Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Friday, December 07, 2018

Oops, forgot to mention President Bush and the Clean Air Act | The Clean Air Act as a "framework element" for government agency practice

In an e-mail discussion, I have been harping on "framework elements" in master plans (land use, transportation, etc.).  For example, DC's Framework Element in its Comprehensive Plan treats all the policies as equal.

By contrast, the equivalent element in Arlington County's Master Transportation Plan treats its goals as overarching, and each subsequent element is both internally consistent and consistent with the framework element.  Since the Framework Element's primary goal is to promote mobility throughput and reduction of single occupancy vehicle trips, the whole plan aims to do that.

Similarly, San Francisco's "Transit First" policy, enshrined in the City Charter, prioritizes and privileges sustainable mobility policy over motor vehicles ("Transit First Mobility Policies and Planning Paradigms," 2006).

. EPA Administrator William Reilly watches as President George H.W. Bush signs the Clean Air Act Amendments. EPA photo.

During the Administration of President George H.W. Bush, Congress passed the Clean Air Act ("We can breathe easier — literally — thanks to George H.W. Bush," Washington Post) and President Bush was actively involved in getting the bill passed.  From the article:
It is difficult to overstate the importance to the nation’s health and welfare of the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments, and Bush played a pivotal role in their passage. The legislation was hopelessly mired in Congress until Bush used presidential muscle to break a logjam and get it passed. The updating of the 1970 law remains the most sweeping and comprehensive environmental statute on the books. It created the first “cap and trade” program, which ultimately ended the industrial air pollution causing “acid rain” that had blighted large parts of the country. The program’s use of market mechanisms provides a blueprint for controlling all air pollution that contributes to global warming.

The law also paved the way for the requirement for cleaner-running cars and clean fuels that have radically reduced pollution from smog in the United States. And it provided the government with the ability to control 189 toxic substances that had poisoned the air and to require permits from individual sources of pollution. Citizens were empowered to bring lawsuits seeking penalties against violators to ensure the law’s enforcement.

-- "George H.W. Bush understood that markets and the environment weren't enemies," PBS News Hour
-- "Clean Air Act Revamp, Climate Part of George H.W. Bush's Legacy," Bloomberg Businessweek

The Federal Clean Air Act does many things.  For cities and urbanism, it has two specific impacts that support better air quality.

First, to improve air quality (and note that the widespread use of diesel gasoline in Europe means that air quality is bad in many cities there) it sets the stage for emissions controls on motor vehicles.  It also sets the stage for the support of transit, as a different method for reducing motor vehicle traffic, especially in the cores of metropolitan regions.

Theoretically, it should mean continued concern about fuel efficiency standards for automobiles, since indirectly that drives demand for electric vehicles, which have reduced emissions comparatively speaking.  But the Trump Administration has lifted further tightening of these standards.

It means that Federal policy and practice should be supportive of transit generally, and extension of transit in ways that support greater ridership.  But the Trump Administration has instituted bureaucratic barriers that make it much harder to release funds for transit projects, even though Congress continues to appropriate money for these projects.

Granted, it's much harder for the Federal Government to think in terms of master plans and framework elements, because it's so big, and there are so many conflicting policies and concerns and changes in political positions.

But if we were take 10-20 key federal acts, and reconceptualize them as a kind of framework plan or element for government operation, and require that administrative action conform, it could make for much different operation and practice across the executive branch.

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At 11:41 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

You made an interesting comment on the night mayor -- a regulator not a planner.

I'd say both the clean air act and ADA show why we need better regulators - -and NOT planner.

Fuel efficiencies -- reducing carbon is exactly why the Europeans went the opposite direction in the 90s and starting using diesel to much much bad effects - far worse when it turned out companies were faking the results since they could not meet the standards.

Likewise the ADA is a major cost driver of new public projects.

And both depend on a flawed regulatory concept. The ADA was pitched as better - just going after low hanging fruit when it was time to renew things -- but we've seen it go out of control.

Likewise we're using clean air act on gasoline powered blowers. I am sure they pollute but that is chasing the last regulatory goal rather than looking at the larger picture.

Likewise we've got to focus on the tool we have; the feds are terrible planner and need to get back to writing checks.

For instance not approving a new transit project UNTIL there is RPO in place. Just an idea.

i voted for GHWB in 92. Partially it was to piss off my girfriend at the time. Partially it was after working a Clinton rally that summer I walked away with the very real sense there were nothing but chaos and not ready. Partially it was the sense that GHW was a steady hand.

Clean Air act is something anybody can be proud off. ADA was and is a disaster. On foreign policy he muffed up everything -- allowing German to reunify, setting up Al Queda and modern islamic terrorism, not being generous to Russia. NAFTA did turn out to be a giant sucking sound, the WTO was 10x worse.

At 8:49 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Why is German reunification bad? Need more edification. ... please.

I think you need both planners and regulators.

1. You're asking for "better" regulation. That's a tough issue.

2. I think what you mean (?) is more focused and constrained regulation, where you're focused on getting great benefits. E.g., how with X amount of resources you can get 90% but you need 10X to get that last 10%.

Theoretically, planners point out these kinds of things. Or the policy side.

I make a similar point about historic preservation, that once you have the National Historic Preservation Act and local historic districts, preservation shifted from a movement to a regulatory construct.

As a regulatory function, the regulators don't want to add historic districts because it increases the workload beyond their current level of resources.

Also, for me, there isn't a sense of continuous process improvement (this is true in transpo matters too). They aren't focused on identifying and addressing gaps in the process.

E.g., the law doesn't exactly focus on urban design. I believe some of my testimonies helped them deal with alley issues better, at least DDOT's initial alley reconstruction used only red brick, when that wasn't the only "like-for-like" material that should have been used and asphalt block and yellow brick had been replaced with red. Now they are using a wider palette of materials for "like for like."

I am not saying continuously looking for more things to regulate, but constantly improving operations and outcomes, ideally more efficiently.

Although some people would argue that my point about city wide design review would be a form of regulatory overreach. I think it's possible to do without being overly dictating.

But really it's a focus on maximizing benefit, focusing on the biggest issues (loss of architectural character and distinctiveness) and coming up with a systematic way to shift people to better outcomes.

At 8:53 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

The "regulatory overreach" part of ADA or Environmental Impact Assessment is really bad. WRT the latter it makes projects take much longer and by the time they break ground, a lot more expensive.

WRT ADA, projects can become a lot more expensive too, in similar ways. And retrofitting is so expensive.

In a private email group, one of the people is in NYC and he commented on "NYC Subway still isn't accessible." (I noticed that most London Underground stations don't have elevators.) But the cost to make them accessible is a few billion dollars. That's a lot of money.

Granted accessibility benefits all. But unfunded mandates of that magnitude are really bad.

And then all the enabling of a lot of semi-spurious litigation.

At 1:03 PM, Anonymous charlie said...


At 11:25 AM, Anonymous Richard Layman said...

Thanks for the cites.

WRT the Seattle Library, it's definitely post-modern, but with the exception of a couple design flaws, the program was never sacrificed to the architecture, so it works pretty well. Similarly, Safdie did the Salt Lake Library (and Vancouver, which the SLC library is modeled on) and it works quite well. Helping me to see that postmodern/modern design isn't necessarily bad, it's when the design isn't harmonious with the program (and by extension to the land use context outside of the building).


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