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Taking a Closer Look

Design Matters

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Mayor John Bullard of New Bedford, Massachusetts put it this way, “Challenge anyone to name his or her favorite place and then ask why.” Many of the reasons that attractive places are attractive have to do with design. Without thoughtful attention to design, a town will become “Anywhere USA.” Design of a community communicates what it is.

Design is also important because it relates directly to economic development and equals cold hard cash for many communities. Mayor Michael Polovitz of Grand Forks, North Dakota observed that, “Design reflects on the city as a whole. How a city looks to new businesses is very important to whether or not a business locates in your city.” Likewise, Mayor David Musante of Northampton, Massachusetts noted, “Design relates directly to an impression of livability and economic vitality. It has a major impact on our city.”

Good design is especially important to those communities seeking to attract tourists and their dollars. This is because the more a community does to protect and enhance its unique characteristics, whether natural or man-made, the more tourists it will attract. On the other hand, the more a community comes to resemble everyplace else, the less reason there is to visit. …

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photo of Ed McMahonEd McMahon is one of the country’s most incisive analysts of planning and land use issues and trends. He holds the Charles Fraser Chair on Sustainable Development and is a Senior Resident Fellow at the Urban Land Institute in Washington, DC. McMahon is a frequent speaker at conferences on planning and land development.

Over the past 21 years, we’ve been pleased to have published more than two dozen articles by McMahon in the Planning Commissioners Journal, and now on

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