Most people/organizations don't understand the process of change
Recently, the National Center for Smart Growth at the University of Maryland released a report about the progress of smart growth policies in Maryland, which had been initiated three governors ago, by Parris Glendening, and has had 15 years or so to begin to percolate. See for example, "Smart Growth - State making little progress with Smart Growth " from the Baltimore Sun.
In its most comprehensive review to date, the University of Maryland's National Center for Smart Growth Research says development patterns, commuting times and other trends indicate that the state "has not made measurable progress toward improving its performance in many of the areas it says it cares about."
Gerrit Knaap, director of the center, said there are "a few bright spots," notably the preservation of land and recent promotion of development around transit stops in the Baltimore and Washington areas. But overall, he said, "the evidence suggests that we haven't really bent the curves [of growth] in ways we hoped we would."
The issue is a lot more complicated than people realize.
I bring this up because EPA/USDOT/HUD are announcing what they think is a great program. From a press release:
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today announced the formation of Sustainable Communities Building Blocks, a program designed to help interested communities adopt sustainable planning methods. Sustainable planning helps safeguard the environment and spur economic development while also improving Americans’ health.
Interested communities are invited to apply to receive technical assistance during a day-long session that will help them achieve their sustainable planning goals. The application period opens on February 3 and ends on February 23, 2011.
“We’re pleased to be part of this program to help communities build vibrant, healthy neighborhoods where families want to live and businesses want to invest and grow,” EPA Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe said. “Through this program, we’ll walk communities through the process of making smart, cost-effective investments by helping them navigate existing tools vital to securing a lasting foundation for prosperity.”
EPA will work with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to select 20 participating communities through a competitive process. During the day-long session, participants will explore proven sustainability tools, including zoning code reviews, walkability assessments, parking policy analysis, climate action planning, and commuter benefits. Each community will select a specific tool to focus on and also learn about general smart growth development strategies.
Sustainable Communities Building Blocks is being coordinated through the Partnership for Sustainable Communities, a joint effort between the EPA, HUD, and DOT to coordinate federal actions on housing, transportation, and environmental protection. This interagency collaboration achieves efficient federal investments in infrastructure, facilities, and services that meet multiple economic, environmental, and community objectives.
They make it sound so easy. Effecting change in any one of those policy areas is a multi-interest, multi-stakeholder, multi-year process. E.g., in Baltimore County it turns out that the strongest opponents of "smart codes" were the land use bar (lawyers)--coincidentally the largest source of campaign donations for Council candidates--because a smart code based system would reduce the need for lawyers, and as a result they would make less money.
What I'd do instead is something that I suggested years ago, that the USDOT, HUD and other agencies produce the equivalent of national policy statements on various planning issues, comparable to what in the UK were originally called PPGs -- Planning Policy Guidance -- now they are called Planning Policy Statements, on each of the topics listed in the press release, and developing conferences offered to many people, not just 20 communities.
- Programme for Replacement of Planning Policy Guidance Notes and Planning Policy Statements
- Draft Planning Policy Statement: Planning for a Natural and Healthy Environment
- Planning Policy Statement 1: Delivering Sustainable Development
- Planning Policy Statement: Planning and Climate Change - Supplement to Planning Policy Statement 1
- Planning Policy Statement: eco-towns - A supplement to Planning Policy Statement 1
- Planning Policy Guidance 2: Green Belts
- Planning Policy Statement 3: Housing
- Planning Policy Statement 4: Planning for Sustainable Economic Growth
- Planning Policy Statement 5: Planning for the Historic Environment
- Planning Policy Statement 7: Sustainable Development in Rural Areas
- Planning Policy Guidance 8: Telecommunications
- Planning Policy Statement 9: Biodiversity and Geological Conservation
- Planning Policy Statement 10: Planning for Sustainable Waste Management
- Planning Policy Statement 12: Local Spatial Planning
- Planning Policy Guidance 13: Transport
- Planning Policy Guidance 14: Development on Unstable Land
- Planning Policy Guidance 17: Planning for Open Space, Sport and Recreation
- Planning Policy Guidance 18: Enforcing Planning Control
- Planning Policy Guidance 19: Outdoor Advertisement Control
- Planning Policy Guidance 20: Coastal Planning
- Planning Policy Statement 22: Renewable Energy
- Planning Policy Statement 23: Planning and Pollution Control
- Planning Policy Guidance 24: Planning and Noise
- Planning Policy Statement 25: Development and Flood Risk
- Planning Policy Statement 25 Supplement: Development and Coastal Change
This Sustainable Communities Building Blocks planning process won't be able to provide enough assistance to communities in one day or on follow up for any of them to change all that quickly, and the process of innovation diffusion appears to be too diffuse (an irony) to have multiplicative positive impact on other communities.
My short experience in Baltimore County (next Monday a bunch of the provisions in the plan I wrote will be enacted through legislation--6 months to one year ahead of the plan getting around to being approved) demonstrates that change is a function of:
- enlightened elected officials (it helps that 5 of the 7 Council Districts have new representatives effective with the most recent election)
- knowledgeable, cogent advocates to push policy
- having the right plans and policies in place, or at least documents that can be drawn upon to support legislative efforts
- hopefully with some enlightened government personnel and agencies willing to be innovative
The problem in Baltimore County is the fourth point, whether or not the most intransigent government agency with regard to sustainable transportation policy and practices will change on these issues in response to the legislation, which among other things, mandates complete streets legislation. It will be interesting to watch.