How Communities Become Nicer Places to Live

For the last several years NAR has been making tens of thousands of dollars a year available to state and local associations for smart growth initiatives and so far more than $1 milion has been given away to 265 associations. That dollar amount is noteworthy but what’s interesting about the program is what the associations are using the money for.

The Michigan Association of REALTORS® has an extremely innovative program that has to do with “placemaking,” a term that refers to ways to make communities more fun to be out and about in. At the moment, the Michigan program is limited to a pilot effort in Lansing, but it’s bursting with ideas that can be applied anywhere. Among other things, the program uses $20,000 in NAR funds to help pay for a farmer’s market, live music performances in an underused urban park, and the refurbishing of a once-downtrodden neighborhood to attract private investment as part of an effort to turn the area into a mixed-use destination.

The Greater Nashville Association of REALTORS® is using $10,000 to help fund a citizens’ transit council, which is intended to make residents more knowledgeable about land-use issues and get them to think more broadly about how land use relates to quality of life.

And in Memphis, the association is using an NAR grant on a “Complete Streets” initiative, which is a strategy for retrofitting streets so they’re safe and attractive to all users, not just drivers.

All of these projects in some way relate to smart growth, a term that means different things to different people. What smart growth really boils down to is simply making communities nice places to live even as population densities increase. These and other grant projects are as varied as can be, and yet they’re aiming for the same thing: creating a pleasant place for people as they’re out and about in their community.

As we know, community quality of life is one of the underwriters of property markets and home values, so there’s a concrete return on investment as commercial and residential real estate markets respond to improved conditions. Of course, it’s hardly the only answer to improved markets. Nothing is that simple. But it’s one of the pieces to the economic puzzle, and it could be a starting point for maintaining the livability of your community as population densities increase.

To help you become more familiar with the smart growth grants, we produced a 4-minute video, which is posted above . It looks at some success stories and then invites you to learn more on the smart growth section of

Robert Freedman

Robert Freedman is director of multimedia communications for the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®. He can be reached at

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  1. Enjoyed reading these wonderful examples of people becoming creative to make their communities better places to live in.
    I especially appreciate initiatives that lean on environmental conservation as this is key in our technology driven world.

  2. The term “Smart Growth” has nothing to do about being smart. It is a term developed and pushed on city planners that originated from the United Nations “Agenda 21”. The focus of smart growth and Agenda 21 is that humans are only bad for the environment. Suburban sprawl I evil and people should be re-located to live in stack housing near public transportation centers. Smart Growth challenges the right of individuals to own property.

    Google Agenda21 and smart growth and see where it takes you. Seven states have already outlawed the implementation of Smart Growth policies.

  3. I wonder if there is any incentive for neighbourhood home owners to also develop small community funds to develop local areas.

    Too often I think, area development, like parks and so on are left to local councils, and when council bureaucracy get involved, not only do the funds seem to dwindle but the time that it takes to actually see the development goes to years.

    How do you think that you can get a community to band together and invest into their own community to make the quality of life better for all.. not to mention the value of the property go up?