The largest 100 metropolitan areas in the country are home to about two-thirds of the U.S. population and generate 74% of U.S. gross domestic product. Yet the metro areas are often islands unto themselves. As David Warm argues in a recent Citiwire article, the nation has too few coherent regional development plans that stitch metro areas together and draw on collective strengths.
“When it comes to American regions,” he says, “we have precious few long-term guides. We have regional transportation plans, and to a lesser extent, plans for other regional systems, but these tend to be disconnected, incomplete and ill-equipped to guide American regions into an era of relentless global competition.”
But that has begun to change with HUD’s Sustainable Communities Initiative, which Warm notes, is a partnership with EPA and DOT, and “supports metropolitan and multi-jurisdictional plans to integrate housing, land use, economic and workforce development, transportation, and infrastructure investments.”
Or as HUD puts it, the initiative is connecting housing to jobs, fostering local innovation, and helping to build a clean energy economy, and “create a geography of opportunity for all Americans.”
The current approach of disconnected policy and disconnected people is no more evident than in the path of destruction left behind by the foreclosure storm. The areas hit hardest by foreclosures are some of the least sustainable places in the nation: newer suburban areas that are cloistered and disconnected from public transit options and marooned older inner cities whose residents are cut off from opportunity, whether that be education or good jobs.
Another sign of the need for a more coherent regional strategy is growing “job sprawl.” Elizabeth Knneebone at the Brookings Institution finds that more than 68% of Chicago’s jobs are more than 10 miles from the central business district, as are 63% of jobs in Philadelphia, and as such are severed from the collection points of those cities’ classic hub-and-spoke transit systems. Dallas, Atlanta, and Miami aren’t far behind in their job: transit mismatch.
Coherent regional strategies, Warm argues, are critical to national success in a global playing field. Yet the plans cannot be created from afar and handed down in imperial fashion.They must include local and regional players and the voices of those on the ground. As Dwight Eisenhower, a president whose interstate highways system give him some street cred as a regional developer, said, “Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil and you’re a thousand miles from the corn field.” The HUD plan, Warm says, is heeding this advice.