In the midst of historic drought, rising sea levels, frequent flooding, and aging infrastructure, resilience is key to building strong communities in the 21st century.
Localities are increasingly seeking strategies to help manage water resources, monitor coastal changes, build and adapt critical infrastructure, and mitigate hazards posed by climate change.
Federal policy plays a critical role in providing planners on the ground with the data and resources they need to create effective and sustainable plans for infrastructure development, hazard mitigation, and water management. Federal programs such as those at the Census Bureau and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) collect and disseminate data planners need to make accurate assessments and effective plans. Furthermore, federal agencies provide funding and financing for capital projects in conjunction with states, localities, and the private sector.
The Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, NOAA’s Digital Coast project, and the Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery Program run by the Department of Housing and Urban Development are three federal programs of particular importance to planners working to build stronger, more resilient communities.
Census and American Community Survey Data
Planners rely on accurate, up-to-date data as they work to make communities stronger. Because a long-form census is conducted only every 10 years, the American Community Survey (ACS) was created to collect certain demographic, housing, economic, and social data on an annual basis. The ACS provides planners with the updated, comprehensive data they need to ensure their plans fit their communities’ unique needs. In addition, ACS and other Census data often play an important role in determining the allocation of funds for a wide array of projects on the federal, state, local, and nongovernmental levels.
It is critical the data collected and publicized by the Census Bureau is maintained and strengthened so planners can continue to make informed decisions and secure the funding needed for projects that help build stronger, more resilient communities.
The Digital Coast
More than half of the U.S. population lives on or near a coast, and over 50 percent of all economic productivity is located in coastal regions. Yet these regions are particularly susceptible to natural disasters and the effects of climate change. The Digital Coast project, managed by NOAA, is seeking to consolidate and publicize a wide variety of coastal data collected from federal, state, local, and nongovernmental sources. Digital Coast data can help planners predict flooding and coastal storm surge, assess hazard risk and vulnerability, design emergency response and recovery plans, understand community resilience and long-range coastal change, and assess habitat and ecosystem health.
In November last year, Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) introduced the Digital Coast Act of 2015 (S. 2325), which seeks to expand and strengthen NOAA’s pilot Digital Coast project. Only with greater access to detailed, comprehensive coastal data, can planners can make the most of their resources and design efficient plans to best meet their communities’ needs. Ask your legislators to support the Digital Coast Act of 2015.
Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery Program
To help communities recover from devastating natural disasters, the Department of Housing and Urban Development created the Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) program. Following a severe natural disaster, Congress can appropriate emergency recovery assistance funds through the CDBG-DR program to eligible communities, prioritizing low- and moderate-income areas with limited resources of their own. These grants provide critical funding to help struggling communities rebuild, spur economic development, and make them stronger in the face of future disasters.
Federal data and recovery assistance programs are a few of the many ways the federal government is working to help planners build stronger, more prosperous communities. If you want to stay up to date on federal policies that strengthen communities and get involved in ensuring federal data and funding remain accessible to planners, APA invites you to join the Planners’ Advocacy Network.
Membership in this free network gives you access to exclusive training resources, educational materials, and the opportunity to help influence federal policy in a way that will benefit planners nationwide. If you are passionate about building stronger, more resilient communities in America, don’t miss out on this opportunity to be part of an exclusive network of planning advocates!
About the Author
Kirsten Holland is a Policy Associate at Advocacy Associates.
Image: An income map based on 2014 American Community Survey (ACS) one-year estimate data released by the U.S. Census Bureau in September 2015.