Making sustainable development the norm, not the exception - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Making sustainable development the norm, not the exception

Shelley Poticha, Director, Office of Sustainable Housing and Communities, U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development

This post was written by MPC Board Member Mark Angelini, Practice Leader, S.B. Friedman and Co.

On April 27th, I was honored to host Shelley Poticha, Director of HUD’s Office of Sustainable Housing and Communities and a stellar panel that included Ngoan Le of the Chicago Community Trust, Randy Blankenhorn of the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, and Leigh Morris of the Northwestern Indiana Regional Development Authority for MPC’s Great Communities Roundtable. See more photos of this event on MPC's flickr page >>

From left to right: Shelley Poticha, U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development, Ngoan Le, Chicago Community Trust, Leigh Morris, Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority, and Randy Blankenhorn, Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning

As many of us in this region learn about the exciting news and collaboration, i.e. the Sustainable Communities Initiative and Livable Communities Actcoming from D.C., it's hard not to wonder, with the state of our economy and public sector’s fiscal woes, how we are going to benefit with scarce local resources to contribute and a humbling backlog of projects. We have to develop new and creative partnerships to pull together the resources and capacity needed to advance worthy projects on the ground. That is why we asked Shelley to come and talk not only about the HUD-DOT-EPA Interagency Partnership for Sustainable Communities, but also about her past experience while at Reconnecting America with the Great Communities Collaborative (GCC) in the San Francisco Bay Area, which involves four regional agencies, 12 private foundations, seven technical assistance providers, 10 local community organizations, and over 25 municipalities to engage deeply in local transit-oriented development planning and implementation efforts.

The buy-in from multiple local private, public, and government entities and the use of holistic approaches to community planning have been critical to GCC’s success. The GCC is a strong partner of the Bay Area Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), the regional Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), the equivalent of our Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, and works closely with it to advance the lofty goal of ensuring all people in the Bay Area, by 2030, will live in complete communities, affordable across all incomes, with access to quality transit. As a strong sign of this close partnership, MTC recently set aside $10 million with a challenge to the GCC to raise an additional $30 million to establish an acquisition fund aimed at advancing transit-oriented development implementation.

During the roundtable, Shelley cited several new changes the federal government has instituted to break down bureaucratic barriers to sustainable development, such as allowing HUD-funded housing to be built on formally contaminated sites that have been cleaned up using resources from the U.S. Environmentat Protection Agency. This was prohibited in the past. They also now allow Community Development Block Grant funds to be used as a local match for U.S. Dept. of Transportation funding when this was prohibited before.

A key to GCC’s success: overcoming similar local policy and procedural impediments preventing large scale community development from being planned and implemented.  Without those fundamentals, it is near impossible to amass land, clean-up and prepare property and develop the mixed-income housing; retail, professional and community services; and the infrastructure that ties the community together as well as connect it to the broader metro area. It is frankly daunting to ponder how to overcome these challenge within the Chicago metro area, especially given fiscal conditions and the presence of multiple layers of autonomous units of government, historically marching to their own beat. 

However, the panelists (Ngoan Le, Leigh Morris, and Randy Blankenhorn ) demonstrated that this region is already taking action: it’s obvious that proactive, regional and subregional partnerships between local and state units of government and community stakeholders have formed and are moving forward.  In addition, the Region V federal offices of HUD, DOT and EPA are working together and committing their individual resources to collaborative ventures and are open to new opportunities to do so.


S.B. Friedman and Co.'s Mark Angelini, the event sponsor, welcomes the crowd of 90 to the The Great Communities Collaborative Roundtable

There is great need to further empower and provide incentives for these collaborations if the Chicago region, across city, county and state lines, is to continue to prosper.  Furthermore, collaboration will be fundamental in attracting and leveraging the capital from the public, private and philanthropic sectors needed to repurpose and grow the existing communities within metro Chicago and reconnect them into a vibrant, livable and economically thriving region moving forward into the 21st Century.


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