By Chris McCahill
A new report from SSTI highlights the potential benefits of infill development for accessibility and health in the City of Eau Claire, Wisconsin. The study, completed in coordination with the city’s Planning Division as part of the Legacy Alliance for Community Health initiative, also outlines policies to facilitate smaller infill projects and help ensure equitable outcomes.
For this study, we evaluated each parcel in the city based on two key factors:
- Accessibility analysis, which describes how well-connected each site is to the surrounding community by walking and transit. The study shows a strong link between multimodal accessibility and health outcomes like lower emissions and more active travel.
- Development potential, based on the relative value per acre of nearby properties.
The analysis calls attention to a number of surface parking lots, smaller one-story buildings, and other underdeveloped properties near the city’s core, which could someday be ripe for more compact, mixed-use development.
Figure 1. Urban infill scores throughout Eau Claire, Wisconsin
Compared to greenfield development on the edge of town, these properties tend to produce more than twice as much value per acre, 30 percent fewer vehicle miles traveled, and 40 percent less greenhouse gas emissions per household. Residents also spend one-third less on combined housing and transportation costs and they are many times more likely to commute by walking, biking, or public transit.
But these numbers alone are not enough to help shape future growth in Eau Claire. One-third of the highest scoring parcels, for instance, are zoned exclusively for one- and two-family homes, while many more are restricted by other zoning regulations and minimum parking requirements. Our report offers a number of policy reforms to make smaller infill projects more feasible and context- sensitive, including recommendations to manage travel demand in the development review process and to prevent the displacement of existing communities.
The study will help guide the city as it considers policy and land use changes in the five-year update to its Comprehensive Plan, according to Associate Planner Ned Noel.