For the last five years, our team has been studying the planning and development challenges of small towns and cities near national parks, public lands, and other natural amenities. Our prior and ongoing NITC funded research shows that these “gateway communities”–which comprise a significant portion of the rural West, constituting about 31% of all communities in the U.S. Mountain West and more than 60% of those under 25,000 people–are experiencing rapid growth and increased tourism. This has created a range of “big city challenges” for these places, particularly in the form of interconnected transportation, land use, and housing issues. These trends and related challenges have effectively been “put on steroids” in the aftermath of COVID-19. As a result, many western gateway communities now describe their transportation, housing, and land use situation as a “crisis.” Addressing these challenges is made more difficult by the fact that many of these places have few if any paid public officials, little if any capacity for long-range planning, limited resources, and challenging political dynamics.
This project will help gateway communities better prepare for and address their interconnected transportation, housing, and land use challenges through translating the findings and data from our past and ongoing NITC-funded research into a suite of tools, educational materials, and resources that are specifically designed for public officials, transportation professionals, and other practitioners working in and with these places. More specifically, we will develop a series of online educational modules and related tools and resources. These resources will share the results of our research, provide practical interpretations of findings, and provide clear policy and planning recommendations in an easily digestible format with the goal of helping these communities better plan and prepare for their futures. We expect that this project and the tools and resources it produces will result in improved planning, transportation, and development decisions in gateway communities and regions across the West, thereby helping to protect and improve mobility, access to opportunity, livability, and sustainability throughout much of the rural western United States. We also anticipate that, through drawing additional attention to the acute housing, transportation, and land use challenges these communities are experiencing, this project will help mobilize additional funding, resources, and research aimed at better understanding and addressing the unique needs of these small towns with big city challenges.