Tag: Reports

Where America is sprawling and what it means

Measuring Sprawl 2014

Some regions in the United States are sprawling, some are building in compact and connected ways, and the difference between the two strategies has huge implications for the day-to-day lives of millions of Americans.

Measuring Sprawl 2014, released today Smart Growth America in partnership with the University of Utah’s Metropolitan Research Center, ranks the most sprawling and most compact areas of the country. The new report evaluates development patterns in 221 major metropolitan areas and their counties based on four factors: density, land use mix, street connectivity and activity centering. Each metro area received a Sprawl Index score based on these factors.

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Announcing the best Complete Streets policies of 2012

Communities across the country are making roads safer and more accessible for everyone who uses them, and more communities are using these strategies now than ever before.

The Best Complete Streets Policies of 2012, released today, examines all the Complete Streets policies passed in the last year and highlights some of the best. The analysis also revealed that the Complete Streets movement grew in 2012, continuing a national trend since 2005.

In 2012, 125 communities adopted Complete Streets policies. These laws, resolutions, executive orders, policies and planning and design documents encourage and provide safe access to destinations for everyone, regardless of age, ability, income, ethnicity or how they travel.

In total, 488 Complete Streets policies are now in place nationwide, at all levels of government. Statewide policies are in place in 27 states as well as the District of Columbia and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. Forty-two regional planning organizations, 38 counties and 379 municipalities in 48 states also have policies that allow everyone to safely use America’s roads. The policies passed in 2012 comprise more than one quarter of all policies in place today.

Ten cities have led the way in crafting comprehensive policy language. Our ranking of top Complete Streets policies is intended to celebrate the communities that have done exceptional work in the past year.

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Ideas for creating better DOTs at Good Jobs, Green Jobs 2013

How can state departments of transportation (DOTs) cut costs while creating better transportation choices and creating quality jobs?

That’s what Smart Growth America’s Vice President Roger Millar will discuss at this year’s Good Jobs Green Jobs conference, on April 16, 2013 in Washington D.C. Joining Millar for a panel discussion called “Not Your Father’s DOT” will be Eric Sundquist, Managing Director, Smart State Transportation Initiative and Douglas Shinkle, Senior Policy Specialist, National Conference of State Legislatures.

Many state DOTs face falling revenues but rising demand for services. In response to these challenges, DOTs across the country are changing the way they do business. Agencies are taking new approaches to transportation that fit the unique demands of their states and that provide greater benefits at less cost. They are improving existing services in the short term and planning effectively for the long term. They are adopting innovative yet pragmatic reforms. They are reevaluating and retooling traditional practices to ensure that those practices continue to provide users with a robust, economically beneficial transportation network.

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New report calls for examination of federal real estate spending

Federal financing of and spending on real estate impacts millions of Americans on every street, in every neighborhood, town and rural community in the country. From loan guarantees to commercial tax credits, these programs help those most in need pay their rent, help families purchase their first home, and provide financing for commercial development. The federal government impacts where and how homes and even whole neighborhoods are built in the United States.

Federal Involvement in Real Estate: A call for examination surveys this spending, which encompasses approximately $450 billion each year. Through a combination of direct spending and commitments, this funding supports loans and loan guarantees, grants, and tax credits.

This spending has an enormous impact on the U.S. real estate market. Though usually viewed as a “free” market, the U.S. real estate sector is heavily influenced by direct and indirect government intervention. Taken as a whole, these expenditures and investments impact where real estate is developed and what kind of product is built.

Even a cursory analysis reveals this impact is uneven. For example, small multifamily buildings are less likely to receive financing, despite the fact that most renters in the United States live in these smaller buildings. Viewed as whole, federal funds are not targeted to those most in need, are not targeted to strengthen existing communities and are not targeted to places where people have economic opportunities.

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Webinar highlights new guide for state transportation officials

On Friday, Smart Growth America participated in a webinar to highlight our new resource for state transportation officials, released recently in partnership with the State Smart Transportation Initiative.

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New research highlights rising demand for homes and businesses in walkable neighborhoods

A new report from The George Washington University’s Center for Real Estate and Urban Analysis, in partnership with LOCUS: Responsible Real Estate Developers and Investors and ULI Washington, reveals how walkable urban places and projects will drive tomorrow’s real estate industry and the U.S. economy, and outlines what actions are needed to take advantage of these market trends.

The report was released at an event yesterday in Washington, DC. Governor Parris Glendening, President of Smart Growth America’s Leadership Institute, gave the kickoff keynote of the day-long event. Glendening discussed the megatrends shaping the real estate market today, including changing demographics, new demand among consumers and emerging economic factors. These trends are all influencing the real estate market, Glendening explained, and are shaping how developers think about the built environment and economic development.

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New report and companion workbook highlight successful Complete Streets policies from across the United States

Communities across the United States adopted 146 Complete Streets policies in 2011, and over 350 policies are now in place across the country. A new report looks at some of the best of these policies, and a new resource can help community leaders bring these practices to their town or city.

The National Complete Streets Coalition’s 2011 Policy Analysis surveys the over 350 Complete Streets policies that have been approved by communities across the country. These policies are working to make streets safer, more livable and more welcoming for everyone, and the 2011 Policy Analysis surveys the most successful and robust.

“It’s great to see such a surge in Complete Streets policy adoption over the past year,” said National Complete Streets Coalition Director Roger Millar. “But this growth is also reflective of changing times and attitudes about transportation.”

Local policies of particular note are highlighted throughout the report, providing a comprehensive examination of best policy practices across the country. Complete Streets policies in New Jersey, Louisiana, California, Minnesota, and Connecticut are among the report’s most successful examples.

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From Vacancy to Vibrancy: A guide to redeveloping underground storage tank sites through area-wide planning

A new guide for town, city and county leaders outlines a new tool they can use to build the financial and political support needed to reclaim and redevelop the thousands of abandoned gas stations, auto body shops, and industrial facilities nationwide.

From Vacancy to Vibrancy focuses on underground storage tank (UST) sites – properties with buried or partially buried tanks that have been used to store petroleum or other hazardous substances. When gas stations, auto body shops, industrial facilities or other types of development close down, these tanks are often left behind. As they age, the tanks are prone to leakage and can contaminate both soil and groundwater, posing a serious environmental threat. The new guide takes aim at one of the primary reasons these types of properties remain vacant for so long: many officials just don’t know what to do with them.

The regulatory issues associated with vacant properties containing a UST, as well as the time and money involved in cleanup, often makes revitalization seem like more trouble than it is worth. These challenges are overshadowed, however, by UST sites’ potential for neighborhood revitalization. From the Executive Summary:

UST sites are often both small and centrally located, and both these traits make them unique opportunities for revitalization. As demand rises for housing in neighborhoods close to town and in city centers – persisting in spite of larger challenges in the real estate market nationwide – UST sites are in a position to catalyze reinvestment and redevelopment initiatives.


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The high cost of vacant homes: a new report from GAO

In 2010, there were 10.3 million vacant homes in America. Many are vacant as a result of foreclosure, and they’re costing municipalities at a time when public budgets are already strained to the breaking point.

A new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) examines trends in the number of vacant properties, how they relate to the recent increase in foreclosures, the cost of maintaining and administering these properties and strategies for coping with the crises. GAO analyzed Census Bureau vacancy data and data on property maintenance costs from the Federal Housing Administration and two housing-related government-sponsored enterprises. The Office conducted case studies in nine cities selected to provide a range of local economic and housing conditions, rates of foreclosure, and geographic locations.

For many cities, vacant and foreclosed properties are more than just another costly expense. Tending to these properties costs money, but neglecting them can cost far more, and the report from GAO makes clear the scope of this problem. The Huffington Post explained the dilemma vacant properties pose:

While the upkeep and maintenance of a vacant home is technically the responsibility of either the homeowner or the mortgage owner, in practice it often falls to the town, which has to pay for basic services – like cutting the grass, boarding up windows and draining swimming pools – to keep the property from falling into total disrepair. Alternatively, the town can have the vacant property demolished [but] either way, the tab for cities and towns is often high. Detroit, for example, has paid $20 million to demolish 4,000 properties in the past two and a half years, the GAO found.

Communities incur costs in other ways as well. The GAO noted that vacant homes are often associated with crime and accidental fires, which require the attention of police and fire departments, thus tying up city resources. And cities often see their property taxes fall as vacant homes drive down the value of homes around them.

While vacant properties pose serious challenges to the communities faced with them, cities and states are already using great strategies to turn these properties into assets. Land banks are public authorities created to acquire, hold, manage and develop vacant properties. Land banks aim to convert vacant properties that have been neglected by the open market into productive use, and are already in use in Ohio and New York. Land banks are a great way for municipalities to deal with the high cost of vacant homes and support their local economy in the process.

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Repair Priorities: Transportation spending strategies to save taxpayer dollars and improve roads

Decades of underinvestment in regular repair have left many states’ roads in poor condition, and the cost of repairing these roads is rising faster than many states can address them. These liabilities are outlined in a new report by Smart Growth America and Taxpayers for Common Sense, released today, which examines road conditions and spending priorities in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The report recommends changes at both the state and federal level that can reduce future liabilities, benefit taxpayers and create a better transportation system.

Repair Priorities: Transportation spending strategies to save taxpayer dollars and improve roads found that between 2004 and 2008 states spent 43 percent of total road construction and preservation funds on repair of existing roads, while the remaining 57 percent of funds went to new construction. That means 57 percent of these funds was spent on only 1 percent of the nation’s roads, while only 43 percent was dedicated to preserving the 99 percent of the system that already existed. As a result of these spending decisions, road conditions in many states are getting worse and costs for taxpayers are going up.

“Federal taxpayers have an enormous stake in seeing that our roads are kept in good condition,” said Erich W. Zimmermann of Taxpayers for Common Sense at a briefing earlier today. “Billions of precious tax dollars were spent to build our highway system, and neglecting repair squanders that investment. Keeping our roads in good condition reduces taxpayers’ future liabilities.”

“Spending too little on repair and allowing roads to fall apart exposes states and the federal government to huge financial liabilities,” said Roger Millar of Smart Growth America. “Our findings show that in order to bring their roads into good condition and maintain them that way, states would collectively have to spend $43 billion every year for the next 20 years – more than they currently spend on all repair, preservation and new capacity combined. As this figure illustrates, state have drifted too far from regular preservation and repair and in so doing have created a deficit that is going to take decades to reverse.”

The high cost of poor conditions
According to the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, every $1 spent to keep a road in good condition avoids $6-14 needed later to rebuild the same road once it has deteriorated significantly. Investing too little on road repair increases these future liabilities, and with every dollar spent on new construction many states add to a system they are already failing to keep in good condition.

State and federal leaders can do more to see that highway funds are spent in ways that benefits driver and taxpayers. More information about the high cost of delaying road repair, how states invest their transportation dollars and what leaders can do to address these concerns is available in the full report.

Click here to read the full report, state-specific data and view the interactive map.

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