Progress, Montana: Central

I started Progress during my last semester of college. I worked on the city during my classes. With a wedding, graduation, and move to plan, I needed a break – and map-making for me is a lot like movie-watching (or even alcohol consumption) for others.

And now, my fictional introduction:

Progress lies on I-94 about 40 miles down-river from Billings, Montana’s largest city. It began as Rimrock, Montana, in 1890, when silver deposits were discovered in the rimrock that flanked the Yellowstone River. When residents of Rimrock decided the US’s actions toward the Indians were simply intolerable, the town publicly opposed the US government’s Manifest Destiny policies. In turn, the government put pressure on the Montana territory to quit supporting Rimrock financially – and to make sure Rimrock wasn’t able to trade with the rest of the US. For a while, Montana state marshalls would line the railroad in Rimrock, making sure trains didn’t stop there. They killed anyone who opposed them.

Few residents of Rimrock took any action toward the marshalls, valuing peace over conflict. To survive, however, several horseback trading operations began, and Rimrock began trading with Canadian firms in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan to the north. A large silver deposit was discovered near Rimrock in 1901; the city contacted with a Canadian mining company in agreement that the company could mine all of the silver for a flat one-time rate. The deal was made, and on October 4, 1901, the citizens of Rimrock voted to re-name their town “Progress,” indicative of their tireless ambition to progressively develop their home into an innovative, environmentally and socially conscious city.

The money from the Canadians funded the construction of Progress University in 1903. Progress’ declared mayor, William Alpert, was an Oxford graduate (and British citizen), and persuaded three of his fellow Oxford grads (who became fellows) to move to Montana and begin to develop the school.

Progress regained state money after Montana gained statehood, and began its 100-year journey toward being one of the most progressive cities in the US. In 1944, the city voted to disallow Levittown-type housing developments indefinitely, preserving a grid-type street grid where geographically possible. In the same year, the city re-zoned its land to offer multi-use (commercial and residential) space in 70 percent of the city.

Since the city was located in such an isolated area of the country, it had to resort to desperate measures to give businesses incentive to relocate there. The most successful tactic has been to subsidize commercial shipping costs through tax increases and long-term investment funds. Since 1962, Progress has offered 40 percent discounts (fluctuating annually) to businesses who wish to ship (via rail or air) to any domestic location. This has placed significant legal pressure on the city and warranted public debate for nearly 50 years, but has brought business to Eastern Montana it may have never had otherwise, as Progress’ economy is based around green energy, tech manufacturing, and public policy – completely inconsistent with the general economy of the state of Montana.

Today, Progress is home to nearly 200,000 people – with hotel space for another 45,000. The city has hosted an average of 78 conferences for more than 1,000 people each year since 2001 – an impressive achievement for a city along I-94 in the northern plains.

This map shows the central portion of Progress. Since I began the city in pencil, I erased roads and properties as the city grew (when the pencil lines fade, it means things are getting old – naturally happens when man-handling paper). Rimrock, for reference’s sake, began at 4th Ave and Billings.

The east-west streets ascend numerically to the north and south from 1st Ave, and are marked in quadrants (NW, NE, SW, SE). The north-south streets ascend alphabetically to the east and west from Alliance.


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