Livingston gets planners' help to redesign itself

mnorth@mercedsunstar.comMarch 29, 2013 

LIVINGSTON -- City leaders are looking to the future of their community and are getting some professional help in the process.

City Manager Jose Antonio Ramirez and other city officials met this week with members of the American Institute of Architects and other organizations in an effort to advance Livingston's development.

Soon, the institute members will return to their Washington, D.C., headquarters to assemble a team of volunteer planners, economists and architects from around the country to help put together a plan for the future development of Livingston.

The process is part of the Sustainable Design Assessment Teams program, which helps communities design themselves in a sensible and maintainable fashion. A proposal was put together by the city, and it was one of nine selected from across the country to participate in the program.

Erin Simmons, who directs the design teams program for the institute, said that once a group of professionals is selected and arrives in Livingston, there will be a series of meetings with residents and city officials to come up with policy recommendations and design concepts for the city.

After taking a tour of Livingston on Monday, Simmons said there's much the community can take advantage of.

"I think it's one of the more interesting places I've worked in," she said. "The diversity here is very unique to Livingston. There's a sense of community. You have these incredibly diverse groups of people who live in the same place, and they all share that sense of community."

Agriculture -- and other needs

Mark Hinshaw, director of urban design for LMN Architects in Seattle, will be leading the design teams program in Livingston.

He said there's a lot the city can do to build on its agricultural heritage and expand to meet other needs.

"I think there's a great blend of different cultural groups here and a fabulous combination of agricultural energy and heritage, and the bones of a good downtown area that could come back," he said.

The team of professionals will need to find out what suits the community and expand the city's image beyond agriculture.

"You have that as a great foundation," Hinshaw said. "Now, where do you go?"

Ramirez said a cultural arts center and downtown revitalization are two examples of projects that could come out of the program.

"What's neat is that all these ideas are going to be tossed around, and we're going to have professionals from all over the state and all over the country, possibly," Ramirez said. "It's going to all be funneled into some type of document with a presentation to our council."

The plan will have short-term and long-term goals, some of which may require funding, Ramirez said, and will highlight the strengths of the community.

"If you have a document that outlines what the community really wants, then everybody will keep their eyes and ears open for funding opportunities and to make sure that the plan gets executed," he said. "There are already great positive changes that are being stimulated as we speak."

The city won't have to contribute any money to the program, Ramirez said, adding that the program's value to the city is hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The project, which is open to community participation, will likely be completed at the end of the year.

Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or mnorth@mercedsunstar.com.

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