What all these new bills mean for urban planning

A press release from Center for Clean Air Policy (CCAP) reports that “smart growth best practices and improved transportation choices” could lessen the amount Americans drive by 10%.  Sell all the clunkers you want, this is tons more effective.

The disconnection of our government got a little more connected this year. HUD, DOT, EPA, everyone’s starting to work together, having realized that different aspects of life are deeply interconnected. Here’s my little summary of what the different bills would do for urban planning (money! yay!).

Transportation

The H.R. 3288: Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2010 has been passed by the House. More about this under “Sustainable Communities.”

The Surface Transportation Authorization Act of 2009  is proposed to include an Office of Livability within the Federal Highway Administration, and would create a more holistic view of transportation within the DOT instead of viewing it as a fund for cars.

The Clean Low-Emissions Affordable New Transportation Equity Act (CLEAN TEA) is an effort to get more funds toward green transportation projects. An estimated ten percent of this bill’s funding would go toward improving transportation “and lower greenhouse gas emissions through strategies including funding new or expanded transit or passenger rail; supporting development around transit stops; and making neighborhoods safer for bikes and pedestrians.”  (COMPLETE STREETS PLEASE!)

Sustainable Communities

In March, HUD and DOT came together for a partner project: “Sustainable Communities.” The EPA has also joined this effort to “help improve access to affordable housing, more transportation options, and lower transportation costs while protecting the environment in communities nationwide.”
In short, the six principles Sustainable Communities promotes aim to

provide more transportation choices,
promote equitable, affordable housing,
enhance economic competitiveness,
support existing communities,
coordinate policies and leverage investment, and
value communities and neighborhoods.

H.R. 3288 has provided funds for this project: of the $150 million dedicated to this account, $100 million would be used for grants to link transportation and land use planning at the regional level and $40 million would be used for competitive Metropolitan Challenge Grants to promote local reform and reduce barriers to building affordable and sustainable communities.

Energy

The ACES bill has a cap and trade system for large sources of carbon. The system trades  permits as a market-based approach to capping greenhouse gas emissions. This means that possibly,  developers who use smart growth practices could also get emission allowances for creating places where driving is reduced.
The GREEN bill (HR 2336) was introduced on June 11 and has not been passed by the house yet. It would include information on energy-efficient location mortgages, grants funding only applicants who meet the green community criteria checklist and the green buildings certification system, the residential energy efficient block program, which would grant funds to communities to improve energy efficiency of single- and multi-family housing, and sustainable development and transportation strategies in comprehensive housing affordability strategies.

There you have it. Yes, the government is spending gazillions of dollars, but if any area needs it, it’s housing and transportation. Have you SEEN Division Avenue?????

Green Gathering and Idea to Incubate

Tonight I am going to the Green Gathering in Downtown Grand Rapids.  It’s at Harrison Park Elementary School and they will be talking (and voting?) on what projects are our priority…white water rafting? Bike lanes? Farmer’s markets? I’ll let you know how it goes.

My idea to incubate (and what better place to incubate anything than a blog?) is starting a project where people sign up and commit to walking or biking to any destination that is under 1.5 miles away. It seems small (litttlllleeee) but depending on where you live, it can be a huge HUGE challenge. Our grocery store is 1.3 miles from home, but I would never think to walk there, mainly because there are no sidewalks on the entire stretch of 28th Street–the most direct route. However, if I take Alger, a residential street, the walk is much safer and more pleasant. Too bad that rerouting makes the trip 1.9 miles. But that’s a perfectly lovely bike ride. If you’re completely out of food and need about 12 bags of groceries, a car is perfectly acceptable because you can’t bike with that many groceries. All kinds of loopholes. In my hypothetical project, I’d leave it to the participant’s best judgment.

I walked to the post office today, and it was a mile away. It was great, except that I was lugging two boxes on the way there and on the way back, it was windy and rainy (good thing I had an umbrella). I’m still so glad that I did it. The point I want to come across is that we, as a city, want to walk and bike again. We want to be seen walking, we want it to be safe for us to walk, we don’t want to be ignored by cars and developers. We want sidewalks. If people start walking to their closer destinations, even though there may not be a sidewalk and they have to trek through a huge parking lot, it will add to the shift away from cars. Also, we could experience just a little bit what it’s like to not have the privilege of owning a car.

These kids know how to WALK
These kids know how to WALK

Yay for Community Centers!

I’m very excited to have learned about The Ray and Joan Kroc Community Center being built in my city. It’s in an area that is void of anything institutional like this. It will have art space, recreation, education, worship (it’s a Salvation Army facility), all kinds of stuff going on. Best yet, a grant paid for geothermal heating/cooling systems under the sports fields behind the facility.

Here’s a video from a dapper Salvation Army man.

Renewal in more ways than Green

The blog world is extremely excited about green jobs. The Green For All blog updates about green jobs.  Through it, I found a movie trailer for a documentary called The Greening of Southie. I was drawn to this because I read All Souls, by Michael Patrick MacDonald, which is a memoir about Southie, or South Boston and the incredible problems there. These projects were full of drugs, crime, suicide, gang lines. The author lost four of his siblings to the neighborhood. It is an intense autobiography but well worth the read. The most surprising aspect was that the people in Southie loved Southie. They didn’t realize that it was so bad. It was their neighborhood.  MacDonald’s mother moved to a trailer park in Colorado and hated how spread out everything was, that there was no public space, no stoops on which to hang out with the neighbors. It is great to see news about Southie today. We hear a lot about green building and green jobs but I have hope that this documentary will show exactly how it is being done. The government, in the 70s and 80s, was experimenting on the poor in places like Southie. Now people are putting efforts into their own communities and fixing what was collectively broken. This is democracy.