Urban Greening

This fall, the Downtown Bozeman Partnership is preparing to give the city commission a draft of a plan to enhance the downtown area. The 44-page document, called the Downtown Improvement Plan, proposes a variety of strategies to encourage economic development, smart growth, and commercial vitality in Bozeman’s historic core. One of those strategies calls for enhancing downtown’s urban green space.

“Greening” downtown would also foster community connections between residents and the natural environment, ultimately creating a more livable city. The strategy has three parts.

Enhance Bozeman Creek: The DBP feels that Bozeman Creek has been one of downtown’s most underutilized assets and provides a unique opportunity to create a public green corridor between Rouse and Lamme avenues. An intermittent “Bozeman Creek Park” would provide a natural connection from the north and south neighborhoods to the downtown commercial area. Many sections where the creek is exposed could be developed as pocket parks complete with grass, picnic tables, benches, and short paths. Bozeman Creek could be revealed and made a centerpiece of a downtown open space system.

Green the Streets: The Downtown Plan calls for up to 300 new street trees along Mendenhall, Babcock, and the side streets connecting them to Main Street. Economic studies show that the presence of trees encourages people to walk greater distances in downtown areas and provide a more relaxed pedestrian experience by calming traffic and reducing noise. Each tree can offset the pollution from a car driven three miles per day. Just planting trees along Mendenhall and Babcock Streets between Church and Grand Avenues would offset the pollution from over 400 cars a day passing through downtown.

Green Courtyards and Alleys: Other tactics include adding green courtyards and natural plazas to future developments, as well as transforming the alleys paralleling Main Street. Property owners could be incentivized to add small, green open spaces to new buildings, which over time would greatly increase the presence of the natural environment downtown. Lamps, delineated walkways, and small-scale landscaping could make alleys more pedestrian friendly. Such initiatives would not only green downtown, but also augment the secondary entrances to buildings and businesses.

Although many people support the improvements, there are several issues to address before the first tree is planted. Like the other strategies proposed in the Downtown Improvement Plan, implementation depends on completing four critical tasks.

Developing a Detailed Plan of Action
Like all of the downtown improvement strategies, the green initiatives need more detailed renderings and preliminary engineering schematics. Additional conceptual design work would involve input from various members of the community, including business and property owners plus architectural and landscape professionals.

Paying for It
Funding for planting trees, improving the alleys, or developing green space along Bozeman Creek could prove to the greatest challenge. Sources could include state and federal stream-restoration grants, transportation enhancement funds, local and state parks grants, and private funding initiatives, as well as tax-increment and business-improvement-district monies. Creativity and patience will help.

Establishing Public-Private Partnerships
The alleys and Bozeman Creek corridor are made up of both private and public properties. Developing constructive partnerships between public and private entities will prove critical to advancing the Downtown Improvement Plan’s green agenda. The Downtown Partnership will bring property owners to the table to coordinate design, funding, and implementation efforts.

Prioritizing Projects
Within the context of the entire Downtown Improvement Plan, the benefits of the proposed green initiatives will need to be weighed against the other strategies, such as streetscape improvements, parking and traffic improvements, and a variety of commercial and cultural components.

Chris Naumann has served as the Executive Director of the Downtown Bozeman Partnership since May 2007. He established Barrel Mountaineering in the heart of downtown in 1995 with his wife, Laura Ryan. For more information about the Downtown Improvement Plan, visit downtownbozeman.org.