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A partnership for sustainable development: Mike Figura outlines the recent agreement between three powerful government agencies that have joined forces to pursue sustainability.

Smart growth planning takes a holistic vision. When planning an area--be it a city, a town or a region--the smart growth planner has to answer many questions. Where will people live, work, shop and play? How will crucial services be provided? How will the natural environment be protected? How will the built environment integrate people who have different backgrounds and incomes? At the crux of these questions are three major elements: transportation, land use and design. The coordination of these elements is crucial to create sustainably built environment.

While local governments usually control land use and design decisions, for better or worse, the federal government largely controls the transportation element; the major transportation system in the United States is the Interstate Highway System. The auto-dominated transportation system that the Department of Transportation (DOT) has helped build has been working at odds with the goals of two other federal agencies: the U.S. Department of Urban Housing (HUD) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). HUD's mission is to provide affordable housing, and the EPA's mission is to protect our nation's environment. The DOT has been promoting an auto-oriented transportation system that is both unaffordable for many Americans and has negative environmental impacts.

But, there's good news! On June 16, 2009, the EPA joined with HUD and with the DOT on a list of sustainability goals. These goals are based on the following livability principles:

Provide more transportation choices. Develop safe, reliable and economical transportation choices to decrease household transportation costs, reduce our nation's dependence on foreign oil, improve air quality, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and promote public health.

Promote equitable, affordable housing. Expand location- and energy-efficient housing choices for people of all ages, incomes, races and ethnicities to increase mobility and lower the combined cost of housing and transportation.

Enhance economic competitiveness. Improve economic competitiveness through reliable and timely access to employment centers, educational opportunities, services and other basic needs by workers, as well as expanded business access to markets.

Support existing communities. Target federal funding toward existing communities--through strategies such as transit-oriented, mixed-use development, and land recycling--to increase community revitalization and the efficiency of public works investments and to safeguard rural landscapes.

Coordinate and leverage federal policies and investment. Align federal policies and funding to remove barriers to collaboration, leverage funding, and increase the accountability and effectiveness of all levels of government to plan for future growth, including making smart energy choices, such as locally generated renewable energy.

Value communities and neighborhoods. Enhance the unique characteristics of all communities by investing in healthy, safe and walkable neighborhoods--rural, urban or suburban.

With the DOT, the EPA and HUD pledging to work together and align their sights on sustainability goals, the chances of seeing real progress in smart growth development is vastly increased for America. Let's hope that we see real progress in the near future!

Source: Livability principles at U.S. EPA, smartgrowth/2009-0616-epahuddot.htm

Mike Figura is a planner at GreenPlan, Inc., co-owner of Eco Concepts Realty, and a member of the NU Green Home Experts Board. He can be reached at Asheville Green Real Estate,
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Title Annotation:SMART GROWTH
Author:Figura, Mike
Publication:New Life Journal
Date:Sep 1, 2009
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