Signs of Spring for Smart Growth

The $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that President Obama signed on Feb. 17 left advocates of compact and transit-oriented development practically biting their tongues.

On the whole, urbanists remain upbeat about what to expect from the Obama administration. "They've assembled a superb team at HUD," Yaro said, citing the appointment of New York City Housing Commissioner Shaun Donovan as secretary and King County (Washington) Executive Ron Sims as leader of a new Office of Sustainability within HUD. Sims pursued transit improvements in the Seattle region and shifted land-use planning toward less reliance on automobiles. As head of the Office of Sustainability, he will work with the US Departments of Energy and Transportation on making the nation more sustainable.

"There is a growing recognition that the way we build housing and our cities [is] in no way sustainable," Donovan said recently. Improving the energy efficiency of housing is important, but in addition, "we must focus on location efficiency," he asserted.

Bill Spikowski, a city planning consultant in Fort Myers, Florida, noted that the stimulus package's Energy Efficiency and Conservation Grants program, funded at $6.3 billion, includes a section premised on making cities more energy-efficient by promoting transit-oriented development, mixed uses, pedestrian-oriented design, and other strategies that reduce vehicle miles traveled.

More importantly, Obama himself has expressed a desire to alter the patterns of American development. "I think right now we don't do a lot of effective planning at the regional level when it comes to transportation," the president said Feb. 13 in an interview with five columnists. "That's hugely inefficient. Not only does it probably consume more money in terms of getting projects done, but it also ends up creating traffic patterns, for example, that are really hugely wasteful when it comes to energy use."

"If we can start building in more incentives for more effective planning at the local level, that's not just good transportation policy, it's good energy policy," Obama said. "So we'll be working with transportation committees to see if we can move in that direction."

Thanks to Renee Gayle

Full Story: Fed stimulus seen as 'down payment' on smart growth

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