A Giant Leap Toward Smarter Development and Better Government

Yesterday, Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan announced the first ever Sustainable Communities Regional Planning grant program. The $100 million in funding will be awarded competitively to support regional planning efforts that integrate housing, land use, economic and workforce development, transportation, and infrastructure investments in a manner that empowers jurisdictions to consider the interdependent challenges of economic growth, social inclusion, and environmental impact.

Earlier this week, HUD and the Department of Transportation (DOT) announced another unprecedented achievement, the culmination of months of hard work and collaboration: a joint initiative that provides funding to build sustainable, livable communities.

The joint grant program offers up to $75 million in funding – $35 million in TIGER II Planning Grants and $40 million in Sustainable Community Challenge Grants – for local planning activities that integrate transportation, housing and economic development. 

These two efforts, as part of the Sustainable Communities Partnership between HUD, DOT, and the Environmental Protection Agency, are prime examples of President Obama’s broader urban and metropolitan agenda that aims to break down traditional silos and ensure that federal programs and policies across all agencies better respond to the unique needs of specific communities.  The Administration’s efforts aim to develop urban and metropolitan areas that are economically competitive, environmentally sustainable and socially inclusive.

Historically, federal and state governments have invested in projects in an uncoordinated fashion, building new highways and roads without aligning those resources with the community’s long-term needs for new housing and economic vitality. This led to new private housing developments springing up near tax-payer funded infrastructure that radiated rapidly outward from city centers—a phenomenon commonly known as “sprawl.”

Today, sprawl, congestion, and unsynchronized affordable housing and transportation policies have left too many communities disconnected from regional assets and without the proper tools to realize their full potential. It allowed federal agencies to singularly focus on their specific programs without an understanding of their programs’ affects on the integrated systems that make up a city and the people who reside there.

We need smarter development and better government. That’s why President Obama instructed the White House Office of Urban Affairs to develop a national urban strategy and to coordinate the federal agencies.  Over the last year and a half, the White House of Urban Affairs and Domestic Policy Council have built a framework that will guide the Administration's efforts toward more comprehensive community and urban development.  We have promoted exciting interagency collaborations, like the Partnership for Sustainable Communities, and helped to translate those cross-agency investments into our FY2011 budget.  And we continue to work on new policy models to ensure the success of our cities and metropolitan areas.

Realizing these goals can mean shorter commutes so that folks can spend more time with their families instead of behind the wheel. It means providing people with more transportation choices so that instead of driving your kid to school every day, they can take a safe bike route. It means connecting affordable housing with mass transit so that families don’t spend up to 60% of their budget on housing and transportation.

So, in the grand scheme of things, this is a big deal; a giant leap toward the next generation of federal urban policy. But the federal government cannot do this alone. Our role is to provide the incentives to work smarter and resources that communities can leverage to plan and execute.

Derek Douglas is Special Assistant to the President on Urban Policy

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