Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Reimagining the Western town

The 1862 Homestead Act promised 160 acres of public property to settlers willing to stake their dreams on Western migration and by 1900 the act had led to the distribution of 80 million acres of federal land. The West was transformed. Yet the U.S. government also had the foresight to reserve vast expanses of frontier in national parks, wilderness areas and national forests, securing protected lands for all Americans in perpetuity. Today, however, public lands in the Rocky Mountains are feeling the burden as surrounding communities grow rapidly, applying unprecedented pressure on these spaces. Few examples better reflect this than Bozeman, Montana. This university town, the population nexus of southwest Montana’s Gallatin County, is seeing explosive growth. The county holds more than 100,000 residents and if current trends persist that number will double by 2040. The attraction to Bozeman, like other Western mountain towns, is clear. Exceptional skiing and mountain biking, blue-ribbon fly fishing, and abundant open space to view or hunt wildlife are just a few of the opportunities spurring a modern migration to this part of the country. But unchecked outward growth risks jeopardizing the very open spaces, wildlife corridors and unfettered opportunities for solitude that draw the contemporary American pioneer to the new American West. If Bozeman fails to maintain the qualities that draw new settlers—and keep the old—it could risk becoming another Denver by the turn of the next century. Some developers are looking to other models for answers: a way to build from the inside out. Nearly 700 miles to the east of Bozeman, one city is being reimagined with vitality in mind. Sitting on the banks of the Red River and known as the “Gateway to the West,” Fargo, North Dakota, is experiencing a resurgence in its historic downtown led by the efforts of Doug Burgum and the Kilbourne Group...more

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