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Armond Duwell pushes his son, Mael Duwell-Le Biham on the tire swing in Dragon Hollow Playground area, on the border of the Heart of Missoula neighborhood on Friday afternoon. The neighborhood was just declared one of the great places in America by the American Planning Association.

You know them by heart; can tick them off one by one.

Los Angeles’ Echo Park; Nob Hill in Albuquerque, New Mexico; New York’s Queens Botanical Garden; Downtown Fargo, North Dakota.

Yes, those are just a few of the American Planning Association’s Great Places in America.

Now, the Heart of Missoula neighborhood is added to the list, one of five places added in 2017 to the decade-old list.

“The neighborhoods recognized this year are proof that planning creates more vibrant, equitable, healthy neighborhoods,” APA President Cynthia Bowen said.

On the association’s website, the group focused on Missoula’s focused growth after Southgate Mall drained local business life from downtown.

The area was home to one of the first Urban Renewal Districts, which, along with the Downtown Business Improvement District and Downtown Master Plan, invigorated the area and brought roughly $200 million in investment and development, according to the website.

Missoula’s Art Park earned a special nod (though no mention was made of the Portland Loo), as did Caras Park (which gets about 500,000 visitors a year) and the Riverfront Triangle Development.

“Great neighborhoods have real, distinct identities and the Heart of Missoula neighborhood is another piece of the public puzzle that makes our city memorable and meaningful,” Mayor John Engen said in the release.

The association’s website cited some statistics from the neighborhood. While the Sawmill District doesn’t fall within the city’s definition of the Heart of Missoula neighborhood, the association went ahead and lumped it in, hence high number of residential units built.

  • 625 new residential units built in downtown since 2015
  • $618 million invested in real estate development in downtown from 2013–2018
  • $63 million invested in public infrastructure improvements from 2015–2020
  • 36 downtown buildings on the National Historic Register
  • 28 public art pieces in Downtown Missoula

In the last decade, 275 neighborhoods, streets and public spaces have been recognized by the APA as part of their Great Places.

Missoula is the third Montana town to be recognized by the APA, following Red Lodge’s Broadway Avenue and Bozeman’s Main Street.

The association said it looks for places that have exceptional character, quality and planning.

They noted Missoula’s “difficult feat” of bringing businesses, festivals, events and people back downtown.

“It’s just a whole bunch of dedicated people that have been working on it a long time,” downtown attorney Dan Cederberg said.

Cederberg has been involved with the Downtown Association since 1987, serving as board president and helping to form the Business Improvement District, Downtown Foundation and master plan.

Hundreds of people came to the planning meetings in the mid-2000s, Cederberg remembered, impassioned about how the downtown would grow.

They had a good start, with the Clark Fork River and the beautiful surrounding environment, he thought.

“It’s been a place that’s really come back from the change,” Cederberg said. “Nobody ever gave up.”

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Arts and entertainment

Government reporter for the Missoulian.