Smart growth news – December 29, 2011

Downtown St. Paul scene gets extra shot from Amsterdam Bar
Minnesota Public Radio, December 27, 2011
“If you’re coming out of MIT, Stanford, and the best colleges in the country, you can go anywhere you want. Why do people choose to live or work in downtown St. Paul?” [Mayor Chris Coleman] asked. “You’ve got to create that vibrancy; you’ve got to create that soul. Otherwise, you’re going to be hard-pressed to compete for a creative class.”

What’s Wrong With American Housing?
Brookings Institution, December 28, 2011
America’s housing industry suffers from nine deficiencies that limit its ability to meet our housing needs. Some of these deficiencies are not widely recognized or are even considered advantages by the housing industry. Until its problems are better and more widely understood, that industry will continue underserving U.S. housing needs.

Seattle’s Land Use Code: Preventing Transit-Oriented Blight
PubliCola (Wash.), December 28, 2011
If [apartment] prices drop, that’s a boon for affordability, welcome news to the 51 percent of Seattle residents who rent, rather than own, their homes.

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The Ford Foundation hosts Just City: a forum on metropolitan opportunity

Today in New York, The Ford Foundation is holding a 75th anniversary event to explore how fairness, opportunity and equity can serve as defining features in the development of megacities and metro regions this new era of urbanization. The event includes speakers working on all kinds of issues related to cities, including mayors, transportation experts, academics, artists, business leaders, journalists, governors and federal lawmakers.

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Secretaries LaHood, Donovan on public transportation and connecting to jobs

Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan spoke at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program and on today’s Huffington Post about a new report on how public transportation helps American workers connect to jobs.

“Missed Opportunity: Transit and Jobs in Metropolitan America,” is “a first-of-its-kind analysis that shows how transit systems link workers to jobs in metropolitan America.” The report emphasizes the importance of not just the location and frequency of transit service, but ultimately how well transit aligns with where people work and live. LaHood and Donovan explain that public transportation plays a crucial role in the American economy, and better coordination between federal agencies can yield even greater benefits from this important resource.

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Metropolitan Business Plans: A New Approach to Economic Growth

Too frequently, towns and cities seek economic growth by chasing the latest fad, without considering how those short-term decisions will impact their long-term economic health. On Monday, the Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program held a forum presenting three pilot projects that helped communities create long-term evidence-based business plans.

Yesterday’s speakers included Bob Weissbourd of RW Ventures, LLC; Brad Whitehead of the Fund for Our Economic Future, Northeast Ohio Pilot Program; Eric Schinfeld of the Puget Sound Regional Council; Mayor R.T. Rybak of Minneapolis; Mayor Chris Coleman of St. Paul; Mayor Ray Stephanson of the City of Everett and Puget Sound Regional Council; Derek Douglas of the White House Domestic Policy Council; Daniel Malarkey of the Washington State Department of Commerce; Kim Nelson of Microsoft; and U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.

In cooperation with Brookings, leaders in Northeast Ohio, Minneapolis/St. Paul, and the Puget Sound region have created strategic business plans to promote resilient economic development for each region. The metropolitan business plans will help these regions capitalize on local strengths and increase capacity, allowing each local economy to better weather short-term cyclical economic fluctuations.

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A low-cost method for better transportation: lessons from Latin America's Bus Rapid Transit boom

The Brookings Institution hosted a panel discussion yesterday on the prospect of bus rapid transit (BRT) in the United States and what lessons can be learned from BRT systems currently in place in Latin America.

Unlike a typical bus route, BRT systems generally have exclusive lanes for buses, make limited stops and sell tickets at kiosks rather than on the bus. These strategies keep BRT buses efficient and fast, even in congested traffic. BRT systems provide travelers with the choice of a lower cost, reliable and fast bus service as an alternate to driving by car.

Darío Hidalgo, Director of Research and Practice at EMBARQ, spoke about the organization’s new report on BRT systems in Latin America and Asia. He highlighted the many benefits of BRT, noting that the systems are cost-effective, fast and efficient, move people quickly and more safely and can also alleviate traffic congestion. The concept is also well-suited for big cities and smaller towns alike. In Colombia, capital city Bogotá has an extensive BRT system called the TransMilenio, but the smaller city Pereira, with a population of about 700,000, also makes use of the concept. BRT’s success is so widespread that many cities in Latin America either have BRT systems already or are planning them in the near future.

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New report from Brookings Institution advocates for road repair and maintenance

The Brookings Institution hosted an event this morning titled “State Roads to Economic Recovery: Policies, Pavements, and Partnership.” The multi-panel event was organized in conjunction with the release of “Fix it First, Expand it Second, Reward it Third – A New Strategy for America’s Highways,” a new report from the Hamilton Project analyzing the impact of state and national transportation infrastructure investments.

Report coauthors Matt Kahn, Professor of Economics at UCLA, and David Levinson, of the University of Minnesota, presented their proposal to a packed crowd. Over 80% of the current U.S. highway system, they explained, was built before 1972 – almost forty years ago. Kahn and Levinson recommend a three-step approach to maintain this aging infrastructure: fix it first, expand it second and reward it third. By focusing on fixing existing infrastructure before creating new, states can boost their economy and maximize the number of jobs created.

As Bruce Katz, Vice President and Director of the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings, highlighted, state governments are currently under tremendous pressure to transform their economies. Katz identified transportation infrastructure as a crucial future investment to drive growth in metro regions across the country. Robert Puentes, Senior Fellow at Brookings, highlighted how transit systems are necessary to, “move goods, ideas and workers quickly and efficiently.”

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