On smart growth, CALM before the storm 

Missoula’s newest citizen action group has a rather deceptive acronym.

Community activists started Citizen Advocates for a Livable Missoula, or CALM, to promote affordable housing and sustainable growth through proactive political engagement, rather than through education and endless discussion.

“Part of what’s exciting about CALM is we feel a sense of urgency,” says veteran community activist Deb Halliday. “You don’t drive outside of the city limits and see what’s going on in the agricultural parts of our community without feeling some threat that the way we’re growing is not sustainable.”

CALM has its origins in the group Smart Growth, an organization that represents a diverse cross section of the community. That plurality of voices sometimes stymies action, say the founders of CALM.

“It’s really valuable to have educational forums that cast a broad net of low-income advocates and developers and bicycle advocates all together in the same room,” says Halliday. However, “to gain consensus in Missoula Smart Growth about the way we would impact specific things in our community is really unlikely because folks have different opinions about how we should be growing.”

The subset of Smart Growth members who formed CALM will approach projects with a more unified voice, members said.

“Smart Growth Missoula has evolved as an educational group, whereas I’m looking at CALM as a more proactive group as far as promoting sustainability in transportation or land use,” says John Couch, a Smart Growth and CALM member.

CALM combines a wonkish focus on the nitty-gritty of local government with lofty ideals.

The group’s statement of principles calls for “growing a sane city” because “uncontrolled growth is inherently inequitable.” The statement includes sections on civic engagement, the environment, transportation, jobs and housing.

CALM plans to get involved in several local government projects. These include the Third and Russell Street Project, the 20-Year Bicycle Plan, and the major zoning overhaul Growth Management Phase Two.

For now, CALM exists under the aegis of Montana Smart Growth. The founders have put together a board of directors, and they hope to start recruiting members and fundraising to eventually become an independent non-profit, says Halliday. In the meantime, the group held its first event Wednesday night, bringing Oregon land use activist Robert Liberty to Missoula to speak.

“I think what CALM provides is a broader perspective,” says Halliday. “We’re not trying to recreate the wheel, we’re bringing together different expertise and trying to figure out how to learn from each other and make some change.”

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