The Power Of Land Use And Transportation

The federal government can play a transformative rather than divisive role if it becomes a better partner in land use, housing - and especially transportation.

September 13, 2004, 12:00 AM PDT

By Earl Blumenauer

Photo: Earl BlumenauerRegardless of the outcome of the November 2 election, America will continue to be a deeply divided nation. Whether we live in a polarized "non-battle ground state" or one that is currently being fiercely contested, most of us hold strong feelings about who should be our next President. But what happens after the election? How will we recover from one of the most intense, heated, and expensive presidential elections in our history? How will we be able to bring people together on critical policy decisions that will affect us, both as individuals and as a nation?

Because of these deep divisions, I am convinced that the critical issue of how to create livable communities is going to be more important than ever. While we may be polarized on foreign policy, the economy, prescription drugs, and social issues, there is a vast array of policy decisions that have the potential to bring the American people together. The federal government can play a transformative rather than divisive role if it becomes a better partner in disaster preparedness, land use, housing -- and especially transportation. As more and more Americans understand the fundamental building blocks of livable communities - places where our families are safe, healthy, and economically secure - we will find tremendous similarities among communities large and small, conservative and liberal, urban and rural, throughout our nation.

The 10th annual Rail~Volution ( conference will be held in Los Angeles September 18-22, 2004. This national event is the premier gathering of transportation, land use, affordable housing, citizen advocacy, local government, and development interests - people who are actively working to create more livable communities.

Southern California, especially the Los Angeles basin, has been the epicenter of planning and transportation issues for the past fifty years, as the Red Cars were dismantled and freeways and suburbs consumed valuable orchards and farmland.

Perhaps nowhere else in America is there a starker contrast between the challenges created by past policies and the opportunity for future redemption. Southern California is one of the most important economies in the world, contains a population density greater than New York City, and provides examples -- good and bad -- of virtually every transportation and housing issue in our nation. In short, Los Angeles is this decade's most important laboratory for livability; how its residents and elected officials are fitting the pieces together has profound consequences for all of America. From new rail construction to an explosion of downtown housing, Los Angeles is poised, once again, to be at the forefront of American trends. We need to be sure that it is headed in the right direction.

Last October 1, the federal Surface Transportation Act expired. Fifty weeks later, reauthorization has been a day-to-day frustration on Capitol Hill. From Chambers of Commerce, road builders, environmentalists and bicyclists to garden clubs, architects, and historic preservationists, the broadest coalition ever assembled on behalf of any infrastructure legislation has united to support this significant reinvestment in our transportation system.

In the thirteen years since the passage of ISTEA (Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act) in 1991, an increasing number of Americans have come to appreciate the critical role that flexible transportation funding has played in the revitalization and enhancement of communities all across the nation. Now, however, the Bush administration's insistence on an inadequate funding level, coupled with conflicting congressional crosscurrents, has relegated transportation funding to a series of limited extension bills.

Americans may hold strong partisan feelings about the upcoming election, yet we are united as never before in our desire to create communities where families are safe, healthy, and economically secure. This year's conference in Los Angeles is perhaps our best opportunity to pull these pieces together, equipping us for the challenges of what will happen beginning on November 3, regardless of who occupies the White House for the next four years.

Congressman Earl Blumenauer (OR-3) has devoted his entire career to public service. He first served in the Oregon House of Representatives in 1972. From there Mr. Blumenauer went on to be a Multnomah County Commissioner and spent ten years on the Portland City Council as Commissioner of Public Works. Mr. Blumenauer's reforms and innovative accomplishments have helped his hometown of Portland, Oregon gain an international reputation as a livable community. Congressman Blumenauer was elected to Congress in 1996 and is the founder of the Congressional Livable Communities Task Force.

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