Bill Richardson -- The Planner's Candidate?

As planners and most allied professionals know, the federal government lacks cohesive urban and environmental policies, and especially during the tenure of the current Bush administration, there has been a relative lack of investment in cities, public transportation systems, and alternative sources of energy. With the ongoing war in Iraq and perennial issues like social security, healthcare, and immigration dominating the political landscape, important domestic issues like affordable housing, public transit, and compact urban growth seem little more than a microscopic blip on the radar screens of potential 2008 presidential candidates, if they discuss these issues at all.

(Bruce Katz of the Brookings Institution's Metropolitan Policy Program recently outlined such a vision before a House subcommittee, but last I checked he isn't running.)

While none of the candidates has the urban planning/smart growth credentials of a Tom McCall or Parris Glendening, Bill Richardson, Democrat and Governor of New Mexico, stands out as someone with a relatively strong record on these issues and a decent shot at winning (at least as the only governor left on the Democratic ticket). I've come across the following Richardson-related planning statements/initiatives -- which lean more toward environmental protection than urban reinvestment -- and would be interested to hear if others have more detail on these, or feel that a different candidate has done more for cities and the environment. Richardson:

  • Has identified energy independence as the number one issue facing the country
  • Has signed executive orders on:
    • Declaring New Mexico the "Clean Energy State," creating a Clean Energy Development Council and directing state agencies to support and participate
    • Climate change and greenhouse gas reduction (including creation of a Climate Change Action Council and a Climate Change Advisory Group)
    • Requiring increased use of renewable fuels in New Mexico state government (cabinet-level state agencies, public schools, and institutions of higher education must acquire at least 15% of transportation fuel from renewable fuels like ethanol and biodiesel by 2010, and 75% of new vehicles acquired by these organizations must use alternative fuels or be gas-electric hybrids)
    • Energy efficient green building standards for state buildings (requiring large-scale new construction to achieve LEED Silver status, and other new buildings and renovations to meet high energy performance standards)
    • Continuing the task force on "Our Communities, Our Future" (which produced a 2004 report called "Livability!", outlining New Mexicans' land use values and proposing planning strategies for the state) through consultation with relevant state agencies on furthering these goals and making more detailed recommendations to the Governor
  • Created Governor Richardson's Investment Partnership (GRIP), a $1.6 billion statewide transportation expansion and infrastructure improvement initiative that focuses on highway improvement projects, but includes the New Mexico Rail Runner Express, a commuter rail in the Albuquerque region
  • Dedicated over $2 million to the expansion or creation of state parks, including funding for Mesilla Valley Bosque Park, Horse Springs Ranch, and Santa Fe Railyard Park and Plaza
  • Is in a position to approve major minimum wage increases in New Mexico

Granted other politicians have done more for planning and the environment, but might Richardson be the one most likely to put these issues in the national spotlight?

David Gest is both a master's candidate in City and Regional Planning and a juris doctorate candidate at the University of Pennsylvania.



Michael Lewyn's picture

What about Mitt Romney?

Richardson may have a fine environmental record, but when it comes to urban planning issues, Mitt Romney seems to have been quite aggressive.

Mitt Romney = Big Dig?

Rightly or wrongly, Curt Schilling might be the only one from Massachusetts who might avoid finger-pointing about the Big Dig.

Richardson also strong on economic development

Richardson has also been rather assertive on a number of economic development fronts, including a jobs growth initiative (the program name escapes me) focused on some key areas such as aeronautics technology, IT, and other high tech stuff. The program also includes job skills training money for employers to get additional technical training for existing employees, rather than seeking to bring in outside talent. A good way to build local capacity.

His initiative to promote New Mexico as a new center for the major motion picture industry has also done a great deal for economic development in a state that produces virtually nothing in the way of industry. I did not appreciate the depth of opportunity this industry provides until a film was shot at my place of work. Caterers, pre-filming crews, cleanup, location scouts, technical lighting and film crews, not to mention the actual actors and extras are just a few of the jobs I noted. There is a lot of entrpreneurial opportunity there for local people and some major studios have/are moving production operations here. We also have a few local film production festivals that are helping to attract and train people in movie-making skills. This is a big deal for a dusty state that ranked 48th in personal income for 2005.

What I also like about the film angle is that, despite the inconveniences it can cause with closed streets and idling semis, it is "extractive," building on our natural resources, without actually mining the environment. The state film office even promotes "green" filmmaking, using materials and approaches that minimize damage to the environment.

Lastly, Richardson has been instrumental in implementing the Rail Runner, a commuter train that currently runs from Belen (south of Albuquerque) to Bernalillo (north of Albuquerque) and by 2010, will reach Santa Fe. The link to Santa Fe is particularly important. Median housing prices there are over $425k while median household income is under $50k. Its also the state capitol, which means that there may be many folks who simply cannot afford to work there and the state is losing out on these talents. The rail is a key factor to establishing a more regional economy. In a state where towns are often far apart, with little in between, it would enable more people to commute.

I think Richardson has been a very strong governor and I think his experience at the national and international levels is an area where others in the Democratic field are lacking. I am unsure about his chances, though, but we shall see. I have not made my mind up about anyone yet.

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