Last week the Congress for New Urbanism (CNU) held their annual conference in Atlanta, Georgia, and among the many exciting developments was an important announcement from the United States Secretary for Housing and Urban Developments (HUD). The Architecturally trained Secretary Shaun Donovan made the following statements:
You and I both know that for decades, the Federal government has actually encouraged sprawl — whether it’s building the beltways and highways in the second half of the 20th century that connected employment centers outside city limits or, more recently, a housing finance system that perpetuated the “Drive to Qualify” myth.
But you also know that today, we live in a changing world where cities, suburbs and the rural areas that surround them share an economic future and metropolitan regions are the engines of our economy. Where people are voting with their feet more and more — in search of walkable neighborhoods with transportation options. And where the global threat of climate change is very real.
That’s why, for the first time in the history of federal grant competitions, I want to announce today that HUD will be using location-efficiency to score our grant applications. Using the “LEED-ND” green neighborhood rating system CNU developed in partnership with the National Resources Defense Council and Green Building Council, it’s time that federal dollars stopped encouraging sprawl and started lowering the barriers to the kind of sustainable development our country needs and our communities want.
And with $3.25 billion at stake in these competitions, that’s exactly what they will start to do.
These are strong statements from a Secretary who has been in his appointment for 16 months, but his stance is backed by President Barack Obama’s administrations commitment to urban development. The POTUS created the White House Office of Urban Affairs a mere four weeks after he took office, and one year later HUD launched a new Office of Sustainable Housing and Communities to coordinate investments with the Departments of Transportation, Energy, and EPA, and other agencies at the federal level.
These programs are important to changing the future development patterns in the United States, but policy is only the beginning of the transformation. Secretary Donovan emphasizes that the design professionals need to take the initiative and plan communities which function for all ages and incomes together without isolating any sector. He specifically clarifies that he realizes the solutions will vary between “…communities — and neighborhoods within those communities.” This open mindedness will allow for architects, urban designers, and planners to do the best job for their own communities, while moving the shift to urban developments.
Unfortunately this does not solve all of the financial issues with developing new urban centres in the United States, but hopefully these grants will give support to allow banks to begin to realize that these developments are valuable and financially viable.