A Sputnik Moment for Smart Growth

Crossposted from the Huffington Post

In his State of the Union address, President Obama laid out a strategy to rebuild America’s economy, calling on the country to “Out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world.” He laid out strategies for better education, better energy production, better transportation and better job creation. All of these strategies are key to a stronger American economy.

It is time we remember and take pride in the fact that “America is the nation that built the transcontinental railroad, brought electricity to rural communities, constructed the Interstate Highway System. The jobs created by these projects didn’t just come from laying down track or pavement. They came from businesses that opened near a town’s new train station or the new off-ramp.”

The President’s statement means we have to continue to expand our infrastructure and communities with an understanding of how the two connect and support one another, and that’s exactly what smart growth does. The big national decisions we make about budgets and investment can ultimately make life better in the towns and neighborhoods that knit this nation together.

Smart growth is about building neighborhoods that work for the people who live there — meaning rural, suburban and urban communities with more housing and transportation choices near jobs, shops and schools where people want them. These are places where strong economies and a healthy environment can both thrive at once. Places where community leaders choose to get the most out of each federal or state dollar invested in the neighborhoods. Where the private sector can help jump-start the local real estate market in a way that is right for that unique community. Where we make decisions to save money in our municipal budgets and in our own wallets and invest for the future.

One of the most quotable moments of last night’s speech was that “This is our generation’s Sputnik moment.” The original Sputnik moment was born of the Soviet launch of the eponymous satellite in October 1957. It was a wake-up call to Americans that they needed to be smarter about the space race.

Today, Americans need to be smarter about how we grow and rebuild our economy so that our neighborhoods and towns are economically strong, environmentally sound and great places to live. That is ultimately the promise of the American dream.

This way of thinking is already championed by Republicans and Democrats alike, in small towns across America, by business leaders and in the halls of the nation’s Capitol. Our opportunity and challenge now is to bring more leaders to the table to help build a stronger economy. Smart growth strategies work best when businesses, developers, community leaders and other collaborate and innovate together. That’s how better communities and better economies are created.

Americans won the space race because we rallied our resources and our visions. Now the time has come for us to focus our considerable energies and creativity toward making our towns and neighborhoods better and stronger. As the President said — we can do this. We are Americans, and we do big things.