Smart growth equips cities for business growth, job creation

What makes a city good for business? To get a sense, we looked two prominent business magazines that recently ranked cities all across America for their business climates. Four cities made it to both lists’ top ten: Washington, D.C.; New York City, New York; Austin, Texas; and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

What do these “best for business cities have in common? They’re all using smart growth strategies.

“Great neighborhoods and great cities are where employees want to be and where businesses want to move,” said Geoffrey Anderson, President and CEO of Smart Growth America, “That’s why smart growth strategies are good for economic development – it helps businesses connect with workers and customers.”

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The benefits of Washington DC's Metro

Washington, DC’s Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, which operates Metrorail and Metrobus service in the region, brings large, tangible benefits to the DC-area economy. A new report from WMATA, prepared by AECOM and Smart Growth America, details just how big these benefits are.

“WMATA Regional Benefits of Transit” (PDF) examines Metro’s impact on several aspects of the DC-area economy, including how public transit supports businesses, workers, families, visitors, and the region’s largest employer, the federal government.

The report found that Metro is an outstanding investment of public funds. Access to Metrorail significantly boosts property values and tax revenues for the city. Real estate located within ½ mile of a Metrorail station represents 27.9% of the area’s tax base on just 4% of its land, including 68.1% for DC, 15.3% for Virginia, and 9.9% for Maryland.

Metro supports businesses, and economic activity tied to Metro’s presence is critical to the success of the region. Claude Anderson of the Metropolitan Washington Restaurant Association is quoted in the report’s executive summary:

We have come a long, long way from the bad old days of a deserted, dilapidated and dangerous downtown during the evening hours and few destination retail and entertainment neighborhoods. The establishment and growth of vibrant areas such as Penn Quarter, Ballston, U/14th Street corridors are directly attributable to transportation access for patrons, visitors and employees.

Collectively, Metro saves DC-area families $342 million per year in car operating expenses. Home values may increase near rail stations, but families save significantly on transportation costs each year.

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Video: the phenomenal success of Capital Bikeshare

Washington DC’s Capital Bikeshare has soared in popularity since it started in 2008. The easy-to-use service has gathered 14,000 annual users and over 40,000 day users during that time. The video above from Streetfilms and the National Association of City Transportation Officials discusses how DC-area residents and visitors alike have taken to the service.

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Repair Priorities: Transportation spending strategies to save taxpayer dollars and improve roads

Decades of underinvestment in regular repair have left many states’ roads in poor condition, and the cost of repairing these roads is rising faster than many states can address them. These liabilities are outlined in a new report by Smart Growth America and Taxpayers for Common Sense, released today, which examines road conditions and spending priorities in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The report recommends changes at both the state and federal level that can reduce future liabilities, benefit taxpayers and create a better transportation system.

Repair Priorities: Transportation spending strategies to save taxpayer dollars and improve roads found that between 2004 and 2008 states spent 43 percent of total road construction and preservation funds on repair of existing roads, while the remaining 57 percent of funds went to new construction. That means 57 percent of these funds was spent on only 1 percent of the nation’s roads, while only 43 percent was dedicated to preserving the 99 percent of the system that already existed. As a result of these spending decisions, road conditions in many states are getting worse and costs for taxpayers are going up.

“Federal taxpayers have an enormous stake in seeing that our roads are kept in good condition,” said Erich W. Zimmermann of Taxpayers for Common Sense at a briefing earlier today. “Billions of precious tax dollars were spent to build our highway system, and neglecting repair squanders that investment. Keeping our roads in good condition reduces taxpayers’ future liabilities.”

“Spending too little on repair and allowing roads to fall apart exposes states and the federal government to huge financial liabilities,” said Roger Millar of Smart Growth America. “Our findings show that in order to bring their roads into good condition and maintain them that way, states would collectively have to spend $43 billion every year for the next 20 years – more than they currently spend on all repair, preservation and new capacity combined. As this figure illustrates, state have drifted too far from regular preservation and repair and in so doing have created a deficit that is going to take decades to reverse.”

The high cost of poor conditions
According to the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, every $1 spent to keep a road in good condition avoids $6-14 needed later to rebuild the same road once it has deteriorated significantly. Investing too little on road repair increases these future liabilities, and with every dollar spent on new construction many states add to a system they are already failing to keep in good condition.

State and federal leaders can do more to see that highway funds are spent in ways that benefits driver and taxpayers. More information about the high cost of delaying road repair, how states invest their transportation dollars and what leaders can do to address these concerns is available in the full report.

Click here to read the full report, state-specific data and view the interactive map.

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"An increasing movement toward more walkable cities"

CNBC released its list today of the top 10 most walkable cities in America, and includes in it a discussion of the growing trend among towns and cities to create neighborhoods with pedestrian-friendly streets and bustling downtown shopping districts. These features are a key part of smart growth development strategies and, as CNBC writer Cindy Perman explains, walkable neighborhoods have benefits beyond street-level charm. Walkable neighborhoods feel safer and more social, and help build exercise into daily routines. But even more importantly, walkable neighborhoods bring economic benefits:

You wouldn’t spend much time hanging around in the parking lot of a strip mall in a car-dependent suburb. But, you would linger in a very walkable city, which means you’re more inclined to spend more. Quite a bit more, in fact. The Urban Land Institute studied two Maryland suburbs of Washington, DC, one walkable and one not. They found that the Barnes & Noble book store in the walkable suburb made 20 percent more in profits than the one in the driving-dependent suburb.

“We call that a place-making dividend,” McMahon said. “People stay longer and come back more often and spend more money in places that attract their affection.”

There’s an economic benefit for homeowners, too: Homes in walkable cities hold their value better than those that were heavily reliant on driving, according to Smart Growth America, a group that promotes “smart growth” instead of suburban sprawl.

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Video: Planning for growth in the Northeast

Smart Growth America’s coalition partner Regional Plan Association works on plans and policies to accommodate and encourage future growth in the Northeast corridor. The Northeast has a number of unique features and challenges, but the Regional Plan Association’s work is exemplary of how regions across the country can identify future growth and transportation challenges and work now to find solutions.

For the Northeast, RPA explains, building a high speed rail network in the region could avert imminent transportation problems. The region is projected to gain 18 million new residents over the next generation but roads connecting towns and cities in the region are already congested. High speed rail could better connect residents and businesses in the area and that doesn’t just mean less traffic: it means a stronger regional economy and better opportunities for economic growth:

In particular, U.S. Representative Rosa DeLauro, 3rd District of Connecticut, explained the economic boost such a system would bring to her area:

When we begin to connect cities and rural areas – cities like New York, New Haven, Providence, Boston – what you are doing is producing economic growth and economic competitiveness…It is the direction we ought to be moving in in order to look at job growth, competitiveness, economic development, and a key to our economic future.

High speed rail has been controversial in some places, but many of the arguments in this video apply to transportation options of all kinds, including buses, streetcars or subways. Creating these transportation options means better serving more people, accommodating more travelers in the same space and creating more efficient ways to get between home, jobs and stores. Large or small, every community can use smart growth techniques to give people the freedom to choose how they get around.

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New report reveals smart transportation spending creates jobs, grows the economy

In his State of the Union address, President Obama called on Americans to “out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world” to win the future. To rebuild America, he said, we will aim to put “more Americans to work repairing crumbling roads and bridges.”

A new report from Smart Growth America analyzes states’ investments in infrastructure to determine whether they made the best use of their spending based on job creation numbers. Recent Lessons from the Stimulus: Transportation Funding and Job Creation evaluates how successful states have been in creating jobs with their flexible $26.6 billion of transportation funds from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA). Those results should guide governors and other leaders in revitalizing America’s transportation system, maximizing job creation from transportation dollars and rebuilding the economy.

According to data sent by the states to Congress, the states that created the most jobs were the ones that invested in public transportation projects and projects that maintained and repaired existing roads and bridges. The states that spent their funds predominantly building new roads and bridges created fewer jobs.

As Newsweek’s David A. Graham explains, investments in transportation create jobs in the short term and longer term economic prosperity too:

Injecting money into transportation projects, the thinking goes, is an especially potent jobs-creation tool because it not only puts construction workers and contractors to work quickly, it also lays the groundwork for future economic growth and development. Obama predicted the transportation money alone would put hundreds of thousands of workers on the job.

As “Recent Lessons from the Stimulus” explains, not all transportation projects reap these benefits equally:

[S]tates spent more than a third of the money on building new roads—rather than working on public transportation and fixing up existing roads and bridges. The result of the indiscriminate spending? States missed out on potentially thousands of new jobs—and bridges, roads, and overpasses around the country are still crumbling. Meanwhile, the states that did put dollars toward public transportation were richly rewarded: Each dollar used on transit was 75 percent more effective at putting people to work than a dollar used for highway work.

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ICLEI announces nine STAR Beta Communities

Back in October, we brought you information on ICLEI’s new STAR Community Index, a national framework and performance-management system expected to be launched in 2011 that will allow local governments to measure and rate their sustainability performance. ICLEI has now announced the nine selected STAR Beta Communities. They are: Atlanta, GA Boulder, CO Chattanooga, TN … Continued

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New report: State transportation decisions could save money and reduce carbon emissions

Download the ReportA new report released today by Smart Growth America and the Natural Resources Defense Council found that transportation policies in every state could save money and reduce carbon emissions by making smarter decisions with state funds.

In “Getting Back on Track: Climate Change and State Transportation Policy,” SGA and NRDC found that current transportation policies in almost all 50 states either fail to curb carbon emission rates or, in some cases, actually increase emissions. This contradiction between state policies and broader efforts to reduce carbon emissions means not only that many states are missing opportunities to protect clean air; it means they are missing economic opportunities as well.

In a press conference this morning, former Maryland Governor Parris Glendening remarked:

Transportation makes up an enormous proportion of our national economy and our environmental impact: it must be front and center as we think about how to get the most out of our public investments. The states that rose to the top in this report, California, Maryland and New Jersey, are there because they are meeting the challenge to innovate.

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