Driving up costs: Reconsidering school sites in an era of unpredictable gas prices

Crossposted from the Governors’ Institute on Community Design.

Fuel costs are rising rapidly, and individual drivers aren’t the only ones feeling the pain. School transportation systems around the country are struggling to adjust to cost increases. In a survey of school districts conducted last month, almost 76 percent of transportation directors report that rising fuel costs are affecting operations.

Unfortunately, in the past few decades many school districts have – literally – built gas price vulnerability into the system, often influenced by shortsighted state standards for school construction and renovation. For example, many states require schools to be built on excessively large lots to accommodate fields and parking.

As a result, more and more schools are built on the outskirts of communities, far away from the students they serve. While 87 percent of students lived within one mile of school in 1969, that number had dropped to 21 percent (PDF) by 2001. Even when students live within walking distance, roads are often too hazardous for walking to be a safe option.

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EPA Selects 32 Locations for Assistance with Sustainable Community Planning

From the EPA press release:

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today named 32 communities in 26 states as the initial participants in the Sustainable Communities Building Blocks program. The communities will receive technical assistance during a day-long session that will help them achieve their sustainable planning goals. Sustainable planning helps safeguard the environment and spur economic development while also improving Americans’ health.

“The public-private partnerships in the Building Blocks program give communities new and proven tools to maximize the health and economic benefits of brownfields revitalization,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “This is another great example of how a targeted investment in protecting public health can create jobs and strengthen the economic future of our communities.”

EPA selected the 32 communities from 354 applicants through a competitive process in consultation with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). During a day-long session with EPA-funded, private-sector experts, participants will focus on a specific sustainability tool such as zoning code reviews, walkability assessments, or economic and fiscal health assessments. They will also learn about additional environmentally responsible, economically healthy development techniques and general sustainable community strategies.

Sustainable Communities Building Blocks is coordinated through the Partnership for Sustainable Communities, a joint effort between EPA, HUD, and DOT to coordinate federal actions on housing, transportation, and environmental protection. This interagency collaboration achieves efficient federal investments in infrastructure development, facilities, and services that meet multiple economic, environmental, and community objectives.

The selected communities are: Bemidji, Minn.; Bluffton, S.C.; Cambridge, Md.; Chelmsford, Mass.; Deerfield Beach, Fla.; Dover, N.H.; Erie County, N.Y.; Essex, Conn.; Fitchburg, Wis.; Granville, Ohio; Helena, Mont.; Hellertown, Pa.; Jersey Shore, Pa.; Kayenta Township, Ariz.; Lincoln, Neb.; McKinney, Texas; Muskegon, Mich.; Nashville/Davidson, Tenn.; Northampton, Mass.; Oak Ridge, Tenn.; Oklahoma City, Okla.; Portland, Maine; St. Louis, Mo.; Pike’s Peak Council of Governments, Colo.; Ranson, W.Va.; Reedsburg, Wis.; Renton, Wash.; Rockport, Texas; Shelburne, Vt.; Spencer, N.C.; Syracuse, N.Y.; and Wichita, Kan.

More information on the Building Blocks program: http://www.epa.gov/smartgrowth/buildingblocks.htm

More information on the Partnership for Sustainable Communities: http://www.epa.gov/smartgrowth/partnership/index.html

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Applications due April 8 for Climate Leadership Academy on low-carbon transportation

From EPA: The Institute for Sustainable Communities’ Climate Leadership Academy program will hold an  intensive peer-learning and training workshop to help local climate and sustainability practitioners and their key state and regional partners work together more effectively to reduce the carbon emissions of transportation and boost their regions’ economic competitiveness. The workshop, to be held … Continued

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Webinar: Smart, Sustainable, Livable Communities: Plans, Projects and Key Market Drivers (Apr. 12)

From GOVERNING: GOVERNING invites you to participate in a FREE Webinar on April 12, 2011 from 2:00pm ET-3:00pm ET: Smart, Sustainable, Livable Communities: Plans, Projects and Key Market Drivers 80% of voters nationwide agree that sustainable communities are an important part of rebuilding the national economy. 84% of Americans believe that our country is too … Continued

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Conference: GOVERNING Summit on Sustainability (June 21-22)

From GOVERNING: Hosted in cooperation with the City of New York and the City University of New York (CUNY) The Summit is a national event designed to tackle the pressing issue of creating Smart, Sustainable, Livable communities. Beyond “thinking green,” the Summit will address the topic of sustainability in the context of economic, health, social … Continued

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State policy to support Main Street: On the ground in Fowler, Colorado


In the first two parts of this series, we looked at the challenges facing Main Streets and spoke with Susan Kirkpatrick, former Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, about the Sustainable Main Streets Initiative (SMSI) to see how state government can be part of the solution. In this third part, we ask: What impact does this state-led program have at the ground level – on Main Street itself?

The impact of the SMSI can be seen in Fowler, a town of just over 1,200 people, which was one of five Colorado communities selected to pilot the initiative. Being selected as a SMSI pilot community “planted a seed of enthusiasm in the general community that has also carried over and further helped to create positive energy and interest in other local projects, such as the renewable energy efforts currently underway in our town,” writes Nancy Hazlett, Fowler’s SMSI Project Champion.

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State policy to support main street: An interview with Susan Kirkpatrick

Crossposted from the Governors’ Institute on Community Design.

GICD’s last post discussed the important cultural and economic role of well-designed small town downtowns – and identified the need to reverse years of disinvestment through better planning practices. Fortunately, some states are leading the way and have undertaken policy efforts to revitalize their Main Streets.

We spoke with Susan Kirkpatrick, former Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, about one such effort launched by the Ritter Administration in 2010: the Sustainable Main Streets Initiative (SMSI).

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New poll shows strong support for sustainable communities

(Cross-posted from Smart Growth America.) A recent poll by Smart Growth America has found that in the midst of a struggling U.S. economy, support for smart growth strategies remains high among Americans across the country and on both sides of the political aisle. The poll focused specifically on support for sustainable communities: urban, suburban or … Continued

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Webinar: Overcoming Obstacles in Regional Planning (Feb. 1)

Smart Growth America is pleased to host the following webinar on February 1, 2011:

Overcoming Obstacles in Regional Planning

Did you apply for or receive a HUD Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant? Are you trying to start or advance a regional plan? Join Smart Growth America to hear from Mariia Zimmerman, Deputy Director U.S. HUD Office of Sustainable Housing and Communities, and several HUD grant recipients from diverse parts of the country in various stages of regional plan development. The speakers will highlight the importance of regional planning, discuss coalition building, challenges they have faced in the planning and implementation process, and keys to success.

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