The organization, Smart Growth America, was independently hired by a coalition of Newport residents in January.

The move came just as the Newport City Council adopted a highly-anticipated plan for redevelopment in the North End, called the North End Urban Plan. Some residents worry that plan will cause property values to rise in the North End, and displace families in the process.

That’s in part what prompted the Newport Health Equity Zone (HEZ), a citywide coalition, to partner with Smart Growth America.

The team intends to assemble a local advisory board of North End residents, and interview other Newport stakeholders to identify community needs.

At a Newport City Council workshop Tuesday evening, Smart Growth America President Calvin Gladney said the goal is “to think about how to make sure that we not only benefit the place when it comes to development, but we benefit the people.”

The project will involve assessing the city’s existing tools for equitable development, including zoning and housing and business assistance. The Smart Growth America consultants will also study how other strategies — like new tax stabilization measures, or contracts requiring developers to provide certain benefits to the local community — could be applied in the North End.

“We can make a choice to continue doing business as usual — to make decisions that unintentionally injure the most vulnerable members of our community. Or we can choose to take actions to encourage investment, but, to put in effect strategies and policies that will counteract the unwanted effects of this investment,” said Christian Belden, executive director of the local organization Church Community Housing Corporation.

The project is not funded by the City of Newport, yet its effectiveness will largely hinge on city officials’ openness to the team’s suggestions.

“I just want to point out that this is not a city initiative. This is an initiative embraced by HEZ, and they wanted to present some of the things that they felt in the future could help,” said Newport Mayor Jeanne-Marie Napolitano during the workshop Tuesday evening.

Some members of Newport’s Planning Board and City Council showed confusion and resistance toward the project — and expressed concern that it could supplant the North End Urban Plan, or delay long-awaited redevelopment in the North End.

Smart Growth America’s Gladney said that the equitable development strategy is meant not to replace the city’s plan, but to offer a set of tools to aid in its implementation.

First Ward Councilor Angela McCalla, who represents the area of the city containing the North End, said the project will address a local “hunger for a livable community.”

“This is changing the way that we’re thinking about things. We’re being intentional by not creating harm,” McCalla said. “We can all agree to the fact that we want to do something that’s going to enhance and be for the betterment of our community.”

Smart Growth America will craft the North End Equitable Development Strategy over the course of 18 months, finishing the final phase of the project in the spring of 2022.


Read more about the North End of Newport and the city’s plan for redevelopment here.

Antonia Ayres-Brown is the Newport Bureau Reporter for The Public’s Radio. She can be reached at antonia@thepublicsradio.org