Atlanta streetcarAtlanta was awarded $47 million for the construction of a new streetcar line. This image is one suggestion of how the project may look when completed.Image: Galounger

Cross-posted from the Natural Resources Defense Council.

In a breathtaking series of press conferences and releases along with the publication of a new report, the federal Partnership for Sustainable Communities — which is led by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and the Department of Transportation (DOT) — has announced an impressive amount of federal assistance to a wide array of sustainability projects across the country. If you’ve been wondering what the three now-collaborating agencies have been up to with respect to tangible products — and I confess that even I have been impatient at times — these last two weeks should have alleviated any doubts. They are making a difference.

Department of Transportation

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Most impressive in terms of monetary support was Wednesday’s announcement of grant winners under the Department of Transportation’s TIGER II (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) program. Forty-two capital construction projects and 33 planning projects in 40 states — most of them related to sustainable transportation and land use — will share nearly $600 million “for major infrastructure projects ranging from highways and bridges to transit, rail, and ports,” DOT Secretary Ray LaHood said in a press release. “These are innovative, 21st century projects that will change the U.S. transportation landscape by strengthening the economy and creating jobs, reducing gridlock, and providing safe, affordable, and environmentally sustainable transportation choices.”

The capital grant winners were chosen from nearly 1,000 construction grant applications for more than $19 billion in assistance. For the planning grants, especially impressive is that 14 of the winners are receiving not only TIGER II grants but also coordinated Sustainable Community Challenge Grants from HUD; these can be used for localized planning efforts, such as development around a transit stop and zone or building code updates and improvements. DOT and HUD, with assistance from the EPA and the Department of Agriculture, participated jointly in the evaluation of the planning grant applications.

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The city of Atlanta, receiving $47.6 million to construct a new streetcar line, is among the capital grant winners, as is South Salt Lake City, which is building the Sugar House streetcar line. In the San Francisco Bay Area, a capital grant will enable the completion of a nearly 200-mile bicycle and pedestrian trail system serving the 2.5 million residents of Contra Costa and Alameda counties in California. See all capital grant winners here.

Remarkably, three of the 75 TIGER II winners involve the act or consideration of replacing outdated urban freeways with more neighborhood-friendly boulevards, something I advocated here a few weeks ago with regard to the Claiborne expressway that bifurcates New Orleans’ Tremé district. Claiborne was one of the planning grant winners, as was the Sheridan Expressway corridor in New York City. The New Haven Downtown Crossing project — which will convert Connecticut Route 34 from a limited access highway to two complete-street, urban boulevards with road, streetscape, bicycle and pedestrian enhancements — was a capital grant winner. Go here for a nice summary of these three projects.

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The Claiborne project was a joint DOT-HUD planning grant winner, as was Jersey City’s Canal Crossing, a 111-acre redevelopment site surrounded by predominately minority households with high unemployment and poverty rates:

Revitalization of this area has been hampered by outdated infrastructure, large tracts of contaminated former industrial lands, and a road system that fails to sufficiently link up with the local regional rail network. The project focus will be to create a residential, mixed-use, transit-oriented development with access to open space amenities in a community with a significant low-income population.

Another joint planning grant will allow University City, Mo., outside St. Louis, to pursue improvements to the historic and revitalizing Parkview Gardens neighborhood, fostering greater connectivity to the light rail system; creating LEED-certified affordable housing; and developing a portion of the Centennial Greenway trail and on-street bike routes. The project “will redesign parks as the center of neighborhood life and create local development plans.”

Great stuff; see all planning grant winners here.

Housing and Urban Development

In addition to the challenge grants, HUD announced late last week that 45 regions around the country had been selected to receive a collective $100 million in federal support for sustainability planning to “integrate affordable housing with neighboring retail and business development” and to “leverage existing infrastructure and reward local collaboration and innovation.” Of that amount, some $25 million was awarded to smaller metro regions and rural areas. (Twenty-eight of the 75 DOT winners were also in rural areas.)

The largest HUD grants ($4-5 million) were awarded for planning in and around metropolitan Hartford, Chicago, Boston, South Florida, Twin Cities, Saint Louis, Kansas City, Fresno, Cleveland, Knoxville, Salt Lake City, and Seattle. In California’s Central Valley, for example, the $4 million grant to a Fresno-based consortium covering eight counties complements a $1.5 million grant to metro Sacramento, a longtime leader in planning, in a way that should combine to address serious growth and development issues in the Valley and perhaps assist compliance with the state’s landmark planning law, SB 375. The Sacramento grant is addressed specifically to assist the following:

  1. Increase the construction of housing and employment centers in high-frequency transit areas that promote social equity, inclusion, access to opportunity, public health, and neighborhood revitalization and reduce environmental impacts.
  2. Integrate housing, land use, and transportation planning and programs.
  3. Integrate natural resources planning to protect valuable environmental assets and increase housing opportunities near employment centers.
  4. Use the Sacramento region as a pilot test to develop comprehensive recommendations and a handbook to improve the integration of federal, state, regional and local plans, policies and programs for the purpose of effectively implementing place-based planning.

The grant for the South Florida region is for development of a regional vision and 50-year plan for a seven-county area:

The South Florida Regional Planning Council of Hollywood seeks to put in place the Southeast Florida Regional Plan for Sustainable Development and to ensure that planning and investment decisions yield a more prosperous, inclusive, and sustainable region. The project will integrate data, tools, and models to assess the region today, understand the region’s future, and track progress. A monitoring plan will focus on measuring progress toward specific regional outcomes aligned with all six [federal] Livability Principles, plus a seventh climate change principle because of Southeast Florida’s unique vulnerability to its most severe impacts.

See all the HUD grant recipients here.

Environmental Protection Agency

But wait, there’s more: earlier this week the EPA announced it had selected seven areas to receive technical assistance for smart growth implementation.  Four of them — in north Georgia, the Chicago region, Utah (the area covered by the Utah Transit Authority in Salt Lake City and Sandy City), and Wheat Ridge, Colo. — will receive help in developing “financing strategies for infrastructure investments located around transit-oriented development; land assemblage; parking garages; stormwater management; streets and sidewalks; facade improvements; infrastructure phasing; energy efficiency; and other necessary infrastructure components.”

The other areas will receive varying kinds of assistance:

  • The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments will receive assistance with assessing climate change risks to the Washington, D.C., region, identifying smart growth strategies that would improve the region’s capacity to adapt to climate change.
  • Rhode Island’s KeepSpace Advisory Committee will be assisted in developing and applying a set of measurements for use in funding decisions that can ensure that state dollars are leveraging investments across transportation, housing, and infrastructure and achieving statewide planning goals.
  • Saginaw, Mich., which has suffered a decline in central-city population and an increase in the number of vacant and abandoned properties in city neighborhoods, will receive help in developing a land use and infrastructure strategy that supports sustainable redevelopment of abandoned properties, helps stabilizes distressed neighborhoods, and creates opportunities for long-term economic growth.

The challenges that these communities are facing are also being experienced in other jurisdictions around the country, and these efforts are being designed partially to develop and test replicable models that can be applied elsewhere.

This comes on the heels of last month’s announcement of aid in green building and infrastructure design to five state capitals: Boston, Charleston (W.Va.), Hartford, Jefferson City (Mo.), and Little Rock:

EPA has selected five state capital cities to receive high-quality green development that includes cleaning up and recycling vacant lands, accessing and improving waterways, providing greater housing and transportation choices, and reducing infrastructure and energy costs. The Agency will organize teams of urban planners and landscape architects to provide direct, customized technical assistance as requested by each community. Greening America’s Capitals is not a grant; it provides direct technical assistance to communities by working with private-sector experts and leveraging other partners, such as HUD and DOT, to consider implementation options. In addition to helping the selected state capitals build a greener future and civic pride, this assistance will help create models that other cities can look to in creating their own sustainable designs.

(A sixth state capital, Concord, N.H., is receiving aid in sustainable redevelopment of historic properties.)

Moreover, in addition to the projects being assisted by the EPA’s smart growth office, its brownfields office has also been active. (Brownfields are properties where the presence or potential presence of hazardous substances, pollutants or contaminants may complicate the properties’ expansion, redevelopment, or reuse.) Last week, the agency announced that it is awarding $4 million in assistance to 23 communities, many in underserved and economically disadvantaged areas, to develop area-wide plans for the reuse of brownfields properties. HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan joined EPA Assistant Administrator Mathy Stanislaus in the announcement, and both HUD and DOT will collaborate with the EPA to help these communities create a shared vision for brownfields redevelopment.

For example, in Goshen, Ind., the EPA will help the city address its 9th Street Industrial Corridor, which is 12 blocks long and contains 350 parcels. A long history of intensive manufacturing has left a legacy of contamination and abandoned, vacant, or underutilized industrial properties. There are at least 61 brownfields in the corridor, which is surrounded by residential areas and several schools. The city’s comprehensive plan for the area will advance redevelopment and brownfield reuse efforts, identify cleanup goals, and evaluate infrastructure conditions. The goal will be to redevelop the corridor for modern manufacturing and industrial reuse, and create new jobs in the process.

In San Diego, the EPA’s brownfields grant will assist a partnership led by the Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation in transforming approximately 60 acres of blighted, under-utilized properties into a vibrant, livable community that is projected to create more than 1,000 jobs, 1,000 quality affordable housing units, 645,000 square feet of new commercial space, and at least 400,000 square feet of green open space and parks. The Village at Market Creek is a resident-led, -driven, and -owned development project in the Diamond Neighborhoods of southeastern San Diego.

The Partnership for Sustainable Communities

Yesterday, White House Domestic Policy Council Director Melody Barnes, HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, DOT Secretary LaHood, and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson held a press conference heralding the achievements of the Partnership for Sustainable Communities during its first year. The press release included a statement from President Obama: “We’re working to change the way government works, and that means investing tax dollars wisely and well. We want to make sure that when we’re building infrastructure, we’re considering how housing, transportation, and the environment all impact each other. These grants are designed to get the biggest bang for our tax dollar buck.”

“President Obama has made clear that sustainable communities with affordable housing and access to a broad range of transportation options are vital to rebuilding the foundation for prosperity in this country,” Jackson added. “[The work of the Partnership] has already helped to create healthier communities and open up better opportunities to attract new jobs and investments.”

The partnership’s considerable accomplishments so far have been summarized in a report, A Year of Progress for America’s Communities, which was released two weeks ago. Congratulations to the White House and the leadership and staff of these agencies for all of their work. If anyone doesn’t understand that the federal government and its many dedicated employees are helping Americans in very tangible ways, they just aren’t paying attention.