Connecting state and local government leaders
Making the case for city planners to think more like farmers and encourage development that will be the most beneficial to a municipal budget.
This is the 35th in a series of profiles on the 50 finalists for Route Fifty’s Navigator Awards program. The first 10 finalists were from the Government Allies and Cross-Sector Partners category. Finalists 11-20 were from the Agency and Department Leadership category. Finalists 21-30 were from the Executive Leadership category. Finalists 31-40 were from the Next Generation category. Finalists 41-50 are from the Data and IT Innovators category. Explore our complete list of 50 finalists .
In the field of urban planning, there’s an important distinction between the dreamers and doers. Many urbanists may have great visions and ideas for community development but they don’t always make a compelling case for them in the context of budgetary cost-benefit realities.
In Conway, Arkansas, a city of around 65,000 residents located near Little Rock, Wes Craiglow , the deputy director for planning and development, has done an excellent job explaining why building dense, walkable and urban communities makes more economic sense than greenlighting car-oriented suburban-style development that's the norm in so many communities.
Urban planners certainly aren’t agricultural specialists, but Craiglow thinks it’s important for municipal leaders to think a bit more like farmers.
“I made the connection between designing a great city and actually having the resources to build one,” Craiglow said in a TEDx talk earlier this year at the University of Central Arkansas. “And it’s all about crop yield.”
He continued in the TEDx talk:
[G]reat farmers calculate per acre to find out which given acres of their farm are the most resource intensive and which are the highest performers and then they recalibrate their entire operation to do less of the former and more of the latter.
Why do farmers do that? Because it’s smart farming.
Why should your city officials be considering landscape performance inside your town? Because it’s smart governing.
Indeed it is.
Craiglow looked at different types of properties to see what was actually more beneficial to a city budget when it comes to property taxes and yield. “In literally every single case I studied, I found out that walkable, dense, urban-type development is out-performing modern suburbia every single time,” he said in his TEDx talk.
The same goes for calculating sales tax and yield: Craiglow compared the highest-grossing restaurant in the city, a Chick-fil-A that sits on 1.7 acres of land, with the Pasta Grill, which is Conway’s 53rd highest-grossing restaurant and sits on one-twentieth of an acre in a downtown setting:
Although Chick-fil-A had robust $2.7 million per acre in yield, the Pasta Grill is doing a mind-blowing $22 million per acre per year in yield.
This little locally known mom and pop Italian restaurant in a non-descript storefront with zero parking in the heart of your downtown is outperforming the national juggernaut of Chick-fil-A 8 to 1.
Why does this matter? Because that little restaurant is eight times more powerful to your city’s budget to give you the things that you want, know and love on a daily basis.
That’s means paying for things like a new fire truck and additional personnel, filling potholes or rebuilding a signaled intersection to accommodate a more efficient roundabout.
The numbers are powerful and Craiglow makes a strong case through his yield calculations.
We’re pleased to include Craiglow as a Route Fifty Navigator Award finalist in the Next Generation category and hope that other municipal leaders can champion that same compelling, reality-based planning message elsewhere.
Michael Grass is Executive Editor of Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Seattle.