HUD Chief Preaches Livable Communities at Conference on Cities

ShaunDonovan.jpegHUD Secretary Shaun Donovan. Photo: Wikimedia.

At least among cabinet secretaries, US DOT chief Ray LaHood has become something of a livable streets rock star. His forceful and public support for cyclists and pedestrians and his dedication to safe driving have earned him the praise of many. By comparison, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan hasn’t made quite the same splash in green transportation circles. 

Maybe not for long. After reading a detailed report of Donovan’s presentation at The Atlantic magazine’s "Future of the City" forum, I came away feeling as though the HUD Chief had delivered his own version of LaHood’s showstopper at this year’s National Bike Summit. Member blog The Dirt, run by the American Society of Landscape Architects, reports that Donovan was saying all the right things, drawing a direct connection between our physical environment, our ability to get around without driving for miles, and macro issues like greenhouse gas emissions and housing affordability. Take a look:

Donovan said there was increased demand for walkable neighborhoods. These types of neighborhoods provide easier access to jobs, schools, and green areas. “However, there is still a mismatch between where we live and where we work.” Donovan said this disconnect, which forces many people to commute long distances, causes habitat loss, climate change, and increases our dependence on foreign oil. In addition, he pointed a finger at the financial industry, saying “lenders have driven the spread of suburbs, raising the cost of commuting.”

Given the U.S. needs to cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 30 percent, we need to “collaborate on transportation and urban centers.” Through studying the emissions of various cities, we now know “the effect of place on energy use and climate change.” Where we place our homes and jobs has an impact on the environment. “Investing in transportation that’s closely connected with where people live is smart transportation.”

Donovan’s certainly talking the talk, but is he walking the walk? The first place to look is HUD’s new Sustainable Communities Planning Grant Program, which will offer a total of $150 million for regional efforts to coordinate housing, zoning, and transportation. There’s also the ongoing partnership between HUD, DOT, and the Environmental Protection Agency. 

The Dirt’s conference round-up has a lot of other gems too. One panel discussed the merits of tools for identifying best practices, like LEED ratings or Walk Score. Another imagined how technology, from tolling and mapping to smarter traffic signals, could reshape our transportation system. It’s a good summary of what must have been a very interesting conference. 

More from around the network: M-bike shows how local business helps build 20 miles of bike lanes in southwest Detroit. Where the Sidewalk Starts looks at the pedestrian environment from a kids-eye view. And N8han grabs a birds-eye view of blocked bike lanes.