Unless this is the first Crossroads article that you have read (in which case, welcome!), I assume that you’ve noticed a trend throughout many of our posts on smart growth: studies show that average people want it, local mayors and town boards aim for it, small businesses benefit from it, and neighborhoods thrive on it. We’ve written about studies that demonstrate how various principles of smart growth benefit the economy, the environment, and public and private health. Lately, we’ve been able to blog about how the nation is seeing more and more of it.
But all too often, the overwhelming evidence of local and nonpartisan support for smart growth feels a bit…lacking. Sure, a survey of 2,071 people from the United States shows that 77% of them support smart design programs. Yeah, an analysis of how local transportation money has been spent proves that complete streets are spreading both in major cities like New York and San Francisco and in small towns in Idaho. But what does that mean for us? These are local efforts, and while they demonstrate a trend, we have yet to feel that “woah…Smart Growth is awesome” moment for ourselves in the Lehigh Valley.
But let’s say that this is your first visit to Crossroads. Have you ever heard of “smart growth” before?
Even if you do not know the term, chances are pretty good that you are familiar with the principles it represents. You wish it was easier to use mass transit, you’ve heard of “urban revitalization,” and you’ve noticed at some point in your life that it feels safer to walk on a sidewalk than on a poorly lit street on which cars routinely try to shatter the sound barrier. You want to feel safe letting your kids ride their bikes to friends’ houses, and you wish you could walk around the corner when you need one or two things for dinner, instead of having to jump in the car.
The guiding phrase itself is far less important than the practices it stands for. While the common word is a useful way to connect with like-minded groups and succinctly refer to a varying collection of thoughts, to the average person “smart growth” changes nothing — but the installation of sidewalks does.
Using and spreading the obscure phrase will not help us promote “smart growth” among the average people (all of us) who stand to benefit from it. Only two things that can do that. One, as I mentioned before, is the “woah” moment. Imagine, after having lived in Allentown for the past 10, 20, or 30 years, leaving. Imagine returning five years later. Imagine coming back to find a thriving downtown. Fantastic, affordable, safe places to live, just blocks from restaurants, bars, and your office. Drastically less traffic on the streets. Unobtrusive bike racks on curbs, for you, your neighbors, and your coworkers. A healthy, vibrant, safe, happy community.
If we continue to move forward, that’s coming. But it might take a bit of time, and it will definitely take a bit of work.
Until that moment, we rely on the second thing to promote the movement: the making mainstream of principles included in “smart growth.” While we try to work towards that through Crossroads, Facebook, and Twitter, we are clearly biased. What we need is institutional acknowledgment of Smart Growth.
Fortunately, we have lately begun to see this on the federal level. The EPA supports sustainable development. The President and the Department of Transportation and the continue to push for mass transit and alternative transportation, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development sponsors many programs consistent with Smart Growth.
There’s also the Centers for Disease Control.
While economic and environmental benefits are frequently touted by the smart growth community, public health benefits are sometimes mentioned as an afterthought. They’re just as important, just as easy to prove, but somehow, they tend to take a backseat. RenewLV has made an effort over the past year or so to bring public health to the forefront of our push for smart growth in the Valley, both through the inevitable health benefits that come from other policies (such as walkability and mass transit), and through the establishment of a Regional Health Department (see here for more information about this campaign).
The federal government appears to see the health benefits of smart growth, as well. The CDC has a page dedicated to “community design.” It echos the public health arguments that RenewLV has made:
Community design refers to all the elements of a community that are human-made and form the physical characteristics of that community. It includes:
- buildings, such as schools, workplaces, and homes,
- parks and recreation areas,
- transportation systems, and
- places to buy food.
Well-designed communities can improve public health. The design and maintenance of our communities may be related to:
- chronic diseases,
- injury rates,
- mental health, and
- the effects of climate change.
Through design, communities can attempt to offer residents:
- opportunities to incorporate routine physical activity into our everyday lives,
- cleaner air,
- lower risk of injury from vehicle accidents, and
- decreased effects of climate change.
According to the page, the CDC actively tracks data on community design as it relates to public health concerns including “types of transportation to work, air quality (ozone and PM 2.5), childhood lead poisoning, and motor vehicle-related fatalities.”
The page is not promoting anything specific, nor does it represent the transformation of the CDC into a leading “smart growth” advocacy group. It simply represents an acknowledgment that Smart Growth has real effects: this is not some crazy scheme based on theory and fantasy. Smart Growth is real, it benefits everyone in many different ways, and it can be successful in any urban community.
In case the National Association of Realtors report from last month wasn’t enough, a new analysis by the National Complete Streets Coalition gives more evidence for the rising popularity of smart growth. Kaid Benfield of the NRDC writes: “While the prospects for transportation policy reform appear stagnated at the federal level, more and more state and local governments across the country are adopting strong ‘complete streets‘ measures.”
Benfield, citing a press release from the Coalition, points out that the number of complete streets policies has nearly doubled in each of the last three years. The Coalition’s Executive Director, Barbara McCann, claims that:
Recent polls show that voters’ top priority for infrastructure investments are safer streets for our communities and children. Our report shows that this commitment is not only wide, but deep: community leaders and transportation practitioners are rolling up their sleeves and working together in small towns and big cities, in almost every state in the nation, to pass policies that will ensure that future transportation investments create complete streets.”
Complimenting the NAR and NCSC reports is a study out of London, which, according to This Big City, found that “making a street more walkable can add up to £30,000 to the average property price in that street.” Walkability improvements include “widened pavements, extra trees, improved lighting, and new wayfinding signs.” Furthermore, shops located on walkable streets in commercial or mixed-use areas can expect to make a greater amount of money.
People want smart growth, complete streets policies are exploding in popularity on the local level, and walkability enhancements are proven to benefit property values and local business profits. This is all fantastic to see, but let us not grow complacent. While these studies and surveys certainly represent a victory for the larger smart growth community, there is still much work to be done — particularly here in the Lehigh Valley. To be truly effective, smart growth/smart design programs require a long-term investment of resources and effort, and a willingness to push for all, not just some, of the necessary projects.
As Jon Geeting of the Lehigh Valley Independent reminded us late last week, we still have a long way to go to bringing these improvements to the Valley. Accessible public transit is as important as walkability; unfortunately, transportation planners from Bucks and Montgomery Counties, who have been working to restore SEPTA rail service in those areas, have scaled back the proposed Lansdale-Quakertown rail corridor. While previous proposals set the rail line to reach very near the Lehigh County line, it now stops in the Pennridge area of Upper Bucks. Geeting writes:
Extending SEPTA to the Lehigh Valley is a no-brainer. If it cost $1 billion it would still be a no-brainer. Washington and Harrisburg need to get serious about transportation and raise the gas tax to get this done. This would put lots of people to work in the short term, and the long-run economic benefits would definitely outweight the short term costs.
I couldn’t agree more. I am happy to see the national trend toward smart growth. Now it’s our turn: Let’s make it work here.
Last week, Americans had the privilege of enjoying a live broadcast as the 112th Congress presented its latest round of political theater. As the clock ticked closer to a government shutdown, it started to feel as if the split-party Congress had zero chance of reaching a budget agreement. For the entire long and painful first act, we watched, read, and listened as politicians from both sides of the aisle threw blame at each other harder than any pitcher hurled a fastball on opening weekend. Neither side could agree on terms: House Majority Leader John Boehner struggled to balance the demands of the Tea Party and the less-rabid members of his party, while the Democrats fought to use their remaining powers of control to counter attacks on social policies wholly unrelated to fiscal conservation. Meanwhile, President Obama was left sounding like the disappointed father of two bickering children, pleading with them to just share the crummy plastic toys.
But late Friday night, with less than two hours left before the shutdown, the curtain closed for intermission when a deal was finally reached (although according to today’s NY Times, the agreement may be at risk). This news was certainly welcome to government workers, families of soldiers, homebuyers, visitors to national parks, and countless others. However, the details of the deal were not immediately known. All that was announced was that cuts to federal spending for the rest of fiscal year 2011 (through this September) will total around $39 billion — more than the $33 billion the Democrats proposed in their original compromise, but less than the $61 billion called for by the GOP-controlled House, or the staggering $100 billion screamed for by the most vocal of the Tea Party. The suspense was palpable, a perfect cliff hanger for the second act.
On Monday, Act II began as the specifics of the compromise bill started to trickle out. The entire bill is far too lengthy to discuss on Crossroads, but here are the areas of the most importance to RenewLV and the smart growth community.
Please note: information is still a tad bit sketchy, and specifics may change by the time the bill is fully passed. Every effort has been made to check all information against the House’s and Senate’s Appropriation Committee’s multiple press releases, all dated Monday, 4/11 and Tuesday, 4/12.
Housing and Urban Development
This one hurts, folks. The Department of HUD suffered a host of brutal cuts, including a $942 million cut to HUD’s community development fund. Additionally, there is a 16% ($650 million) cut to the Community Development Block Grant, a 33% ($50 million) reduction to the Sustainable Communities Initiative, and a 19% ($456 million) cut to the public housing capital fund. Fortunately, there is a piece of great news to take the edge off: the Community Services Block Grant (CSBG; see below for more information), which stood to lose almost one-third of its funding ($285 million), will only be cut by $20 million. Even that (relatively) small amount can do harm, but we certainly can be thankful that the originally proposed cut did not come to fruition.
The Environmental Protection Agency: Although the EPA’s total budget is decreased by a painful $1.6 billion (16%) from last year, it could be worse. Last week’s GOP attempts to reverse various climate regulations and block the EPA’s ability to create rules on global warming were successfully defeated.
Conservation: The budget deal represents a 12% cut to the National Resources Conservation Service, including a tough 55% cut to the Watershed Rehabilitation program. Land and Water Conservation Fund (land acquisition) programs are cut by 33% ($149 million).
Public Health: Thankfully, good news on this front. While there are various cuts to health care programs, reductions to many public and community health initiatives have been avoided. The Prevention and Public Health Fund (discussed in this Crossroads post) was untouched, despite a $750 million cut proposed by the GOP. However, the CDC’s budget was cut by 9%.
Food and Drug Administration: Although the Food Safety and Inspection Service’s funding decreases by 1%, The FDA’s FY 2011 budget actually sees a 4% increase over last year. As the Senate press release points out, “this funding level will allow the FDA to begin implementation of the recently passed Food Safety Modernization Act.”
Compared with 2010, there is a $900 million cut to transit spending. Additionally, President Obama’s proposed high-speed rail system faces a $1.5 billion cut for FY 2011, while about $400 million in last year’s funds were rescinded. This leaves $1 billion for this year.
The President’s “Race to the Top” program escaped cuts, but the Pell Grant program has been trimmed – grants can no longer be used for summer school.
While I am grateful that the draconian $61 billion in spending cuts from H.R. 1 did not pass, the cuts in this budget compromise are still, in simple terms, brutal. In fact, the cuts are the largest in U.S. history. I am particularly happy about the survival of the Community Service Block Grant, but even that relatively small reduction, combined with the other cuts to HUD, have the potential to do great harm.
I wrote about potential reductions to the CSBG and CDBG back in February, after President Obama announced his original budget proposal. The community service grants represent a significant source of funding to organizations such as the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley (CACLV), which are crucial to job creation and economic development. I don’t think that anyone, left or right, would disagree with me in saying that unnecessary spending must be reduced in order to close the federal deficit. However, cuts that come at the expense of vulnerable citizens and actually hurt the economy, such as those to community development and transportation programs (which have the potential to create a multitude of jobs and stimulate the economy), are just plain foolish.
Some good news for smart growth advocates: a new report released by the National Association of Realtors indicates that Americans favor mixed-use walkable neighborhoods over those that necessitate more driving. More than three-quarters of those surveyed for the report said they would look for neighborhoods with pedestrian-friendly infrastructure, and half of the respondents stated that they would prefer to see improvements to existing public transportation over new road construction.
Furthermore, the survey indicates that while most Americans would prefer to live in detached single-family homes (generally for privacy reasons), they would “choose a smaller home and smaller lot if it would keep their commute time to 20 minutes or less.” This result is highly significant: Americans place such a high value on walkable neighborhoods with shops, restaurants, and local businesses that they would be willing to sacrifice home size.
Smart Growth America’s discussion on the report quotes Chris Leinberger, President of LOCUS: Responsible Real Estate Developers and Investors, as saying “NAR’s survey reveals what many real estate developers are seeing across the country: smart growth strategies are the best way to meet market demand for walkable neighborhoods with shorter commutes, diverse housing options and transportation choices. Demographic shifts in the United States along with the changing consumer preferences highlighted in NAR’s survey illustrate that consumers want neighborhoods with more walkable housing and transportation choices.”
This study is a reminder of a major economic benefit of smart growth. Americans’ desire for mixed use walkable communities can contribute to a rise in property values in neighborhoods that meet this demand. This, of course, is in addition to the many other advantages of smart growth practices, including benefits to the environment, public health, and local businesses.
Sustainable Cities Collective has an intriguing post by John Reinhardt about one possible consequence of rising gas prices. While some in the smart growth community have been writing about increased transit ridership as a result of high energy costs, Reinhardt asks whether those costs might “pique interest in community gardens.”
As food prices rise alongside gas prices, Reinhardt notes that some people may be inspired by the benefits of urban gardening (within the context of high energy costs):
- It saves money on food. Some of the gardeners in the Dollar Stretcher community estimate that they save up to $500 per year growing and preserving their own veggies — and eating much better produce at that!
- It saves money on gas. A walk to the balcony or backyard to harvest vegetables saves the gas money spent driving to the grocery store.
- It saves petroleum. By growing locally (and presumably organic), you’ll be eating vegetables that haven’t been produced and transported with large amounts of petroleum. In this way, you’re indirectly reducing the demand for petrol and gas.
Urban community gardens have been rising in popularity over the past decade, as Reinhardt notes in his post. Here in the Lehigh Valley, a community garden initiative has been growing for several years.
SUN*LV, which was formed in 2009, “works with organizations and residents to help support existing community gardens and to assist in the creation of new community gardens in neighborhoods across the Lehigh Valley.” They offer a number of resources through their website, including training, a list of gardens in the Valley, and opportunities to support their efforts.
Community gardening is part of a larger local-food movement. Eating local is known to have many benefits — for the environment, for local economies, and for health. Locally grown produce can be sold and consumed quickly after being harvested, instead of being shipped hundreds of miles and left on shelves or in stockrooms for days. Therefore, there is less of a need to use artificial chemical preservatives. In addition, the elimination of those shipping periods means that, unlike with commercial farms, local produce is not harvested until it is fully grown and ripe, and at the peak of its nutritional potential.
Whether the current rise in gas prices will directly lead to an increase in urban gardening remains to be seen. However, community gardens offer a number of benefits — a rise in popularity of such gardens could be a good thing to come out of a bad situation.
Although I currently live in Allentown, attending Muhlenberg College, I am originally from the New York City area. Therefore, I follow a smattering of NYC-based blogs, newspapers, and Twitter accounts. Over the past year or so, particularly the last few months, I’ve watched a furious debate engulf the city. The impassioned arguing and intense ideological clashes have reminded me of heated arguments over the most complex hot-button political topics. Surely, something revolutionary, dreadful, life-changing, must be happening in the city, right?
Wrong. The issue driving New Yorkers to take up positions on opposing front lines? Let’s say it’s as simple as riding a bike.
While bicycling is by no means a new phenomenon to urban centers, it has recently become the focus of renewed attention in New York. This is largely due to Janette Sadik-Khan, New York City’s transportation commissioner. In her four years in that position, Ms. Sadik-Khan has gained international fame for her aggressive attempts to “transform the car-clogged streets of New York” by making the city more navigable for cyclists and pedestrians. She has directed the addition of about 250 miles of bicycle lanes and added pedestrian plazas in parts of the city, including Times Square. Keep in mind: bike lanes are installed only with the consent of local community boards. In other words, if there is a bike lane, elected officials approved it.
While many are elated with the increased focus on biking and walking, some are opposed. The controversy in New York City comes down to the usual obstacles that progressive policies run into; a resistance to change in the status quo, and political posturing.
For example, New Yorker columnist John Cassidy wrote an essay applauding the anti-bike lane lobby and supporting those who frequently drive within the city. Cassidy, who rode a bike when he lived in the East Village in his 20s, reminisces that:
Those days, there were few cyclists on the roads, and part of the thrill was avoiding cabs and other vehicles that would suddenly swing into your lane, apparently oblivious to your presence. When I got back to my apartment on East 12th Street, I was sometimes shaking.
Meanwhile, politicians have chosen to use the issue of bicycling in an attempt to gain support. Representative Anthony Weiner, who ran for mayor in 2005, considered doing so again in 2009, and will likely run again in the future, is quoted in the New York Times as telling Mayor Bloomberg last year that:
“When I become mayor, you know what I’m going to spend my first year doing? I’m going to have a bunch of ribbon-cuttings tearing out your [expletive] bike lanes.”
Representative Weiner, a Democrat who has previously positioned himself as a progressive, has been a staunch critic of Mayor Bloomberg, and has been known to reach out to conservatives in the past.
Meanwhile, legislation has been introduced by a NY City Councilman and a NY State Assemblyman to require adult cyclists to carry licenses, register their bikes, and even add license plate. The bill proposing the last measure was eventually withdrawn.
By now, you’re probably wondering why Crossroads, a Lehigh Valley blog, has published a post focusing on a different city.
While New York City is over a hundred miles away, with a very different political and social climate from the Lehigh Valley, the virtual culture war that has erupted over urban biking has major implications for smart growth around the nation, including right here in the Valley.
RenewLV supports the idea of “complete streets;” streets that are “for everyone, whether young or old, motorist or bicyclist, walker or wheelchair user, bus rider or shopkeeper.” Such streets are vital for the rise of vibrant, healthy urban core communities. A strong city, even a strong neighborhood, allows residents to easily get around, whether to go to school, work, shopping, to meet friends, and so on. A sole reliance on cars inhibits these neighborhoods: roads become over-congested with traffic, parking spaces run out quickly, and an abundance of inattentive drivers leads to accidents.
While I am not necessarily arguing for bike lanes to be installed throughout the Lehigh Valley, I strongly support efforts to make biking a more practical method for navigating the cities, which can include the installation of bike-friendly infrastructure. In addition to a handful of recreational cycling groups, there are a few area organizations which promote biking as a means of transportation.
Bike Allentown advocates “city planning that ensures that all residents can cycle and walk safely through their neighborhoods and communities.” The group supports various efforts including the strategic placement of bike racks in and around Allentown, shared lane markings to alert drivers of cyclists, and a “Safe Routes to School” initiative. The organization also supports the proposed Greenway plan which will, among other actions, connect bike trails in the city’s public parks to streets, in order to make safer biking routes.
The Coalition for Appropriate Transportation is a Bethlehem organization which encourages alternative transportation throughout the Northampton-Lehigh county areas: specifically, walking, biking, and use of LANTA busses. CAT supports a complete streets approach; their website has a wide range of resources for walkers, bikers, and riders — definitely worth a look.
If you support cycling in the Lehigh Valley, try reaching out to one of these groups. Everyone, including motorists, can benefit from an emphasis on safe biking and complete streets. Bike Allentown has a meeting tonight (Tuesday, 3/22), 7:00 PM, at Ringer’s Roost. Newcomers are welcome; if you can, stop by!
Update, 3/23: John Cassidy has come under fire from all corners of the blogosphere for his New Yorker blog post (cited above), but the criticism from economists is perhaps the most acute.
Cassidy, an economics writer, uses brief, vague cost-versus-benefits arguments against the bike lanes. Here are two articles countering Cassidy’s flawed reasoning with their own economic analyses: a blog post by Olaf Storbeck, an international economics reporter (thanks to Matt Tuerk of the AEDC for the link), and a blog post on The Economist‘s site.
Two heads are better than one. Right?
That’s part of the idea behind the Allentown Economic Development Corporation‘s Hive 4A project. Hive 4A, as it describes itself on their Facebook page “is an entrepreneurial development initiative of the Allentown Economic Development Corporation. It includes a hackerspace and a coworking space, sharing a building with a business incubation program.”
I spent this past Tuesday working at Hive, instead of in the CACLV building in Bethlehem (where RenewLV is located). The idea of coworking spaces is fairly new to me, so I was not sure what to expect walking in the door. Hive currently occupies a temporary space in the old Mack building at 905 Harrison in Allentown. The room is set up with several long tables, where people can sit, pull out a laptop, and work for the day. A more permanent coworking space is planned to be completed in the same building by around mid-May. There were a wide range of people working on this particular day—a neighborhood revitalization consultant, a web designer, a magazine writer, an economic development advocate, and a social media intern/smart growth supporter—all sharing the coworking space. Every now and then, one person would ask for another’s opinion or advice (“I’m working on a few logos for this project, which do you prefer?”), while the occasional conversation would yield some interesting news or resources. For example, while talking briefly about RenewLV, one person introduced me to the Indie City Index, which examines independent retail vitality in metropolitan areas—research has shown that “independent retail produces local wealth by recirculating dollars within the community,” but that’s another discussion.
Hive also includes a Hacker space, basically an “open community lab” with workshops for hobbyists and product developers.
Coworking is a very neat concept, one which seems to be catching on. Lt. Governor of California Gavin Newsom of California made headlines this week by deciding to use a shared work space in San Francisco, rather than the more-expensive state office building where the lieutenant governor usually works. In addition to saving money, Newsom cites the benefits of the “entrepreneurial energy” in the shared space.
You can read more about the coworking space at the AEDC’s blog. For now, the space is open every Tuesday, with a 5-day-a-week setup coming soon. Give it a try this month!
There’s an interesting issue brief online from the Partnership for America’s Success, a coalition managed by the Pew Center on the States. The brief, citing an analysis by several economists and criminologists, makes the case that we should invest in healthy child development now as a way to avoid the significantly higher costs of societal problems later.
The researchers identify several negative outcomes of failure to invest early, and note the potential price tags:
- Child Abuse: Societal costs for medical and mental health care and services such as foster care total more than $30,000 for a child who is abused.
- Teen Parenthood: When a teenager has a child, the nation pays $120,000 for expenses including medical care, social assistance programs and efforts to deal with higher rates of abuse and neglect among these young parents.
- High School Dropout: A dropout costs society $250,000 through lower earnings and benefits.
- Illegal Drug Abuse: Treatment, medical care and other societal costs caused by a drug abuser amount to $250,000.
- Alcohol abuse: Societal costs for an alcoholic, such as medical problems, car crashes and lost productivity at work, add up to $230,000.
The brief goes on to compare some of the costs of early investment against the price tag of later problems. For example, the cost of “quality pre-kindergarten programs” which reduce the frequency of high-school dropouts, is around $10,000. On the other hand “a high school dropout’s lower earnings create costs for public assistance programs and efforts to offset the dropout’s reduced contribution to society.” These costs can total $250,000.
The issue brief focuses on the long-term savings of prevention; in this case, prevention of the effects of poor childhood development. Public health programs have the same goal — to prevent diseases and other health problems as a way to save money on treatment. As the saying goes, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
So what would you prefer? To invest now and gain a higher return in the form of significant savings, or to wait until a problem comes up, and find yourself shouldering higher costs?
An announcement this month from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) serves to reinforce one of the key reasons that RenewLV supports the establishment of a regional health department, which would encompass all of Lehigh and Northampton counties.
On February 9, HHS announced a $750 million investment in prevention and public health for 2011. Building on a similar $500 million investment last year, the program is funded through the Prevention and Public Health Fund, an important component of the Affordable Care Act. According to the HHS press release, the $750 million, which will be distributed mainly through grants, is broken down into four categories:
- Community Prevention ($298 million): These funds will be used to help promote health and wellness in local communities, including efforts to prevent and reduce tobacco use; improve nutrition and increase physical activity to prevent obesity; and coordinate and focus efforts to prevent chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.
- Clinical Prevention ($182 million): These funds will help improve access to preventive care, including increasing awareness of the new prevention benefits provided under the new health care law. They will also help increase availability and use of immunizations, and help integrate behavioral health services into primary care settings.
- Public Health Infrastructure ($137 million): These funds will help state and local health departments meet 21st century challenges, including investments in information technology and training for the public health workforce to enable detection and response to infectious disease outbreaks and other health threats.
- Research and Tracking ($133 million): These funds will help collect data to monitor the impact of the Affordable Care Act on the health of Americans and identify and disseminate evidence-based recommendations on important public health challenges.
There are two things worth noting from the press release. First, a grant within the ”Public Health Infrastructure” category could be used to help offset the initial investment required to create a regional health department. While this is just speculation for now (specific details regarding the grants are not easily accessible), it seems likely that such a project to improve local public health infrastructure would be able to find support.
Second, a regional health department would have more success when applying for grants under all four categories. A larger health department presents a more competitive application than two smaller ones. The Allentown and Bethlehem Health Bureaus have a very poor chance of winning grants if larger municipalities such as Philadelphia choose to apply to the same programs. The proposed regional health department, however, covering over 600,000 people, would have much improved chances, and would be more likely to net the federal money.
This competitive advantage would combine with an increase in state funding. We know that a regional health department would receive $3 million from the state that the two current independent health bureaus are missing out on. State public health funding is allocated on a per capita basis under Act 315 and Act 12. Therefore, a larger population serviced by a regional department would be eligible for greater funding.
Keep in mind that the Affordable Health Act’s Prevention and Public Health Fund represents a $15 billion investment over 10 years. So, a regional health department would be competitively applying for these specific funds for at least the next 8 years, in addition to countless other federal grants.
For more information, take a look at the following resources:
By now, you have probably seen President Obama’s proposed 2012 budget. If you are reading this blog, it’s likely that you are a smart growth advocate. If that’s the case, chances are that you are as torn and surprised as I am at how the President has managed to both promote a key principle of smart growth, while critically wounding another.
I’ll start with the bad news. Obama’s budget reflects a proposal he alluded to in his State of the Union address: cutting in half the Community Service Block Grant (CSBG). The CSBG is a main source of funding for community action groups (including the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley, a major partner of RenewLV). These groups provide a multitude of services, with the overall goal of helping people achieve economic security. They directly and indirectly promote job creation, small business ownership, and other programs to help those in need get back on their feet. The effects of this cut in funding, if it is passes in the final budget, may prove devastating. Take a look at the National Association for State Community Service Programs’ (NASCSP) press release regarding the cut.
The good news is that the budget proposal contains a few significant measures to invest in smart growth programs. Smart Growth America‘s CEO and President Geoffrey Anderson posted a statement on the organization’s blog applauding the President. He notes the particular provisions endorsed by Smart Growth America, including those which (quote):
- Support an interagency effort led by HUD and the Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration to help distressed cities and regions utilize public resources more strategically and to form partnerships to support job creation and economic development.
- Stimulate economic growth in areas stymied by brownfields by providing technical assistance towns and cities and maintaining an area-wide planning program to integrate sustainable community development with environmental remediation activities.
- Invest in sustainable, innovative communities by providing $150 million to create incentives for more communities to develop comprehensive housing and transportation plans that result in sustainable development, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, and increased transit-accessible housing.
- Preserve the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Program. This will continue to enable State and local governments to address infrastructure, affordable housing, and economic development needs in their communities. [Note that the CDBG is different from the CSBG. The CDBG also faces proposed cuts.]
- Include a six-year framework for funding surface transportation programs to modernize the country’s transportation infrastructure, create jobs, and create sustainable investments for long-term economic growth. The President plans to work with the Congress to ensure that the plan will not increase the deficit. This type of reform are precisely in line with recent polls, including one released today by the Rockefeller Foundation which shows that voters believe strongly that providing a modern, safe infrastructure is a primary role of our government.
- Promote infrastructure repair policies that will ensure that transportation agencies stop siphoning off money intended to rehabilitate bridges and highways.
It is great to see that the President has produced a fiscally responsible budget that promotes aspects of smart growth. However, the vision shared by organizations like RenewLV are not limited to a few specific programs and resources. Smart growth encourages those initiatives as a means to achieving a viable urban reality, in which American cities live up to their promised potential. Cutting the CSBG has the potential to destroy programs that fight poverty, aid small businesses, help children receive an education, and promote safe, diverse, healthy neighborhoods. In other words, community action groups support economic growth and directly work towards smart cities.
Fortunately, the budget proposal is just that: a proposal. In the coming months, the President will have to negotiate with advocates from around the nation and with Congress in order to draft a finalized budget. Please, consider lending support to the effort to save the CSBG. Sign this online petition to remind the President of the importance of community action groups, and stay tuned to RenewLV and CACLV for updates.
The proposed federal support for transportation and infrastructure initiatives are fantastic. It’s just a shame that these provisions come alongside such damaging cuts to our communities.