The Denver Post Opinion
Guest Commentary: Sustainable planning for Colorado's future
By Rick M. Garcia
Often it's difficult to imagine that local, state and federal governments can work together as partners shaping a practical vision for how the future can look. Recently, the metropolitan region's leadership proved working together pays off by fifty-six local governments coming together to celebrate the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's announcement of a $4.5 million regional sustainable planning grant award to the Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG). The funding supports a more sustainable and economically competitive Denver metro-region.
As part of nearly $100 million in new grants that HUD is making to communities across the country, these funds will ensure this region and 28 others across the country are connecting housing to jobs, providing transportation options for families, and generating the economic growth needed to win the future.
The awards come at an important moment, as communities continue to recover from the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression — a crisis that was decades in the making as families were forced to move further and further away from job centers simply to find a home they could afford. Families were severely impacted, spending 52 cents of every dollar they earn on housing and transportation combined.
And so, addressing this crisis couldn't just be about helping communities today. We also had to help them plan for the challenges of tomorrow.
That's why HUD forged a historic Partnership for Sustainable Communities with the U. S. Department of Transportation and Environmental Protection Agency, coordinating our efforts and targeting our resources, to boost economic development and ensure that all Americans can afford to live in communities with access to good jobs, schools and improved transportation options.
Last year, the Partnership awarded $170 million to help support communities in planning for strong regional growth — and this week's announcement brings the total investment around the country the past two years to $270 million
We estimate this year's grants will create thousands of jobs nationwide and more than hundreds more local jobs in construction, retails, and service industries related to the sustainable efforts in the impacted areas.
Most exciting of all, we expect the $96 million investment to leverage $115 million in additional funding - getting private capital off the sidelines and into our economy.
That smart government approach is why, for the second year running, we were inundated with applications from every state — from central cities to rural areas and tribal governments.
DRCOG's proposal brought together the right local partners and a vision for success. Now, the Denver metro-region joins 63 other regional governments throughout the country, as they prepare and build a future that will keep their region economically competitive and ripe for existing business growth and new investments.
The HUD grant assists DRCOG and its members along the planned construction of six new fixed-rail transit lines. DRCOG plans for a region with greater access to job opportunities, lower combined transportation and housing costs, reduced consumption of fossil fuels, and ultimately the development of concentrated, mixed-use, pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly "urban centers" along transit lines that allow residents to easily access their daily needs.
The planning process includes the Mile High Transit Opportunity Collaborative, Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation, the University of Colorado at Denver, PlaceMatters and FRESC: Good Jobs, Strong Communities to mention a few. The goal is to align investments, programs and policies to generate benefits beyond the transit lines themselves.
The anticipated benefits include focus on three transit corridors — part of the EAGLE P3, ultimate selection of three corridor Catalytic Projects that will generate the most value for sustainable development and then the creation of a pre-development, environmental review and policy model that can benefit all future FasTracks station sites' sustainability goals.
Despite the 468 applications received this year for HUD Sustainability grants — and the bipartisan support for these tools we've seen across the country — Congress did not fund another round of grant program in the coming year.
However, with 143 sustainable planning grants already awarded to metro-regions representing, 75 percent of the nation's population, we have a lot of work ahead aligning the three key federal agencies' public investments with local governments sustainability planning.
DRCOG is the metro-region's prime transportation and land use planning entity. With this modest grant, HUD's, DOT's and EPA's future investments can yield big results for our economy — help address air quality standards and ensure that work force housing options exist.
Frankly, it's about government that's smart. That's the approach Colorado is taking — and on behalf of the Obama Administration congratulations to DRCOG for its forward planning that will promote job creation and a sustainable future.
Rick M. Garcia is regional administrator and senior advisor to the Secretary on Sustainability.