The New American Dream Towns

Smart Urban Ideas, PT. I

MAKE YOURSELF AT HOME: Small-town thinking in Venice.     Photo: Jeff Lipsky

Smart Idea #1
• Big Pine and No Name Keys, Florida
When your island is four miles wide and happens to be a habitat for endangered species, MANAGING DEVELOPMENT isn't just smart—it's imperative. To protect the vulnerable Key deer and stave off Key Largo–like growth, Big Pine and No Name keys, with a combined population of 5,000, approved a community plan this spring that limits the construction of new homes to ten per year (minimizing their impact by concentrating them along the U.S. 1 corridor), purchases empty lots for open-space conservation, and restricts the size of retail stores in support of smaller mom-and-pops.—Melinda Mahaffey

Smart Idea #2
• Venice, California
Despite being enveloped by a teeming metropolis, this L.A. neighborhood of 34,000 is blessed with ocean views, a small-town vibe, and SUSTAINABLE ARCHITECTURE. Among those designing in Venice are Isabelle Duvivier, whose firm won a 2004 Santa Monica Sustainability Leadership Award; eco-designer David Hertz; and modernist icon Frank Gehry. And Venice's green scene goes beyond the built environment: Duvivier is currently working with the state on an interim management plan to preserve the Ballona Wetlands, the last remaining large-scale wetlands in Los Angeles County.—M. M.

Smart Idea #3
• Auburn, New York
This trout-fishing haven of 28,000 near upstate New York's Lake Owasco is staging a RENEWBALE ENERGY revolution. In 2003 the city retrofitted its 75-year-old municipal building with a geothermal heating system designed to cut CO2 emissions by 58 percent and save an estimated $19,000 a year.—Jason Stevenson

Smart Idea #4
• Santa Fe, New Mexico
The juniper-covered foothills just east of downtown Santa Fe (pop. 66,000) are a patchwork of private and government lands, making the creation of PUBLIC RECREATION SPACE a negotiating and fundraising nightmare. But local banker and conservationist Dale Ball, 81, plunged in anyway, raising more than $200,000, establishing rights-of-way with homeowners and—over the course of a dozen years—convincing officials to piece together tracts of city, county, and federal land to complete the 25-mile maze of singletrack that bears his name. Next up: the purchase of 103 acres to preserve the area for trail expansion.—J. S.

Smart Idea #5
• Marquette County, Michigan
This adventure mecca on Michigan's Upper Peninsula is home to an elaborate network of bike, ski, and kayak trails, as well as a GRASSROOTS HEALTH CARE initiative that matches uninsured residents with medical care and prescription drugs donated by doctors, hospitals, and pharmaceutical companies. Thanks to state and federal grants, more than 2,000 people have enrolled in the program; a similar model will be implemented across the rest of the UP by 2007.—J. S.

Smart Idea #6
• Montgomery County, Maryland
Just across the Potomac River from sprawl- and mall-choked northern Virginia is Montgomery County's Agricultural Reserve, 93,000 acres of farmland that's been protected since 1980. Twenty-five years later, the densely populated county of 920,000 is a national leader in OPEN-SPACE PRESERVATION, developing a ten-year, $100 million plan to protect vulnerable wildlife habitat, watersheds, and historic properties.—J. S.

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