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Dave Olson, Published January 24 2014

Burgum offers prescription for vital, thriving communities

FARGO – A Carnegie library is torn down to make space for a parking lot.

Housing tracts spring up on the edge of town, requiring expensive new infrastructure and services to support them.

Both have happened in Fargo, and both are examples of outmoded thinking when it comes to city building.

That was the message Doug Burgum brought to a luncheon Friday afternoon in downtown Fargo, an area Burgum has devoted much time and treasure to preserving and revitalizing.

Kilbourne Group, a company Burgum founded, has turned downtown spaces and historical structures into thriving zones that co-mingle housing, commerce and in some spots higher education.

At Friday’s luncheon, sponsored by Concordia College’s Lorentzen Center for Faith and Work, Burgum summarized those projects and outlined future efforts aimed at making Fargo’s core an attractive and vital place for people to spend their time and money.

To do otherwise, Burgum said, is to fall prey to the same mentality that doomed the city of Detroit. He said Detroit was a once-thriving metropolis whose fortunes were predicated on the false promise of America’s car culture, which gave rise to the low-density, suburban sprawl of the 1950s and ’60s.

Burgum said images of Detroit today, with its abandoned buildings and empty neighborhoods, are evidence that automobile-dependent communities are not sustainable.

“I’d like to declare the experiment is over; it didn’t work,” Burgum said.

Instead, a movement is occurring, and communities like the Fargo-Moorhead area have an opportunity to be at the front of it, said Burgum, who offered a new civic mantra: Mixed-use density creates healthy, vibrant cities.

Burgum said cities that embrace the idea of mixing many land uses in one place can do much to get people out of their cars and back on their feet, citing the assertion of some experts who say 40 percent of the nation’s health care costs would vanish if Americans spent 30 minutes a day walking.

“We’ve worshiped automobiles long enough,” Burgum said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555