For a few years, friends might have thought the strange acronym “PZD” was Kyle Parker’s personal mantra. This month, this urban planning concept that Parker, CEO of the Arkansas Colleges of Health Education, advocated for so passionately is a lived-in reality at Chaffee Crossing.
Directly across Chad Colley Boulevard and facing the ACHE campus, there are now students living in the top two floors of a Planned Zoning Development called The Village at Heritage. The 65 residential living spaces are filling rapidly with students of the Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine. On the first floor, retail construction is underway.
People living more densely and within walking distance of services they need is what Planned Zoning Development allows. It is the desirable, global future of urban living and “planned” is the key, Parker explained. Once this new concept was permitted by area zoning authorities, he hired expert analysts to recommend the precise mix of living/retail space, down to the purpose of each square foot.
Nothing about The Village or the developing area called Heritage rising around the colleges is happening by chance, Parker said. “Our mission (at the colleges) is to promote a healthy lifestyle in this region,” he explained. “This is that kind of place.”
One can sense he’s pleased that everyone can now see and experience what he’s been describing as all-inclusive concept since the establishment of the colleges of health education in 2014. Next door to The Village at Heritage, a residential cluster called The Porches at Heritage is nearly finished. Attracting similarly-planned private residences was an intention of their master plan, Parker said. A first resident has moved in and more of the new homes are weeks, if not days, from welcoming waiting occupants. All homes at The Porches are already leased.
The Porches is a neighborhood of handsome, nostalgic white clapboard cottages with standing-tin roofs, sited around a grassy commons, lighted by gas street lamps. The homes have well-designed, full landscaping and shared social areas out front for grilling or play. Inviting front porches, with porch swings and ceiling fans, are close to the sidewalk. Neighbors will socialize because they’ll be so near one another, walking to The Village next door for meals and errands. Students and their neighbors will mix – along with everyone else who dines or shops there.
People who live in other Chaffee Crossing neighborhoods will walk or bike in, too. That’s the healthy lifestyle this master plan promotes. It’s the same appeal provided by ERC’s The Hub at Providence, Parker pointed out, which is also a PZD project.
Because the colleges aim to educate and retain the young doctors and other health career students who enroll here, offering this lifestyle is imperative, Parker said – with plenty of data to back it up. “This is the kind of places they are looking for. That’s why it was designed that way,” he emphasized. In his three years of observing ARCOM students, he and his team have taken note that they really do walk more, bike more and drive less if possible. The average age of the student body is 24.
“Our biggest number of calls to campus security last year was for jumper cables,” Parker laughed. “Their car batteries run down. They go to class and walk home to study. Their food comes in from Waitr. They bank on their laptops. If they have to do a Walmart run, they carpool it,” he said. “They’re very different.”
Colleges – and cities – who want to attract and keep a young population must react to that difference, he said. “When I went to school, you applied for a job and if you got it, you moved to the area. Not today. These kids want to find a cool place to live, move there and then find a job. Our students, especially, as desirable, healthcare professionals, can work anywhere. It is one of the biggest challenges we have in Fort Smith.”
Even with his ‘developer’ hat on, Parker never lets anyone forget that the most critical goal of the colleges of health education is to keep these doctors and other health professionals here to take care of us, in this region. It is to that end that he’s finding them a cool coffee vendor, a craft beer, a pavilion that is plug-and-play ready for evening music. If these amenities attract other new people or keep young locals here for their careers and to build families, it’s an added benefit. “It’s all about making Fort Smith be alive again,” he said.
The projected need for physicians and other health professionals is bottomless at present, so Kyle calls these careers “recession-proof.” By early 2020, a College of Health Sciences will offer physical therapy, occupational therapy, and physician assistant programs. Two more health colleges are in ACHE’s long-term vision.
The first graduating class of 150 will complete their four-year education in May 2021. After graduation, they will have three-year residencies in hospitals and medical facilities in Arkansas and the Cherokee and Choctaw nations.
About 500 students are now enrolled. Some 350 will be enrolled in the new Health Sciences college. Parker is sure that other residential developers will prosper from building more housing for students who do not live on campus, another intention of the long-term planning of the colleges.
Rick Mooney Construction has plans to extend the concept of The Porches at Heritage to more multi- and single family housing based on the expert data the colleges obtained and uses. The 17 cottages may grow to 57 different housing units of related design.
“When Chaffee Crossing (the FCRA) gave the colleges 200 acres, it was the smartest move they ever did,” Park said. “Look what exploded around us. That’s exactly what we wanted.”