In particular, we envision your essay focusing on density and affordable
an eye toward how planners and planning policy can work to
the greater social good-
and how developers and planners can work
together in this vital area.
Green Communities: Creating the planning and infrastructure framework for
Mixed Use Mixed Income Transit Oriented and Urban Infill Development
Communities are complex systems that are nested within metropolitan regional systems.
If we are to green our communities, we need to green the systems that frame, connect and
sustain them. So let us begin by looking at the larger planning, financing and
infrastructure issues that create the framework for greener communities, at some of the
social, cultural and educational components that make for robust and resilient green
and then the greening of the buildings themselves.
During the second half of the twentieth century, our nation’s growth shifted from its
cities to its suburbs. The populations of America’s Cities declined, and our farmlands
were converted into housing subdivisions, office and industrial parks and shopping
centers. The only way to get from one to the other was by the automobile. The sprawling
pattern of growth was deeply subsidized by Federal and State road subsidies, housing and
other policies that shifted resources from the Cities to the suburbs.
America is projected to grow by 100 Million people over the next 50 years. Either we
will continue to sprawl, undermining the health of our environment and our economy, or
we will rebuild our largest 100 metropolitan regions, which are the source of 80% of our
nation’s economy. But we can only do so if we develop a comprehensive national
strategy to plan and co-ordinate our Federal investments. Sprawl not only has
environmental and economic impacts, but it is increasingly now generating social
Low income and working class Americans now often spend more on transportation costs
then they do on housing (If I can have illustrations, then a chart goes here, source:
Center for Neighborhood Technology). In the 1960’s when HUD was formed, low
income residents tended to live in inner city’s or deeply rural areas. Today, the working
poor increasingly live on the edges of suburbs, where they drive great distances to find
cheap housing. When one combines the energy used to heat, cool and power a home with
the energy to get to and from it, a suburban single family home consumes four times as
much energy as a green transit accessible multifamily home ( btu chart, source:
Jonathan Rose Companies) Studies show that transit oriented development would
significantly reduce climate impacts
( greenhouse gas and land use patterns chart, source: Growing Cooler- Urban Land
If we continue to grow by sprawl, we will destroy our environment, fail to achieve
climate change goals, burden the poor and middle class with extraordinary transportation
expenses, and provide our population with poor access to the social, cultural and
educational resources that they need to effectively participate in a globalized economy.
The solution to sprawl and its allied environmental, social and economic impact is to
develop and redevelop compact, green mixed use mixed income transit oriented
development (TOD) communities. A community may be made of green buildings, but if
it is located in a sprawling location, by the very nature of its location, is unlikely to be
green. Sprawl development increases the climate impacts of auto use, and tends to
reduce biodiversity. To transform our current development patterns to ones that are
healthier for the environment we need solutions that are built around an intentional
(planned) network of green infrastructure systems.
Communities of any scale, from small towns to our largest cities, are shaped by their
infrastructure, and enriched to the degree that their infrastructure is interconnected to
larger infrastructure systems. At the core, to enhance America’s global competitiveness,
energy security, regional prosperity and quality of life, we need a comprehensively
planned, integrated, national freight, inter city passenger and commuter transit system.
This system must be thought of as a whole system, not a series of unintegrated parts, and
it must be planned in conjunction with housing, water and sewer systems, energy and
data systems, open space, parks and restored wetlands, and the social, cultural and
educational systems that make regions thrive. To plan an integrated system, we need a
national infrastructure policy that integrates all of our infrastructures- both the hard ones
such as freight and transit systems, energy systems, data/ telcom systems, water and
waste water systems, the softer educational, social and cultural systems, and they need to
be planned at National, Regional and local scales.
We also need to understand that the most important infrastructure systems are the natural
ones that sustain us- the climate systems, the water cycle, the fertility of our soils, the
restorative lungs of our forests, and biodiversity of life itself. We have reached a tipping
point- simply reducing our environmental impact on these systems is no longer sufficient.
Our national and global population is not only growing larger, it is growing more
prosperous. Thus, the rate of human consumption of natural resources has threatened the
stability, and in many cases, the viability of natural systems. We need to design our
human made systems so that they contribute to the restoration of the natural ones that we
have so negatively impacted. Reducing our environmental impacts is important, but not
sufficient. Can a community truly be green if it contributes to our negative impact on the
earth’s ecosystem’s health?
No individual community, on its own, can reverse the extraordinary human disturbance
of the global ecology, although each can do its part. The cause stems from a large scale
systems problem, and its solution must also begin with a large scale systemic solution.
Just as sprawl was the result of a series of decisions that stemmed from a suburban view
of the world, so we need to organize our decisions around a new, green community view
of the world. And since the essence of a green community is to plan from the point of
view of the whole, and not of the parts, planning is essential to the development of
The National Environmental Policy act (NEPA) passed in 1969 and signed into law Jan 1
1970, provided a basis for integration of environmental policy.
The act’s first paragraphs state:
The Congress, recognizing the profound impact of man's activity on the
interrelations of all components of the natural environment, particularly the
profound influences of population growth, high-density urbanization, industrial
expansion, resource exploitation, and new and expanding technological advances
and recognizing further the critical importance of restoring and maintaining
environmental quality to the overall welfare and development of man, declares
that it is the continuing policy of the Federal Government, in cooperation with
State and local governments, and other concerned public and private
organizations, to use all practicable means and measures, including financial and
technical assistance, in a manner calculated to foster and promote the general
welfare, to create and maintain conditions under which man and nature can exist
in productive harmony, and fulfill the social, economic, and other requirements of
present and future generations of Americans.
(b) In order to carry out the policy set forth in this Act, it is the continuing
responsibility of the Federal Government to use all practicable means, consistent
with other essential considerations of national policy, to improve and coordinate
Federal plans, functions, programs, and resources…
However, our current Federal system is biased against the planning and co-ordination
called for by NEPA .
But by the early 1980’s the Reagan administration’s view that Federal planning and
regulation was an intrusion on individual and corporate rights and prosperity set back any
hope of national planning for a generation.
At the same time, the departmentalized nature of the Federal government leads to the
balkanization of public policy. Each agency has its own separate mandate, budget, and
need to be responsive to the Congressional committees that oversee its activities. As a
result, each agency developed very separate planning process’s. The consequence was
multiple uncoordinated plans. If a community wants to used HUD, CBDG or HOME
funds, it develops a Community Housing Action Strategy plan ( CHAS). To access transit
dollars, its MPO (Metropolitan planning organization, often controlled by road building
interests) develops a transit plan. To access water and sewer dollars from the EPA, it
develops an SRF plan. National education, arts, social service and job training funds
essentially have no physical or locational planning structure. The Commerce Department
is responsible for those agencies such as NOAA that monitor the climate, but the EPA
regulates our impacts on the climate. And neither has a planning connection to the forest
and agricultural practices of the Departments of Interior and Agriculture which could
preserve wetlands, forests and other critical natural resources.
Without a clear national green community goal, and a coherent planning and resource
allocation system to achieve this goal, our agencies will continue to work with cross
purposes, no matter how well intentioned they are.
HUD was origionally organized to revitalized all of the aspects of urban areas, and thus
its name, Housing and Urban Development.
The congressional intent, identified in the first paragraph of the act creating HUD says:
The Congress hereby declares that the general welfare and
security of the Nation and the health and living standards of our people require, as
a matter of national purpose, sound development of the Nation's communities and
metropolitan areas in which the vast majority of its people live and work. To carry
out such purpose, and in recognition of the increasing importance of housing and
urban development in our national life, the Congress finds that establishment of
an executive department is
desirable to achieve the best administration of the principal programs of the
Federal Government which provide assistance for housing and for the
development of the Nation's communities; to assist the President in achieving
maximum coordination of the various Federal activities which have a major effect
upon urban community, suburban, or metropolitan development; to encourage the
solution of problems of housing, urban development, and mass transportation
through State, county, town, village, or other local and private action, including
promotion of interstate, regional, and metropolitan cooperation; to encourage the
maximum contributions that may be made by vigorous private homebuilding and
mortgage lending industries to housing, urban development, and the national
economy; and to provide for full and appropriate consideration, at the national
level, of the needs and interests of the Nation's communities and of the people
who live and work in them.
HUD began with the aspirations to build a Great Society. However, after the demise of
the UDAG program in the 1980’s, HUD has essentially been a housing only agency, and
neither it, nor the EPA ever achieved the metropolitan or environmental planning goals
that Congress hoped for them.
But while planning was stifled on the national level, it gained vigor on the local level. As
inner cities communities were essentially abandoned in the 1970’s due to the policy of
“Planned Shrinkage”, inner city community development organizations , first to protect
existing affordable housing and then to build new projects, and then to plan their own
communities. On the regional level, volunteer organizations such as New York’s
Regional Plan Association, Oregon’s 1000 friends of Oregon, and Myron Orfield’s
Minneapolis based metropolitan regional equity program all began to vigorously propose
regional plans. As suburban communities began to oppose sprawl, community and
regional land trusts were formed, first to purchase land, and then to develop open space
plans. And thus, perhaps because of the lack of well co-ordinated Federal plans, a citizens
based planning movement grew in many parts of the country.
In many ways, citizens groups are acting the way natural systems respond to disease and
disturbance. It seems that when the Federal Government fails to act on an issue that has
strong popular support, local and regional responses emerge. We are currently also
seeing this emergent response to the Federal failure to provide leadership on Climate
Change during the two 21st Century Bush administrations. Vigorous local, State and
regional efforts at climate regulation are providing us with a diverse range of solutions,
each perhaps fit to the local political, ecological and economic niches of their regions,
and these responses will inform the national policy.
But just as our climate is global, local regulation and solutions are necessary but not
sufficient. We need a green policy and infrastructure framework that works at the local
scale, but is also must be interconnected at a larger scale if it is to be truly effective.
Out of these local movements, which brought together planners, environmentalists, land
preservationists, historic preservationists, low income community activists and even
developers, a clear land use planning paradigm began to emerge. It became recognized
that density was actually part of the solution, not the problem, and that higher density
needed to be served with appropriate infrastructure.
Higher density gives rise to more compact development, which accommodates more
people on less land. At the same time, higher density provides greater return on
(For example a road/ with water, sewer, gas, electrical and phone lines provides four
times the return on investment if it services 32 units per acres vs. 8 units per acre). And
so density, thought of as an environmental problem in the 1980’s, came to be recognized
as an environmental solution in the 2000’s.
Humans have a deep desire to be connected to nature, an impulse E.O Wilson named
biophelia. As we densify our communities, we also need to increase their connection to
natural systems. We can do this by restoring natural wetlands (which also has the added
benefit of improving the storm resilience of our communities, and serving as breeding
grounds for fish), developing urban agriculture, greening our roofs, planting trees, and
protecting the migratory corridors that often run through our metropolitan regions.
We can really unleash the power of higher density development when we combine it with
restored natural systems , mixed use, mixed income green transit oriented development
(TOD) and and development oriented transit( DOT), transit systems that are designed to
engage with development. Too often, the new light rail and bus rapid transit systems
being constructed connect park and ride lots- making the transit a sprawl extender.
Instead, we need the design of our transit systems to explicitly connect with development.
We also need to green our transit systems themselves. With the use of digital signal
systems, green power, lighter weight vehicles, regenerative breaking and greener transit
facilities, we can
reduce the energy consumption per passenger mile. ( Chart from mta of energy
consumtion or greenhouse gas emissions per passenger mile for different travel
Why mixed use? Economic, ecological and social health all stem from diversity. Healthy
cities are diverse cities. Diversity is also a key to economic, ecological and social
resiliency. Our communities will need greater resilience to respond to the impending
stress’s of population growth, globalization, and climate change. Mixed use
developments and communities can draw from a broader range of resources (the mixes
of used) to provide this resiliance. For example, during recessions, multifamily rental
rates decline, but apartment buildings that also have retail and office components are
more likely to maintain steady cash flow and thus are more reliable assets.
Mixed use communities are also more likely to have a healthy jobs/ housing balance,
which produces lower commuting times and costs. Mixed use communities are also more
cost effective users of infrastructure.
All human societies have complex social, educational and cultural needs, but residents of
low income communities often have difficulty accessing resources and solutions to these
needs. It would be best if we could develop affordable housing projects with close access
to schools, libraries, social services, health services job training and jobs. This social,
cultural and educational infrastructure is essential for the health of any community. The
facilities for these services often can be built as components on the lower floors of
affordable housing projects, or within walking or short transit distance. However, most of
our Federal and State housing programs finance “ housing only” and make it very
difficult to add these mixes of uses very difficult, especially in the same building. Thus,
HUD programs provide only part of a holistic solution to the needs of a community’s
There are two impediments to mixed use and mixed income development: mono- use
zoning, and lack of mixed use and mixed income financing products. To encourage
communities to develop mixed use zoning, HUD should incentivize communities that
receive basic CDBG and HOME funding to develop mixed use zoning codes tied into
green mass transportation plans.
Because mixed use financing is more complicated to underwrite, the financing market,
until recently driven by Wall Street underwriting guidelines, has preferred single use
products. In fact most FHA products discourage a mix of uses, as do most Federal
affordable housing programs such as the LIHTC. HUD and the FHA, along with
Treasury and other sources of Federal financing need to develop new mixed use credit
enhancement programs, and to eliminate barriers to mixed use and mixed income
development inherent in existing programs. Freddie and Fannie, now under Federal
control, also need to develop mixed use credit enhancement programs.
But we also need new mixed income financing and credit enhancement programs. One of
the great lessons of the Hope 6 program has been the economic and social benefits of
income mixing to communities and residents. However, most of our Federal programs are
either aimed at specific income brackets, typically those below 60% of median income,
or have no income focus but do have cost limits, which thus tend to support market rate
sprawl development. We certainly need to develop even more housing for those with low
incomes,( low incomes are defined as those less then 60% of median income) but for
higher cost metropolitan regions, due to rising construction costs, new rental and for sale
programs are needed for the housing needs of working families earning between 60-130
% of median income, and for workforce housing, which in high cost markets requires
subsidies for up to 175% of median income.
Green multifamily buildings in transit oriented or walkable locations generate only 25%
of the climate gasses that are generated by single family sprawl homes. Sprawl also has
economic costs- lower income residents now spend as much on transportation as they do
on housing costs. Thus, we must move HUD/FHA programs away from supporting single
family spawl and to mixed use mixed income Transit Oriented Development ( TOD)
multifamily, which is a better solution for both the resident and the environment.
HUD’s current programs favor suburban sprawl by setting cost limits that are lower than
achievable in urban areas. Every HUD/ FHA program needs to be reviewed and either
made location neutral or re-focused to support transit oriented development and urban
infill. HUD needs to set locational priorities for its existing and new programs that co-
ordinate with the administration’s proposed transit infrastructure programs ( T-4) which
will propose a linkage between funding of new and expanded transit systems and mixed
use mixed income development. For example, HUD could provide infrastructure block
grants to support the higher cost of structured parking, and water and sewer
improvements needed to make TOD’s work.
No one Federal agency controls all of the Federal tools needed for urban revitilization-
the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC), New Market Tax Credit (NMTC) and
Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) programs lie in Treasury. Economic Development
programs are in Commerce, brownfield cleanup and water and waste water programs are
in EPA etc. If we are to have effective co-ordinated policy to develop our metropolitan
regions, either these programs need to be transferred to HUD, or there needs to be a clear
federal mechanism for program co-ordination.
If we are to effectively co-ordinate Federal resources into comprehensive metropolitan
regional strategies that really address our environmental, social and economic issues and
give rise to greener communities, , we need a planning framework to create integrated
metropolitan regional plans, and to have these summed into a national plan to rebuild
and renew America.
And just as there is a volunteer Defense Policy Advisory Board Committee to advise on
the integration of Defense policy, so we need a voluntary Domestic Policy Advisory
Board to help guide the development and integration of domestic policy.
If we are to develop greener communities, then we must also develop greener buildings
within our communities.
America generates 33 % of its greenhouse gas’s from its mostly auto and truck based
transportation network. America’s approximately 135 million buildings consumption of
electricity, oil and gas generates 42% of the USA’s green house gases, so taken together,
the built environment, and the transportation used to get to and from our buildings are
responsible for 75% of our greenhouse gas’s.
To be sure, much of the green house gas’s attributed to the building sector come from the
power plants that are providing electricity to these buildings, but if the buildings reduced
their energy consumption, there would be less pollution at the source.
To reduce the environmental impacts of our buildings, we green building policies to
support the greening of both new construction and existing buildings. Since we only
develop 1% of our building stock a year, we need a new credit enhancement program to
guarantee small second mortgages to help the home and building owner finance green
renovations of the existing 99%. All HUD and FHA grant and financing programs should
adopt green building guidelines.
We can begin greening the buildings in our communities with “practical green” steps.
Simple, off the shelf strategies, such as increasing building insulation, replacing older
boilers with more efficient ones, and motion detectors that turn off the lights when we
leave a room, can reduce energy consumption by 30% with very attractive paybacks. This
30% reduction in energy use is not enough to restore the health of the earth’s natural
systems, but certainly would begin to move us in the right direction. If we were to
to greening every existing building in America, it would create millions of new, non
exportable green jobs. These investments would have lasting benefit, beginning to move
us from a consuming society to an investing society.
America has reached a crossroads, a time of tremendous opportunity and peril. Both our
economy and our ecology are floundering. In the past, we have been mislead to believe
each was in opposition to the other. It is now clear that our prosperity depends on both.
Building green infrastructure, restoring natural systems, greening our existing buildings,
and enriching our communities with social, cultural and education resources will lead to
greener communities, and these to a more prosperous, resilient and robust future.