When the chips are down 

Missoula’s City Council doesn’t usually play games—ostensibly that’s not what they’re paid to do. But last Wednesday, Oct. 8, a portion of the Council put aside zoning and tax increment districts and played Mayor Kadas’ latest brainchild: The Missoula Growth Game.

The object of the game is to predict Missoula’s future growth and figure out where and how to build enough homes to accommodate that growth by overlaying a map of town with hundreds of little tiles representing denser zoning. There’s no one way to win or lose, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t a few frustrated players.

“I’m sort of amazed at the potential for growth in Missoula,” says Councilman John Engen. “When you start putting all those tiles down to accommodate 30 years of growth, it becomes difficult. I was working with [Councilman] Jerry [Ballas] and we were having trouble.”

After explaining the rules, Kadas had six councilmembers buddy up with a few city planners and have at it. None of the four boards looked alike at the end of the game. One had condos lining Interstate 90, a second had high rises in Lolo, and another blasted the urban core with infill.

Part of the exercise lay in letting the professionals have at it, before giving citizens a turn. Minus the chardonnay and cheese balls, the city plans to host future game nights when Missoulians will have a chance to experiment with the means of accommodating another 20,000 people over the next two decades.

“If the public keeps an open mind and understands that whatever chips people put down aren’t set in stone, hopefully they will view it as an opportunity to study various scenarios,” says Ballas.

Councilwoman Lois Herbig disagrees that the public, or Council, will benefit much from the game.

“Frankly, I’m not impressed with it,” says Herbig. “I think it’s an honest effort by the mayor, but I think it’s just a gimmick. I don’t see how putting all these chips on a board is going to help anything.”

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