Let’s say you worked for a city that was trying to revitalize a piece of land with a bunch of dilapidated buildings on it. You want to build some residences and some retail space, and you want to make better connections to the street grid. Congratulations – HUD and U.S. DOT both have money to help you get where you’re going. Except, oops: HUD is going to demand that you hire locally, to create jobs in the community, while U.S. DOT is going to demand that you get a competitive bid, showing no preference for local hires. Everyone you talk to at either agency just scratches their heads and says they don’t know anything about the other agency. They wouldn’t even know who to talk to over there.
Well, you can relax, because that type of bureaucratic snafu is a thing of the past. But that was the state of affairs until about three years ago, when DOT, HUD, and the EPA got together to eliminate some of the bureaucratic hurdles that had long frustrated the communities they were trying to serve. They called it the Partnership for Sustainable Communities, and it broke down the silos of the three agencies with their naturally interconnected missions. They outlined six principles of livability to support investment in existing communities, transportation choices, affordable housing, and good stuff like that.
House Republicans sprang into action. They succeeded in de-funding the program, even trying to insert legislative language that prohibits the three agencies from working together on sustainable development. (See page 78 of this PDF.)
But this partnership is broader and deeper than its antagonists think.
With or without a name or funding, government agencies are beginning to work together around a common mission of smart growth and livability. And not just the big three: The EPA has signed a formal memorandum of agreement with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on sustainable land use in coastal areas, tackling questions like how to improve walkability when everything is built on stilts.
And other agencies are getting in on the action. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development office “wishes they’d been at the wedding,” according to Abby Hall, policy analyst with the EPA’s Smart Growth program. The USDA has worked with the Partnership on livability guidance for rural America. It runs its own infrastructure bank, which incorporates sustainability principles.
For example, while many small towns try to revitalize by chasing after big companies to build plants there, the Rural Development office encourages communities to build places where people want to live and conduct commerce. They just cut the ribbon on a new City Hall in southeastern Arkansas, consolidating four local agencies in a renovated historic building on what had been a somewhat moribund Main Street. The town’s mayor told officials that with the opening of the building, businesses and developers are suddenly interested in putting down roots there.