Are federal policies that encourage sprawl a thing of the past? Did you feel the seismic shift last Friday like I did? In front of the 18th Congress for the New Urbanism, Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan declared that the time has come for the federal government to stop encouraging sprawl in its policies. Donovan boldly and proudly announced that his department’s $3 billion worth of projects annually would all use location efficiency and LEED-ND criteria -- a rating system that MPC has supported since its early stages -- when scoring grant applications. This announcement is a mighty victory for MPC and other sustainable communities advocates across the country and it might just inspire imitation by other federal agencies and by state and local governments. As President Obama’s top urban cabinet official, Sec. Donovan’s words are ripples that emanate out to private investors about a whole new way of doing business.
I had the chance to contemplate what these kinds of policy shifts could mean for formerly industrial swaths of our region when I attended a recent Auto Communities Summit hosted by the White House and the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program, one of MPC’s closest national partners. A parade of top minds – from National Economic Council Director Dr. Lawrence Summers to Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm to Ford Foundation CEO Luis A. Ubiñas – each amplified the call for coordinated investments and pledged new federal government and foundation resources to support exactly the kind of on-the-ground innovative partnerships and resulting policy recommendations that dominate MPC’s agenda today.
Brookings’ Metro Program expanded the conversation about the need for exactly these types of dramatic reforms when it released its newest report, Facing the Urban Challenge: Reimagining Land Use in America's Distressed Older Cities—The Federal Policy Role. The findings hammer home that the federal government can accelerate regeneration efforts by playing a major role in five key areas: strategic planning; reutilizing urban land; investing in transformative change; revitalizing neighborhoods; and addressing affordable housing. What’s more exciting is the policy framework that Brookings laid out:
- Better coordinate multiple federal resources directed to distressed older cities
- Use federal resources to leverage needed state policy change
- Build the capacity of local government and others to carry out effective strategies for change.
Of course, being the vibrant and entrepreneurial region that Chicagoland is, we won’t be waiting and watching. We’re too busy doing! Our interjurisdictional work, from the north shore to Cook Couny’s western and southern suburbs to Northwest Indiana, is gaining traction. But these innovations send a signal to the market of confidence in revitalizing places. I’m inspired by our many partners and by other distressed communities that are tackling their challenges and writing their turnaround story, like Detroit and Youngstown.
Speaking of Youngstown, I’d like to share a blog post that my new assistant, Sarah Wilson, recently wrote about Youngstown, Ohio and its reinvention efforts. A native of the Youngstown - Warren metropolitan area, she details how capacity building and intensive community engagement helped Youngstown change the path of its future. Welcome to MPC, Sarah. Enjoy!