Planners say people are being forced to spend too much money to get to and from work. The government sees that problem in regions around the country and is ready to spend millions of dollars to plan improvements. Julie Grant reports.
Planners say people are being forced to spend too much money to get to and from work. The government sees that problem in regions around the country and is ready to spend millions of dollars to plan improvements that put jobs and housing closer together… or at least give people more transportation options to get to work. Julie Grant reports.
Dwayne Marsh says for decades, the department of Housing and Urban Development has built housing in one part of a community, while the Department of Transportation invested in another — with no coordination.
“I THINK THAT BECAUSE THE RESPECTIVE AGENCIES WEREN’T IN TIGHT ALLIANCE, THERE OFTEN WOULD BE REGULATIONS THAT WERE AT CROSS PURPOSE.”
That’s one reason why highways often bypass rural communities entirely and split inner-city neighborhoods in two.
Marsh works in a new office within HUD that’s working to integrate housing planning with Department of Transportation, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency.
“NOW WE’RE WORKING REALLY HARD TO ELIMINATE THOSE BARRIERS, SO WHEN COMMUNITIES GET FEDERAL DOLLARS THEY CAN BE USED IN A SYNCHRONOUS WAY.”
The three agencies have 140-million dollars in grants for local governments and regions around the country to do better planning.
And HUD has done something no one can remember it doing before: it’s gone on tour — to Seattle, Denver, Cleveland, and elsewhere. Before HUD starts doling out the planning money, Marsh says they want to hear the vision local communities have for sustainable development.
“YOU KNOW, I’M SNARKY ABOUT THE WHOLE THING ABOUT SUSTAINABILITY.”
Ned Hill is Dean of the college of Urban Affairs at Cleveland State University. He says sustainability means so many different things to different people.
To him, sustainable goes beyond environmental effects.
“AT THE FOUNDATION OF ANY SORT OF SUSTAINABILITY IS HAVE AN ECONOMY THAT’S SUSTAINABLE. AND IN THE OLDER INDUSTRIAL CITIES, OUR FIRST CHALLENGE IS TO RELOAD THE ECONOMY.”
In many of those older cities, as people have moved farther into the suburbs, they’ve started new businesses close to where they live. Hill says that’s why in areas like Cleveland, the central city is no longer the central business district.
Highways have been built to connect the different suburbs – and people are driving all over the place to get to work in those suburbs.
But, getting to work is now the second biggest expense for most Americans, after housing.
Shelley Poticha doesn’t think that’s a sustainable model. She’s director of that new HUD sustainability office.
Poticha says the regions where people have to drive the farthest to get to work –and spend the most to get to work—also have the highest numbers of foreclosed homes.
“THE REGIONS THAT FARED THE BEST WERE THOSE THAT HAD A PATTERN OF LAND USE THAT MADE IT POSSIBLE FOR PEOPLE TO GET TO WORK WITH OUT HAVING TO DRIVE.”
Poticha points to regions like Denver, where they plan a 100 miles of commuter rail, and bus rapid transit lanes, linking the 32 communities surrounding Denver proper. She says Denver wants to use this new federal grant money to design urban villages around those transit stations. So instead of acres of parking lots, there could be a grocery and other retail stores.
The idea is that people won’t have to drive to work and then drive to the store. Instead, they can take mass transit, and get their shopping done and not have to drive all around.
Poticha says that can help reduce pollution and help families to save money.
Dwayne Marsh says the Obama administration is sending a clear message: improving the economy is dependent on transportation options, housing affordability and a cleaner environment:
“AND BECAUSE THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT PLAYS A ROLE IN ALL OF THOSE ACTIVITIES, WE NEED TO BE FOSTERING INNOVATION COMING FROM LOCAL COMMUNITIES THAT CAN TAKE ON SOME OF OUR TOUGHEST NATIONAL PROBLEMS. AND WE CERTAINLY DON’T WANT TO BE AN IMPEDIMENT TO THAT CREATIVITY.”
Marsh says his HUD office will work with the Transportation Department and the EPA to help – instead of getting in the way – of local areas’ creative solutions.
For The Environment Report, I’m Julie Grant.