Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Livable Communities Act

Courtesy of the Houston Tomorrow newsletter, here is a report on the proposed Livable Communities Act.  Senate Bill Connects Transportation, Land Use Planning: Livable Communities Act.  Quoting the D.C. Streetsblog:

The Livable Communities Act would provide about $4 billion in competitive grants to coordinate housing, transportation, and economic development policy with an eye toward promoting sustainable development. About $400 million would be slated for planning with the remainder funding implementation. The bill would also create a new office within the Department of Housing and Urban Development to guide and administer the programs. If passed, it would strengthen the Obama administration’s multi-agency Sustainable Communities Initiative.

Sounds great in its intent, though short on specifics, as most proposed legislation is.  Senator Dodd opines:

Senator Dodd described the bill at the hearing, stressing that “integrated transportation and land use planning can help address a host of challenges: high foreclosure rates, climate change and oil dependency, deteriorating infrastructure, traffic congestion, and the loss of farmland. “

I have a couple of questions, though.  First, to the extent that this bill can be construed to represent the Obama administration's commitment to rethinking urban development and land use, and promoting transit oriented development and sustainable communities, how does it square with the other administration policies that seem determined to continue promoting single-family home ownership in suburban sprawl? 

Second, I'm not persuaded by this last exchange on performance measures:

Senator Warner supports the bill, but would like to see the Livable Communities Act have performance measures in place. He asked, “Is it just squishy livability? Is there a way that we can define this with metrics?”

He was assured by responses saying that many of its results can be measured, such as “the volume of reduced greenhouse gases, acres of preserved open space and rises in property values,” the article reports.

I'm skeptical of "performance measures" and "metrics" generally.  More substantively, I think that the point of legislation such as this--agree or disagree with it on the merits--should be to promote qualitatively different community development (which is a quintessentially local issue) and not to be wrapped up in larger transnational issues like global warming.  Really, should the "metric" for whether a "Livable Communites" grant is successful be its infinitesimal contribution to reducing the Globe's carbon footprint?  There are better ways to fight climate change.  I for one would rather promote "squishy livability" than to try to shoehorn some "metric" for carbon reduction into the analysis of whether we should subsidize certain forms of development.  If the legislation promotes good development, then that is the primary outcome that should be measured. 

Matt Festa

 

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