The future, as always, remains uncertain. Yet some trends appear to be safe bets: Costs will rise, economic and social change will continue at a rapid pace, and all levels of government will need to adapt to those rising costs and changing times with an increased emphasis on fiscal, societal and environmental responsibility.
Given those trends and the need for increased government efficiency, preparing for what lies ahead is a good idea. That need for preparation is at the heart of the federal emphasis on sustainability, exemplified in the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) new Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant Program.
In general, sustainability refers to the concept of making decisions about development and government policy by considering the economic, social and environmental impacts of a project. Sustainable development does not focus solely on short-term benefits; it considers long-term effects as well and does not undervalue the true cost of a project by downplaying its negative environmental and social consequences. It stresses the efficient and equitable management of resources, both natural and financial.
In St. Louis, a three-year, $4.7-million grant from HUD to develop a regional plan for sustainable development will not resolve all current challenges. But the intent is to devise methods that municipalities, counties and regions can use to meet the metro area’s needs in efficient and responsible ways.
The St. Louis-area grant was announced in October 2010, with funding for planning running through December 2013. The $4.7-million award was the fourth-highest among the 45 regions that received funding from HUD; 225 grant applications were submitted.
Other Eighth District HUD Sustainable Communities Regional Planning grantees include the metro area around Memphis ($2.6 million), which includes parts of Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi; Metroplan in Little Rock ($1.4 million); and the East Arkansas Planning and Development District ($2.6 million).
For St. Louis, the East-West Gateway Council of Governments is the lead agency for the planning process and the fiscal agent for the grant. East-West Gateway is the federally designated metropolitan planning organization for the city of St. Louis and the surrounding seven counties in Missouri and Illinois.
East-West Gateway has 10 consortium partners contributing to the planning process of the Regional Plan for Sustainable Development. HUD requires that each region’s principal city, the county with the largest population, the metropolitan planning organization and a regional public engagement organization be involved in the process.
The effort to develop a regional plan that emphasizes sustainable development is a collaborative partnership that involves HUD, the federal Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The goal is to improve the way the federal government coordinates its transportation, housing and environmental spending, policies and programs so that local communities can become economically vibrant and environmentally sustainable.
The grant program is a recognition that citizens and urban leaders need to understand how rising fuel prices, a struggling economy, an unstable housing market and concern over climate change combine to affect the quality of life in their neighborhoods, cities, counties and states. The theory is that if the federal government and local communities coordinate housing, transportation and environmental priorities, the region as a whole will benefit.
The grant for St. Louis was funded through HUD’s Sustainable Communities Initiative, which currently is funding planning efforts throughout the country, although no funds are yet available for implemen-tation. At the core of the planning effort are the six livability principles established by the Partnership for Sustainable Communities, an interagency collaboration of HUD, DOT and EPA. The principles are:
- provide more transportation choices;
- promote equitable, affordable housing;
- enhance economic competitiveness;
- support existing communities;
- coordinate policies and leverage investments; and
- value communities and neighborhoods.
The first year of the planning process in St. Louis was used for coordination and collaboration with local organizations and committee members. An organizational framework was established that will allow an inclusive and comprehensive public engagement phase to be conducted in 2012.
Part of that public engagement component will be conducted throughout the region’s community planning areas (CPAs), which were designated as part of the planning process. All of the communities and organizations within each CPA have demonstrated a willingness to work together, even though several jurisdictions might be involved. A CPA can involve several governmental units, including municipalities, school districts and public safety departments, though none will cross county lines.
Any recommendations that evolve from public input during the CPA discussions are intended to provide support, strategies and models for sustainable development. Recommendations will not include any mandates that require local governments to adopt new rules or ordinances to conform to state or federal goals.
The core consortium members planning for sustainable communities consist of East-West Gateway, the City of St. Louis, St. Louis County and FOCUS St. Louis. The other members are Trailnet, Citizens for Modern Transit, Metro, Great Rivers Greenway, Metro St. Louis Equal Housing Opportunity Council, Southwestern Illinois Resource Conservation and Development, and the Applied Research Collaborative (St. Louis University, University of Missouri–St. Louis and Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville). An additional 23 partners consisting of businesses, nonprofit organizations, foundations and individuals are also a part of the effort.
In February 2012, the intensive public engagement process begins, with the intent to incorporate residents’ goals, priorities and concerns. That involvement by local citizens will continue throughout the year to identify resources and strategies that will address local and regional sustainable development goals by the end of 2012. Public feedback and refinement of those goals will take place in 2013 before a regional plan is adopted by December 2013.
For more information on HUD’s Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant Program, visit http://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/HUD?src=/press/press_releases_media_advisories/2010/HUDNo.10-233.