's recreational offerings seems to be another key indicator of "quality of life."
[above: the out-of-commission Old Fruita Bridge over the Colorado River is now owned by the city of Fruita, Colorado. The city's planners are looking into ways of covering the approximately $250,000 cost of stabilizing the bridge, and using it as part of the city's recreational trail system, linking Fruita's neighborhoods to the Rimrock recreational area on the south side of the river].
I'm still mulling over all that I heard about quality of life. I'd be interested in hearing your take on this ... what's key in your community to "Q.O.L."? And what role can planners play in this?