Smart growth

American Cities Are Haunted by Too Many Parking Spaces

Read the full story in BusinessWeek.

American car culture may be declining, but much of our urban infrastructure remains steadfastly centered around the automobile. Planning choices made in the heyday of car ownership may prove incompatible with a rising generation of consumers who seem remarkably disinterested in driving.

Smart Location Mapping

EPA has developed two data products that consistently measure the built environment and transit accessibility of neighborhoods across metropolitan regions and across the United States. Each of these products summarize the characteristics of census block groups. Users can download data, browse the data in interactive maps, or access the data through web services.

  • The Smart Location Database summarizes more than 90 different indicators associated with the built environment and location efficiency. Indicators include density of development, diversity of land use, street network design, and accessibility to destinations as well as various demographic and employment statistics. Most attributes are available for all U.S. block groups.
  • Access to Jobs and Workers Via Transit Tool provides indicators of accessibility to destinations by public transit. Indicators summarize jobs accessible by transit as well as workers, households, and population that can access the block group via transit. Coverage is limited to metropolitan regions served by transit agencies that share their service data.

For more information about EPA’s smart location mapping projects, please contact Ted Cochin (202-566-2181, cochin.ted@epa.gov).

Request for Proposals for a Smart Growth Information Clearinghouse

EPA’s Office of Sustainable Communities is seeking proposals for a Smart Growth Information Clearinghouse. Under this solicitation, EPA intends to fund further development and ongoing maintenance of a web-based national information clearinghouse focused on smart growth. Eligible applicants are States and local governments, Indian Tribes, public and private colleges and universities, and hospitals, laboratories, and other public or private nonprofit institutions, among others. For-profit organizations and individuals are not eligible to apply. Proposals must be received by EPA or through www.grants.gov by 4:00 p.m. Central time on Monday, May 12, 2014. EPA expects to make an award announcement by fall 2014.

Citizens’ Institute on Rural Design Invites Proposals for Rural Communities Facing Design Challenges

The Citizens’ Institute on Rural DesignTM (CIRD) has issued a request for proposals to rural communities facing design challenges – such as Main Street revitalization, how to manage and direct growth, design community-supportive transportation systems, preserve natural and historic landscapes and buildings, protect working agricultural lands, and provide adequate and affordable housing – who are interested in hosting a local workshop in 2014-2015.

Successful applicants will receive a $7,000 stipend and in-kind professional design expertise and technical assistance valued at $35,000. The deadline for submitting a proposal is Tuesday May 6, 2014 at 8:00 pm Central Time.

For more information or a copy of the RFP, see http://www.rural-design.org/.

6 Freeway Removals That Changed Their Cities Forever

Read the full post at Gizmodo.

It seems counterintuitive, right? Rip out eight lanes of freeway through the middle of your metropolis and you’ll be rewarded with not only less traffic, but safer, more efficient cities? But it’s true, and it’s happening in places all over the world.

Many freeway systems were overbuilt in an auto-obsessed era, only to realize later that cities are actually healthier, greener, and safer without them. Like freeway cap parks, which hope to bridge the chasms through severed neighborhoods—Boston’s Big Dig is a great example—freeway removal projects try to eradicate and undo the damage wrought from highways, while creating new, multifunctional shared streets that can be utilized by transit, bikes, walkers and yes, even cars.

Okay, you’re thinking, but where do all the cars go? It turns out that when you take out a high-occupancy freeway it doesn’t turn the surface streets into the equivalent of the Autobahn. A theory called “induced demand” proves that if you make streets bigger, more people will use them. When you make them smaller, drivers discover and use other routes, and traffic turns out to be about the same. Don’t believe it? Check out these freeway removals in cities all over the world and see for yourself.

The thorny matter of gentrification

Read the full post at NRDC.

A few days ago, I made a presentation to a group of thoughtful and accomplished philanthropists on sustainable land development.  I made a strong pitch for urban revitalization and was countered with a question about gentrification, the messy phenomenon that occurs if longtime residents of older neighborhoods find themselves priced out of their own communities as those neighborhoods become more sought-after and valuable.  To be honest, I don’t think I handled the question particularly well.

I never do, really, even though it comes up a lot.  The issue is just too thorny on all sides and, in most cases, racially charged, because minority populations are the ones who feel squeezed when more affluent, generally white, residents rediscover cities and move in.  I have a lot of sympathy for long-timers who fear losing control of their neighborhoods and, in too many cases, their very homes as rents and property taxes go up with increased value brought on by increased demand.  But, on the other hand, the environmental, fiscal and, yes, social benefits of revitalization and repopulation of our older, frequently distressed neighborhoods are so substantial that I believe strongly that they must continue.

Exit Interview: Melanie Nutter, City of San Francisco

Read the full interview at GreenBiz.

Exit Interview is an occasional series profiling sustainability professionals who recently have left their job.

Melanie Nutter has been at the leading edge of sustainable cities — from the inside. For a little over three years, until this January, she served as director of the San Francisco Department of the Environment, the lead sustainability agency for one of the world’s most progressive cities. Along the way, she helped pull together her counterparts at cities in North America to form a peer-to-peer network aimed at sharing best practices and accelerating the application of good ideas.

In the wake of her departure — to do consulting, for the time being — she shared lessons learned about how to push sustainability initiatives inside cities, as well as cities’ growing interest in resiliency. The interview has been edited for clarity and length.

EPA Recognizes Seven Communities for Smart Growth Achievement

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today recognized projects in seven communities as winners of the 2013 National Award for Smart Growth Achievement for their creative, sustainable initiatives that better protect the health and the environment while strengthening local economies. Among the winners are an expansive greenway in Atlanta, a downtown whitewater rafting park in rural Iowa, and a regional development plan for metropolitan Chicago. Other winners include the revitalized Historic Millwork District in Dubuque and an innovative, affordable infill housing development near public transit in Sacramento.

“The winning projects show us that we can develop, grow local economies, and protect public health and the environment all at the same time,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. “These projects also act as models for others, so they too can chart their own path toward healthier, more sustainable communities.”

The 2013 award winners were judged in five categories: overall excellence; corridor or neighborhood revitalization; plazas, parks, and public places; policies, programs, and plans; and built projects. Specific initiatives include cleaning up and reusing brownfields; using green infrastructure to manage stormwater runoff and improve water quality; providing transportation options; and providing green, energy-efficient housing in low-income areas.

The 2013 winners are:

Overall Excellence – Winner
Atlanta Beltline Eastside Trail/Historic Fourth Ward Park, Atlanta BeltLine, Inc., Atlanta, Ga.
The Atlanta BeltLine is comprised of four individual “belt lines” that were built as railroad bypass routes around downtown Atlanta in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The 2.25-mile Eastside Trail is the first section of the Atlanta BeltLine trail system to be redeveloped within the abandoned rail corridor. The trail connects five formerly divided neighborhoods by providing 30 acres of greenway, a pedestrian and bicycle trail, and an arboretum. The Eastside Trail connects to Historic Fourth Ward Park, a cleaned-up brownfield that is now a 17-acre park with a lake to handle stormwater runoff. The trail and park have spurred more than $775 million in private development, including more than 1,000 new mixed-income condominiums and apartments currently under construction.

Corridor or Neighborhood Revitalization – Winner
Historic Millwork District and Washington Neighborhood, Dubuque, Iowa
Once a bustling center of regional economic activity, Dubuque’s Millwork District sat vacant for decades after it fell victim to the economic shifts that touched much of the Midwest in the mid-1900s. The adjacent Washington Neighborhood was affected by the Millwork District’s decline, facing disinvestment and neglect when the mills began to shutter their doors and residents moved away from downtown. Today, thanks to strong community partnerships, public engagement, and an overarching citywide commitment to sustainability, Dubuque is successfully restoring both the Millwork District and Washington Neighborhood to the vibrant neighborhoods they once were.

Plazas, Parks, and Public Places – Winner
Charles City Riverfront Park, Charles City, Iowa
After years of fighting against the often-flooded Cedar River, Charles City used land acquired through Federal Emergency Management Agency flood buyouts to create an inviting riverfront park with a whitewater course. Capitalizing on the river’s natural features to help prevent future flooding, Charles City turned the river from an obstacle into an ecological and social benefit. Members of the community were involved in the park’s design and construction. Riverfront Park is a model of how to strategically use flooded properties to create a sustainable and economically valuable amenity.

Policies, Programs, and Plans – Winner
GO TO 2040, Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, Metropolitan Chicago, Ill.
GO TO 2040 is a policy-based regional plan and metropolitan Chicago’s first comprehensive plan since 1909. Developed by the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, GO TO 2040 aims to help the region’s municipalities and counties cope with common challenges and build a sustainable, prosperous future. GO TO 2040 envisions a region where residents have more housing and transportation options; parks and open space; jobs closer to home; cleaner air and water; and a better quality of life.

Built Projects – Winner
La Valentina, Sacramento, Calif.
Lying vacant for over 20 years, the area surrounding the Alkali Flat/La Valentina light-rail station in downtown Sacramento was known for crime, blight, and contamination. In 2007, a public-private partnership between the city of Sacramento and Domus Development brought together community groups to address neighborhood concerns and create a new vision for the area. From that vision came an affordable, mixed-use building complex—La Valentina and La Valentina North—that has cutting-edge energy-efficient features and is located next to a light-rail stop.

Policies, Programs, and Plans – Honorable Mention
Lower Eastside Action Plan, Detroit City Planning Commission, Detroit, Mich.
By 2010, Detroit’s once-vibrant Lower Eastside Neighborhood had the largest number of vacancies in the city. A group of local community development organizations helped residents with planning to start making positive change. They created the Lower Eastside Action Plan and planning process designed to engage residents in making decisions on their neighborhood’s future, stabilizing the thriving areas still left, and transforming vacant properties to improve quality of life.

Built Projects – Honorable Mention
Via Verde, New York City Department of Housing Preservation, The Bronx, N.Y.
Via Verde, a LEED Gold, mixed-income housing development in the Bronx, sets a new standard for how design and energy efficiency can help improve residents’ health and create a sense of community. The project is a partnership between the New York Department of Housing Preservation and Development and private and nonprofit developers, and it sits on a cleaned-up former rail yard in a low-income neighborhood. Via Verde’s location near subway and bus lines, plus innovative design and attention to residents’ needs, offer a model for other developments.

EPA received 77 award applications from 31 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. The winners were chosen based on their effectiveness in creating sustainable communities; fostering equitable development among public, private, and nonprofit stakeholders; and serving as national models for environmentally and economically sustainable development.

EPA created the National Award for Smart Growth Achievement in 2002 to highlight exceptional approaches to development that protect the environment, encourage economic vitality, and enhance quality of life. In the past 12 years, 61 winners from 26 states have shown a variety of approaches that states, regions, cities, suburbs, and rural communities can use to create economically strong, environmentally responsible development. EPA’s Office of Sustainable Communities manages the awards program.

EPA will host a ceremony on February 5 to recognize the winners.

More information on the winners, including videos: http://www.epa.gov/smartgrowth/awards.htm