In the fight for livability, sometimes advocates can forget about those who are happily living in environments that others would deem “unlivable”: sprawling, car-dependent suburbs. If it’s all about making our lives more livable, “shouldn’t we be able to choose the sprawling suburbs if we want to?” asked a participant at the Partners’ “Building Livable Communities” Forum in September 2010. Well, yes, replied the panelists, but it’s not that easy. “Choosing” sprawl is not always the free choice that many believe it to be.
Columnist Neal Pierce reports on the success of the Partnership for Sustainable Communities, the new federal collaboration of DOT, EPA, and HUD that has awarded a series of grants to communities "for roads and housing and environmental protection."
On September 22, 2010, at the Building Livable Communities forum , Beth Osborne, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Transportation Policy at USDOT and James Lopez, Senior Advisor to the Deputy Secretary at HUD, answered some questions about the new HUD-DOT-EPA Partnership for Sustainable Communities. The Partnership should be seen as a model or case study for other government agencies. The Partnership for Sustainable Communities does not need to be the only interagency government partnership focused on the development of livable communities.
Osborne and Lopez explained why only HUD, DOT, and EPA were involved and pointed to some of the logistical problems that have arisen in the developing of the Partnership. Simple communication between agencies is made difficult with modern email firewalls and other cyber security screening processes. Also, when you have too many people working on the same issue, efficiencies break down and it becomes difficult to please everyone. There is a saying, “too many cooks in the kitchen spoil the soup.” In other words, too many people working on a single project can ruin it. Minimizing these difficulties improves the overall effectiveness and efficiency of the collaboration.
“When you start with everything, you start with nothing,” Beth Osborne, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Policy at the US Department of Transportation (DOT), stated of the importance to narrow the focus of a livability agenda in order to be effective.
At Partners’ recent forum on September 22, “Building Livable Communities: Creating a Common Agenda”, many discussed livability’s ubiquitous nature on both macro and micro levels. The panelists spoke of the need for access and affordability to the many factors that serve as part of a system to create livable communities: transportation, housing, and education, to name a few. But when does a boundless agenda for livability, incorporating all relatable factors that serve to shape a livable community, become unproductive? In brief, what is the ‘tipping point’ for livability?
How does a city aspire to be livable when the outside public seemingly brands it as ‘dying?’ How does the city grow when it is told that is 'shrinking’? With eyes that are turning away from the core industrial cities and onto the technological hubs of the twenty-first century: can the city sustain itself?
For Mayor Jay Williams of Youngstown, OH, hearing his city being labeled by Forbes Magazine as one of Americas 10 Fastest-Dying Cities, inspired him to take the city in a new direction; one that leveraged successful development upon its own definition.
At the “Building Livable Communities” forum held at Washington, DC's Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden on September 22, 2010, Mayor Williams held a detailed discussion on how civic institutions in Youngstown redefined their role to promote dynamic change as amenity rich centers.
Partners’ recent forum with the Hirshhorn Museum, “Building Livable Communities: Creating a Common Agenda,” served as a positive platform to re-announce a new and exciting agenda for architecture, design, and social experimentation: The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden’s Bubble Expansion and book store renovation. Attended by Congressional representatives, federal agencies, think tanks, cultural institutions, and community development leaders alike, Director of the Hirshhorn Museum Richard Koshalek discussed the museum’s upcoming plans.
The "Bubble,” as it is called for the short-term, is a joint venture of Koshalek and Diller, Scofidio + Renfro, a renowned New York-based design firm, to re-invent the Museum as an intentional classroom and illustrate intersections of public and private space. Additionally, the museum book store will undergo a transition from a common commercial entity to becoming integrated as a part of museum exhibition space, through a renovation and move to the basement of the building.
Perhaps this new agenda comes from the idea that we need to adapt spaces to peoples’ readily changing needs. Perhaps this comes from Richard Koshalek’s desire to make the Hirshhorn a world class modern art museum with a daring new exposition. Perhaps this comes from the need to blur public and private space by incorporating The "Bubble” as an almost space-less entity into a negative, or void, of the concrete mass building; and the book store as an experiment in museum exhibit space. Or perhaps this agenda just comes from a need to make the stolid flimsy, the serious fun, and the patron part of the exhibit.
“We care about creating livable communities because it saves people money.” Beth Osborne, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Policy at the US Department of Transportation (DOT) was quick to bring attention to the economic benefits of livability at Partners’ “Building Livable Communities” forum on September 22.
Osborne estimated that creating livable communities could save the average household about 12-20% in annual expenses, with much of that savings coming from transportation. Livable communities aim to give individuals the option to spend less on transportation by allowing more cost effective methods such as public transit, walking or biking. According to the bureau of labor statistics, in 2004 the average household spent 19% of their income on transportation, while those in auto-dependent exurbs spent 25%. In contrast, households in transit rich neighborhoods spent just 9% of their income on transportation (on average, each of these household types spent an equal proportion on housing).
The American Society of Landscape Architect’s weekly blog, “The Dirt: Connecting the Built and Natural Environments,” posts detailed highlights from “Building Livable Communities: Creating a Common Agenda,” Partner’s recent Forum in collaboration with the Hirshhorn Museum. Recapping the panel of Federal officials including HUD, DOT, and their overlapping agendas to create an “infrastructure for livability” through “interdependencies,” the blog also includes highlights from the speakers representing local government, non for profit agencies, and corporate entities. The Dirt showcases some of the newest ideas and agendas surrounding the national livability framework presented at the forum. Read about it here
Livability has become a key element in the agendas of Congress, the Administration, and federal agencies as they make plans to invest in the quality of life, economic competitiveness, and recovery of American communities. However, ‘livability’ is a broad term encompassing many values and entities, all of which must be engaged to create livable communities across America. This endeavor must begin with a definition of livability that recognizes its many complex elements and the creation of a common agenda upon which to build. Only after a solid foundation for action has been laid can the resources of public and private agencies most effectively achieve livability for all.
On August 3rd, the Senate Banking Committee passed legislation formalizing the Interagency Council on Sustainable Communities which is compromised of HUD, DOT and EPA and the creation of the Office of Sustainable Housing and Communities. The Livable Communities Act, introduced by Chairman Chris Dodd, also creates two competitive grant programs designed to help communities develop and carry out comprehensive plans for more sustainable futures.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the U.S. Department of Transportation recently announced $175 million in new funding for local projects that focus on creating more “livable, sustainable communities.”
Officials are hoping that the arts and creative community will take notice. HUD worked with the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) to create a webinar on the grants, encouraging arts organizations to develop proposals in partnership with state and local governments, planning agencies, non-profit organizations, or other eligible applicants (click here for a rebroadcast of the webinar). In a press release, HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan emphasized that “the arts are a natural component to furthering this Administration’s commitment to creating more livable, walkable, environmentally sustainable communities.”
This fall, Partners for Livable Communities will host a forum to build on the growing prominence of federal “livability” agendas such as these, and create a common framework that incorporates the full range of tools available to the movement, including the arts. “Building Livable Communities: Creating a Common Agenda,” will be held on September 22nd at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington DC. Click here for more information, or to RSVP.