Smart growth and the State of the Union


President Obama delivering the 2011 State of the Union. Image via Wikimedia commons.

In advance of President Obama’s State of the Union address tonight, we’re taking a look at the state of the administration’s work on development in the United States.

2012 saw a number of stellar advancements in federal policies that coordinate land use, housing and transportation. A number of federal programs as well as improvements to existing ones are helping communities across the country develop in ways that are cost efficient and promote broader economic growth.

The ongoing work of the Partnership for Sustainable Communities is the foremost example of this. The Partnership is an innovative program that helps communities more effectively coordinate federal housing, transportation, water, and other infrastructure investments. This work helps make neighborhoods more economically resilient, allows people to live closer to jobs, saves households time and money, and supports municipal budgets.

The Partnership agencies are working with hundreds of communities across the country to support local projects ranging from downtown infrastructure improvements to long-term redevelopment. These programs are helping places like Tampa, Florida, which is working to make its downtown a better place to live, work and shop with the help of a Community Challenge grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). These programs are helping places like mid-Michigan, where a coalition of townships and cities are cooperating to rebuild the region’s economy with the help of a HUD regional planning grant. And these programs are helping places like Greenville, South Carolina, where city leaders are creating better transportation choices for middle class families with the help of a TIGER II grant from the Department of Transportation (DOT). In 2013, the Partnership is poised to help even more communities achieve their goals.

The Partnership’s work is helping communities across the country capitalize on rising demand for homes near jobs, shops and schools. In December, EPA released researching showing just how strong that demand is. Residential Construction Trends in America’s Metropolitan Regions revealed that 71% of large metropolitan regions in the United States saw an increased share of infill housing development during 2005-2009 compared to 2000-2004. And of the 51 large metropolitan regions examined in this study, 36 saw an increased share of infill housing development during that same period.

Big changes will happen in 2013 at two of these agencies. The Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Lisa Jackson, announced in December that she will be stepping down later this month. Also leaving is DOT Secretary Ray LaHood – Streetsblog wrote earlier this month about LaHood’s legacy and what his successor might do differently. Both Administrator Jackson and Secretary LaHood have been instrumental in the Partnership and its incipient work. Smart Growth America looks forward to working with their successors at both agencies.

In June Congress passed a new federal transportation bill. The bill contained a few key programs that help towns and cities redevelop infrastructure around existing buildings, a crucial part of smart growth. MAP-21, as the bill is called, creates a grant program for local communities to make their streets safer for walking and biking. These projects will provide transportation options, improve safety and enhance economic vitality. The bill also expanded the TIFIA program, which allows transit programs to compete for larger federal loans. Talks are already under way for the next transportation bill, and we are eager to see those provisions enhanced and expanded to help communities across the country build truly multimodal transportation systems.

Meanwhile, in March President Obama launched the Council on Strong Cities, Strong Communities. The Council is part of the White House Office of Urban Affairs, which works to make cities and metropolitan areas more competitive, more sustainable and more inclusive.

Strong Cities, Strong Communities is a demonstration of the President’s commitment to the revitalization of America’s cities, which, as the administration explains, “serve as engines of innovation and our overall national economic recovery.” In the months ahead, Smart Growth America looks forward to working with the Office of Urban Affairs in their efforts to build stronger urban, suburban, and rural communities through this and similar locally-led approaches.

In the coming year, Smart Growth America will work with both the Obama Administration and Congress on a number of federal issues. We hope that our recent report about how the federal government invests and supports real estate in the United States will be a guidepost for new thinking about how to use federal investments more effectively for local economic resiliency. Read more about this issue and our recent report, or learn about our other federal policy priorities.

The state of development in the United States today is very different from any point in history. The demands of today will continue to require new thinking about how to be more cost effective with our resources and invest widely in the nation’s future.

We look forward to working with the Obama Administration on these and other issues in the coming year.

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