Chelsea Schneider, Municipal Innovations Specialist
When Kokomo leaders wanted to improve the walkability of the city’s downtown, they looked to their streets.
In doing so, the city became a front-runner for trading out one-way streets with stoplights for two-way streets with four-way stops. Through the project, around 40 percent of the city’s traffic lights were taken out.
The result: “We think our downtown is the most walkable, pedestrian-friendly downtown probably in Indiana,” Kokomo Mayor Greg Goodnight said.
Shifting the traffic pattern carried practical benefits. Two-way streets slow traffic down, and fewer traffic lights means the city saves on energy and maintenance costs. But the change also carries a deeper impact. As Goodnight tells community members, city leaders are developing Kokomo not just for current residents, but future residents as well.
Walkable neighborhoods is where economic activity takes place, he said.
“We have a lot of opportunities in that we are connected to Indianapolis, and the growth on the north side of Indianapolis, but it is our obligations to take advantage of it,” Goodnight said. “Kokomo is a city that is welcoming and has opportunities for every demographic.”
The street reconfiguration served as a key catalyst to the growth of Downtown Kokomo, which is now home to an eclectic mix of shops and eateries, co-working space and a newly-constructed YMCA. Kokomo also was an early adopter of a facade improvement program. The city used local income tax revenue to provide $5,000 in matching grants for about 30 buildings to improve their curb appeal.
Among other projects, several new housing developments are being built in the city, including a $32 million mixed-use development that includes luxury apartments near Municipal Stadium; a $22 million assisted-living facility; and a $6.5 million redevelopment plan for the historic YMCA after the new, state-of-the-art facility was built.
The city also has brought down nearly 100 blighted properties through the state’s Hardest Hit Fund.
“That’s the first step, removing the blight,” Goodnight said. “The second part is now what do we do with it. The end goal is not an empty lot. It’s just a step.”