Smart growth news – July 26

The country’s most ambitious smart growth project shows some progress, much remaining potential
NRDC, July 26, 2011
I once called the Atlanta BeltLine “the country’s best smart growth project.” I still haven’t seen one that is better in concept. But now, with a few years of history, how is the implementation coming along? Is the reality matching the vision?

Pittsburgh: a sweet spot for post-young’uns
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, July 25, 2011
“Pittsburgh’s always behind the national trends.” With a shrug or an eye-roll, that’s our explanation for anything from the lack of gourmet food trucks on city streets to the persistence of mullets on local heads. But every once in a while, lagging behind can mean getting ahead. You examine the trendsetters’ mistakes and correct your own course while there’s still time. What if this were the case with Pittsburgh’s decades-long population loss?

Passing of transportation bill will help economy
The Birmingham News, July 25, 2011
Commerce is the lifeblood of our nation’s economy, and transportation infrastructure is its circulatory system. Without passage of a multiyear surface transportation bill before the current extension expires Sept. 30, American business will suffer as roads become more congested and their conditions continue to deteriorate. All levels of government must make long-term investment in transportation a national priority.

America’s Coming Infrastructure Crash
The Atlantic, July 25, 2011
When President Obama took office in January 2009, he promised that ” to lay a new foundation for growth….we will build the roads and bridges.” And in his 2011 State of the Union address, he promised to “put more Americans to work repairing crumbling roads and bridges.” But as all attention is focused on the debt ceiling battle, here’s what’s happening on the infrastructure front. Highway, street, and bridge construction jobs through the first five months of 2011 are running 18% below 2007 levels, and the stimulus money is fading.

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Car and Driver goes on the record for a comprehensive transportation strategy

You know it’s bad when Ashton Kutcher is Tweeting about road closures. Route 405 in Los Angeles is due to be closed for construction this weekend – an event predicted to be so paralyzing for L.A.’s traffic that it’s been dubbed “Carmageddon.”

While L.A. drivers prepare for catastrophe and stock up on canned goods, the 405 road closure illustrates one of the arguments presented in a recent article from Car and Driver magazine. “The State of the Union’s Roads: An Investigative Report” chronicles why so many of America’s roads are in poor condition – and what we should be doing about it.

“The interstates were designed to last 20 or 30 years,” the article explains, “but now some areas are pushing 50 years and handling far more traffic than their planners anticipated. But as we reach into our wallets, we run into our generation’s big dilemma: We’re nearly broke.” Highway revenues are down, repair costs are up and the federal government can’t afford the level of road investments it committed to in past years. While gas prices and time wasted in congestion are both soaring, more people are living in cities than ever before, which leads even Car and Driver to question the logic of doubling down on highways.

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Smart growth news – July 1, 2011

Mapping Home-Value Drops by Zip Code
Wall Street Journal Developments blog, June 28, 2011
Zillow’s maps show that poorer center-city neighborhoods and far-flung suburbs tended to fare worse even as trendy urban neighborhoods or established suburbs managed to either weather the storm with limited damage or see losses half that of other zip codes with 50% or 60% declines.

Transportation: Collapse of a Big Tent?
Roll Call, June 16, 2011
They could have battled among themselves for slices of the federal transportation budget. Instead, they have always pressed for a bigger pie — and bigger slices for everyone. The big-tent approach has largely worked. The past three highway bills (1991, 1998 and 2005) were enacted with broad support from all corners of the transportation lobby, with overwhelming bipartisan backing and with more money for everyone.

U.S. opens new round of transportation grants
Reuters, June 30, 2011
States, cities and local governments can now compete for $527 million in transportation grants, the federal government said on Thursday. The budget passed in April provided money for another round of the popular TIGER program created in the 2009 economic stimulus plan to grant money for road, bridge, rail and public transportation projects as well as streetcars and bicycle and pedestrian paths.

Residents and officials seek reforms to fund local public transportation
WAMC (N.Y.), June 30, 2011
“These efficiencies will impact existing routes by adjusting their runs to reflect the times of higher utilization by the public. We are looking to minimize impact on individuals by adjusting routes with route deviation where possible. Our goal is to streamline our times or our services, not so much to change service.”

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Smart growth news – June 17, 2011

‘Walkability’ key to an age-friendly city
Hamilton Spectator, June 16, 2011
Walkability was identified as a key to sustainable growth by Hamilton’s Economic Summit. But it is much more than that. It is also a key to an age-friendly city — an inclusive and accessible urban environment that promotes active aging and improves the quality of life for all members of society. As defined by Christopher Leinberger in an opinion editorial in the Hamilton Spectator on May 12, walkability is “basically the ease of meeting daily needs on foot.” One measurement tool used to identify walkable neighbourhoods is the “Walk Score,” which measures distances to stores, and services in the neighbourhood.

Smart Growth to Blame For the Housing Crash? Not By a Long Shot.
Streetsblog DC, June 16, 2011
The Wall Street Journal yesterday posed the question of whether smart growth policies and land use restrictions were to blame for the housing boom and bust. The hypothesis comes from Wendell Cox, a long-time critic of smart growth, who, in a recent paper, recycled a specious argument that land use regulations caused housing prices to increase unsustainably, creating the real estate bubble and, eventually, the collapse of the housing market. Cox claims to show that differences in how metro areas regulated development explain the recent housing crisis.

Population growth to drive more compact housing
Inman News, June 16, 2011
We need to find homes for 150 million more people. With the U.S. population projected to grow that much in the next 30-40 years, that will necessitate “more compact, more mixed-use development,” and coordinated transportation planning, said Patrick Phillips, CEO for the Urban Land Institute, who spoke during a National Association of Real Estate Editors annual conference Wednesday.

How to fix crumbling U.S. roads, rails and airways
MarketWatch, June 17, 2011
If America’s prosperity depends on its roadways, the future looks pretty rough.
After more than a decade of declining tax revenue in the United States, highways are crumbling, rail lines are overburdened and airline corridors are congested. Factor in the economic weakness, the public’s tax-cutting mindset and geopolitical instability, and an already shaky situation looks ready to worsen for commerce, jobs and several industries that are crucial for transportation infrastructure.

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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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Cutting costs through smarter growth in Raleigh, NC

In a piece today in TIME about growth and development in Raleigh, NC, Mitch Silver discusses the financial burdens many towns bear to support sparse development. To help reduce these costs, Raleigh has a comprehensive plan to guide economic growth and public and private investment in the city for the next 20 years. The plan is meant to help Raleigh “promote sustainability while maintaining and enhancing the natural and architectural assets of the City and promoting the social and economic welfare of its residents.”

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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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Tim Geithner on middle-class jobs and long-term growth

Secretary of the Treasury Tim Geithner with CNBC anchor Erin Burnett at the Port of Tacoma, WA. Photo: Flickr/Port of Tacoma

In a post on the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s website today Secretary of the Treasury Tim Geithner voices his support for infrastructure investments as a tool for economic growth. Geithner explains that “targeted infrastructure investments are a necessary component of creating the middle-class jobs we need now and strengthening our foundation for future economic growth.”

Today’s post comes on the heels of October 2010’s Economic Analysis of Infrastructure Investment, a report by the Treasury which reiterated the fact that well designed infrastructure investments have long term economic benefits that disproportionately benefit the middle class. The report also noted that there is currently a high level of underutilized resources that can be used to improve and expand our infrastructure, as well as strong demand by the public and businesses for additional transportation infrastructure investments. From Treasury.gov:

Well-targeted infrastructure investments create both immediate and long-term economic benefits. Those benefits accrue not only where the infrastructure is located but also to communities all across the country.

When the Port of Seattle improves its connection with local freight railroads, it creates construction jobs for local workers – but the project’s benefits extend far across the heartland. By making it cheaper to transport cargo, this improvement will allow cattle ranchers in rural Montana to ship their beef to new markets across the world. Consumers who purchase imported goods and American businesses that are expanding their exports enjoy lower prices and improved access to new markets and goods…

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A Sputnik Moment for Smart Growth

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.

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