September 23, 2010
APA President Testifies on Communities Act
Bruce Knight, FAICP, Tells House Committee that Livable Communities Act of 2010
Will Lay Foundation for Economic Vitality
WASHINGTON, DC — Testifying before the House Committee on Financial Services today, American Planning Association (APA) President Bruce Knight, FAICP, told the committee that passing the Livable Communities Act of 2010 will lay the foundation for economic vitality in towns, cities, suburbs, and rural areas across the U.S.
"The places that are investing in good planning," Knight said, will be the places best positioned for growth and the outcomes residents most value and demand — good jobs, safe neighborhoods, affordable housing, a clean environment, and choices in where they live and how they travel.
Knight, who is planning director for the City of Champaign, Illinois, cited his own city as an example of the economic return from planning. "Coming out of the 1980s downtown Champaign was in a serious state of decline," he said. That began to turn around following city council approval of a downtown development plan in 1996. "I firmly believe that now is the time to invest in planning and those communities that do will recover from the great recession first," he said.
The Livable Communities Act, introduced by U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Colo.) and Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.), would authorize the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Office of Sustainable Communities, establish a new interagency council on sustainable communities, and authorize $3.75 billion for regional sustainability planning grants and community challenge grants.
"We commend House Financial Services Committee Chair Rep. Barney Frank for holding this hearing today," said APA Chief Executive Officer Paul Farmer, FAICP. "We also want to recognize the leadership of Rep. Perlmutter on this bill," Farmer said, adding that the legislation deserves Congress's full support and speedy passage.
In his testimony Knight said APA strongly supports the legislation, adding that one of the biggest challenges facing communities is the need for local technical assistance and capacity building. "Too many communities lack the resources to compete for or implement the resources provided by the act. The bill does acknowledge this issue, however, more will be needed," he said.
APA recommends that dedicated resources for both technical support and core planning capacity building be provided to communities and regions receiving planning grants — and in particular to communities facing significant economic challenges.
Among the provisions in the groundbreaking legislation APA says are especially important are funds for comprehensive regional sustainability plans; measures that provide coordination of plans, building codes and capital investments that support energy efficiency savings and long-term economic, social and environmental benefits; and provisions that encourage true regional cooperation.
The bill also will help create jobs, eliminate waste and promote greater government efficiency by establishing an Interagency Council on Sustainable Communities involving the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
Knight stressed that without plan implementation, no amount of planning will do communities any good. Implementation involves an array of activities, he said, including site planning, development ordinances, zoning changes, multi-year capital programs and policy incentives. "The legislation provides critical support for all of these activities."
Also important, he said, are provisions supporting local code development, reform and enforcement that were part of the Senate version of the bill adopted by the Senate Banking Committee last month. "Strengthening local plans and codes are a vital part of ensuring that federally supported plans are implemented," Knight added.