A sage commented, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.”

For Missoulians born here, or those who have called Missoula home for a good while, it’s unmistakable that change around town is happening at an accelerating rate. Elsewhere are lumber and mining industries that defined Missoula from its inception in 1860 as Hellgate Trading Post through roughly the next 100 years. The trading post has grown into a small city. Maybe coastal types still think Missoula is a “town,” but we’re feeling the “city-growth pinch” all the same.

Go anywhere in midtown to see this rapid expansion. Most of it is good and welcome. However, thoughtful planning is needed to optimize midtown, and Missoula as a whole. Well-planned cities work better for everybody: they’re easier to live in, simpler to get around, and allow businesses and residents to share a superior quality of life.

The greatest intensity of Missoula’s growth happens along its corridors — arteries connecting our movement while infusing life into our neighborhoods. Certainly, Brooks Street accomplishes this for midtown, serving as a primary example of how corridors define the life around them.

Midtown is remarkable for its people and potential. It’s the physical heart of Missoula and home to about 16,000 people in 7,500 households. 17,000 people work in midtown at 2,000 different businesses. Vehicles traveling daily along Brooks Street alone approach 50,000. And Brooks Street is part of state Highway 12 — a defining fact related to development.

Several planning studies over the last decade identified the same challenges for midtown, and began suggesting similar ways to deal with them. It’s understood that a growing population pushes up traffic volumes, but also supports new businesses and the jobs that serve them. Balancing the quality of life and quality of place through that growth doesn’t happen by itself. Balance in the urban environment requires thought, planning, and policy that supports the success of those plans.

The Brooks corridor is subject to two current “deep-dive” analyses. One is an internal review by Mountain Line assessing, among other things, how Route 7 can operate on Brooks Street, providing high-frequency corridor service across midtown.

The other is a public effort that I hope you join at 5:30 p.m. this evening at the DoubleTree Hotel off Madison Street.

Organized by the city’s Development Services, Missoula Design Excellence Community Workshop seeks to promote high quality design standards along Missoula’s corridors. For those of us who are not urban planners, that means trying to shape growth on and around these large streets in Missoula — like Brooks Street — in a way that works for everybody: business, traffic, pedestrians, cyclists and residents alike.

That’s a big job — and it’s doable, because there are great examples of success in cities similar to Missoula, and the consultants helping this process are sharing those examples with everyone who attends.

At this second of three workshops, you can share thoughts about how best to define the form and function of streets, buildings and residential neighborhoods around Missoula’s corridors, including Brooks Street.

How we envision the Missoula community affects us all. Where we live and work defines the envelope of our lives and those of our children. Envisioning a city that provides an inviting sense of “place” brings customers to local business, pride among residents, and supplies respite to those passing through. It’s a unique opportunity.

You can directly affect that process tonight by planning for design excellence. Join the fun at 5:30 p.m. at the DoubleTree Hotel, on Madison.

Mark Bellon is president of the Missoula MidTown Association.

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