To Sell Vacant Homes, Students Spotlight Their Histories

Read the full story in Governing.

Blight and vacancy are very real problems for municipalities and residents. About 20 percent of properties are vacant in Wilkinsburg, an area of about 15,000 people that separated from the adjacent Pittsburgh in 1871. That accounts for about 1,900 housing units, costing local governments about $26 million a year in services to keep them going and lost revenue from declining property values in surrounding areas.

Wilkinsburg developed a reputation as a gang-infested neighborhood in the 1980s and 1990s. A well-publicized shooting at two fast food restaurants in March of 2000 by a mentally ill man hasn’t helped. But the area also has a wealth of durable historic housing, and local governments have tried to encourage redevelopment through tax incentives, as well as programs to fast-track sales and encourage existing homeowners to take on adjacent properties at discounts.

A group of five students from different disciplines at nearby Carnegie Mellon University learned about those offerings as they searched for solutions for a class blending design and public policy. As they met with existing Wilkinsburg residents and toured neighborhoods, they decided problems of perception and limited outreach will forever keep incentive programs underused.

“I think that’s when we realized the problem is a little beyond policy and the houses themselves,” said Rene Cuenca, one of the team members. “There’s this very impactful psychological state.”

See also House of Gold, a web site that documents the life of one of the houses in the neighborhood.

Urban planners may have finally found how to get to Sesame Street

Read the full post at Grist.

But last week, a new generation of planners assembled in the city that gave America the blueprints for residential apartheid, literally, to discuss new policy proposals around “smart growth,” “sustainability,” and “equitable development.”

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,

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 by 4:00 p.m. Central time on Monday, May 12, 2014. EPA expects to make an award announcement by fall 2014.