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Partnerships and Planning for Impact

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Summer/Fall 2015   


Partnerships and Planning for Impact


      • Regional planning facilitates collaboration among local governments and fosters cross-sector approaches to regional challenges, creating a foundation to pursue equitable economic growth and sustainable development.
      • Bodies of literature on many topics of concern to regional planners, such as affordable housing, transportation, climate change, and resilience, suggest that many of these challenges require solutions at the regional level.
      • Other research attempts to assess the efficacy and impact of regional planning, but these studies generally fall short of establishing causality in linking regional planning with particular outcomes.
      • A renewed federal push for multidimensional regional planning has resulted in the Partnership for Sustainable Communities, which coordinates federal investments and policies in housing, development, transportation, and environmental protection, guided by six “livability principles.”

Communities face a host of challenges and opportunities for action — deepening levels of inequality and opportunity disparities, a lack of affordable housing near employment, climate change, and the threat of natural disasters, among others — that transcend local jurisdictional boundaries and often can be addressed more effectively through regional approaches. These problems also cut across traditional policymaking silos, requiring collaboration among federal, state, and local governments; their various agencies and departments; nonprofits; private sector entities; and other stakeholders. The limited availability of public funds is another impetus for pursuing public-private partnerships that align and leverage resources from multiple sources to tackle these pressing challenges and for seizing opportunities to plan, adapt, and build for a more sustainable future.

Why Regional Planning?

Regional planning aims to facilitate collaboration among local governments and foster cross-sector approaches to regional challenges, creating a foundation to pursue more equitable economic growth and sustainable development that improves opportunities and outcomes for current and future generations alike. Regional approaches traditionally have focused on managing growth. Increasingly, however, planners are pursuing environmental protection and social equity along with growth, guided by the bedrock principle of sustainability — meeting present needs without compromising future needs.1 Kathryn Foster, former director of the University at Buffalo Regional Institute, advances a wide-ranging list of issues of concern to regional planners: “[c]limate change, homeland security, public health, shrinking regions, broadband access, economic globalization, immigration influxes, obsolescent infrastructure systems, the suburbanization of economic insecurity, and emerging challenges of megaregional development…environmental quality, transportation mobility, housing choice and affordability, and growth management.”2

An aerial view of the city of Portland with Mount Hood in the background
Metro, a regional governing body with popularly elected councilors, has successfully influenced development patterns in the Portland, Oregon metropolitan region.

Regions can be defined according to the geographic boundaries that correspond to the issue being addressed, whether it be a commuting shed, a housing market, or a river basin.3 U.S. regions vary widely in their land use patterns and economies, from predominantly rural to heavily urbanized, and a region often contains a mix of both. Approximately 80 percent of the U.S. population lives in metropolitan areas, and 10 “megaregions” — interconnected networks of regions that encompass patterns of daily activity and major systems such as transit, utilities, or stormwater management — are expected to absorb more than 70 percent of the population growth projected by 2050. Interventions at these scales can have an increased impact because they affect so many people.4 Similarly, because approximately 80 percent of the nation’s land area can be classified as rural, regional approaches there can have a significant impact over an expansive area.5

Rural areas are crucial to addressing issues such as food and energy security and biodiversity that are also vitally important to people in urban and suburban areas.6 Rural areas face a diverse set of problems and circumstances, but, as in metropolitan areas, climate change, economic resilience, housing, jobs, and transportation are central concerns. Even more so than in the sprawling suburbs of many metropolitan areas, housing, jobs, and services in rural areas can be spread far apart, increasing the need for transportation networks, especially for households that cannot afford a car. Although small towns may lack the administrative capacity to serve as de facto regional job and service centers, this deficit can be overcome in part by regional collaboration to pool resources.7 Effective regional approaches can bridge the needs of interdependent rural, suburban, and urban areas while addressing the challenges unique to each.

Even though regional approaches make intuitive sense on many levels, several factors work against forms of regional governance. Although transit systems, housing markets, and ecosystems function regionally, people experience these systems on a smaller scale — their commute, their home, and their neighborhood. Existing governing structures are rarely coterminous with functional regions, covering geographies that are either too small (cities or even counties) or too expansive (states) to effectively tackle regional issues. Most of the land-use decisions that affect regional planning are made at the local level, yet the functional boundaries of a regional economy or ecosystem may encompass hundreds of these local jurisdictions. As Seltzer and Carbonell write, “[W]e are stuck between two clear and compelling notions: on one hand the allegiance of individuals, communities, economies, and cultures to the jurisdictional status quo; and on the other the logic of better matching planning and governance to the actual scale of activities.”8 Because regional boundaries vary according to the issue being addressed, the territory of regional governmental entities often does not match the area of concern for a particular regional problem. For example, the relevant region for transportation purposes might not correspond entirely with that for coastal resilience.9

Multifamily buildings located along a multimodal street with bus, rail, and bike paths.
Envision Utah’s original Quality Growth Strategy called for the creation of more multimodal transit options, which led to more bus and rail transit, bike paths, and walkable centers along the Wasatch Front. Envision Utah

With a few exceptions — notably Oregon Metro and the Metropolitan Council in Minnesota’s Minneapolis-St. Paul region — regional governing entities have little real power; they lack the authority to compel constituent actors to adhere to plans, relying instead on voluntary participation.10 Research shows that weak governing structures limit the effectiveness of regional planning to shape outcomes such as development patterns.11 The most common structures of regional governance are councils of government (COGs) and metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs), which are typically advisory associations composed of local entities.12 COGs are voluntary associations of local governments often established by state law; they can include Economic Development Districts, which have planning authority through the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration.13 MPOs, which were first established through the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1962, are oriented primarily toward transportation planning, although they may also undertake regional visioning and scenario planning.14 Both COGs and MPOs have been criticized for having a suburban bias; because each local government has one vote, the suburban governments tend to outnumber the central/urban ones.15 Some organizations overcome this problem through a weighted voting structure based on population.16 A handful of scholars have argued that the apparent weakness of limited formal power can in fact be a strength. Montgomery, for example, suggests that independence from the structures of government has fostered greater “creativity, diversity, and inclusiveness” than would otherwise have been possible, and Fishman concludes that “American planning today is most effective and comprehensive precisely when it eschews all-embracing powers and works instead within the limits of the pluralistic systems that actually define the American-built environment.”17 Though exceptional, Envision Utah, a regional planning organization in the Salt Lake City region, has shown success despite having limited formal power. In her evaluation of the “Utah model,” Scheer points to years of consensus building through collaborative planning, public engagement, and education to explain the region’s trend toward greater density and transit-oriented development.18

Perhaps the most vexing challenge for a regional planning framework is to balance the central goals of environmental protection and preservation, economic growth, and equity.19 Although planners are increasingly attentive to these competing priorities and actively attempt to resolve them, the underlying tension persists, says Karen Chapple, professor of city and regional planning at the University of California, Berkeley. Chapple points to land preservation in areas that need land for affordable housing and growth policies that might displace residents in a tight rental market as examples of the ongoing challenge to reconcile these priorities.20 Competition among local jurisdictions may also impede cooperation at the regional level. Foster writes that regional entities seek greater equity in economic development and environmental sustainability by encouraging civic engagement and participation during planning processes, but she acknowledges that even then, tradeoffs are inevitable.21

The Research Basis for Regional Planning

Bodies of literature exist on many topics concerning regional planners, such as affordable housing, climate change and resilience, and intraregional equity. In many cases, the research that establishes the existence of a regionwide challenge also suggests a regional solution. There is considerable evidence, for example, of intraregional disparities in resources and opportunity throughout the country, as summarized by Pastor et al. “[H]ousing is segregated…[and] issues of spatial mismatch still limit opportunities to access viable employment. Some neighborhoods are clearly places of choice; others are saddled with high levels of toxic contamination, dilapidated housing, poor schools, and crime.”22 Recent studies show persistent levels of racial segregation and increasing income segregation, and the geography of poverty has shifted, notably increasing in suburban areas.23 The nature of these problems has led some scholars and policymakers to conclude, as Pastor and Benner put it, that “the remedies cannot be purely the inward-looking asset building of traditional neighborhood development, but rather require a broad attempt to change the rules of the game via regional tax sharing, fair-share housing requirements, and improved public transit systems.”24

Other research attempts to assess the efficacy and impact of regional planning, primarily through case studies and comparisons. These studies generally fall short of establishing causality in linking regional planning with particular outcomes. Knaap and Lewis, for instance, review six case studies in regional planning — Portland; Denver; Sacramento; Chicago; Washington, DC; and Salt Lake City — and find “in almost every case the evidence of successful influence on development patterns is weak,” indicating that regional bodies may require greater power for implementation.25 Jones notes that assessing the economic benefits of regional planning is difficult because so few powerful regional entities are available to study and because there is no consensus measure of success to compare across regions. Ultimately, Jones concludes that “[although] it seems reasonable to assume that good regional planning results in improved economic performance…hard evidence of this effect is scarce.”26 A handful of studies find a firm link between specific regional programs and intended outcomes. Research published in 2011 found that the Minneapolis–St. Paul region’s tax-base sharing program reduced tax-base inequality among 7 counties and 192 municipalities by about 20 percent.27 In addition, research has found that Portland Metro’s urban growth boundary, a mandatory regional planning program, has effectively shaped land-use patterns, confining development into designated areas and limiting sprawl.28 Beyond these examples, however, few rigorous studies of regional planning programs offer definitive evidence on whether or how well particular programs are working, although both mandatory and voluntary planning programs have demonstrated some level of success.29 Chapple suggests that in addition to evaluating planning programs, taking a broader look at the policies and market dynamics that are already increasing sustainability, such as infill development that preserves or increases density, could yield evidence to inform more deliberative planning approaches.30

Transit-oriented development (TOD) has shown promise as a strategy to address the central goals of regional planning. TOD can reduce dependence on cars, thereby lowering greenhouse gas emissions. TOD can also promote economic growth by connecting workers to jobs and creating clusters of economic activity. In addition, TOD that includes affordable housing can increase lower-income households’ access to schools, jobs, and other opportunities, resulting in greater social equity. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Expenditure Survey, the average household spent 51.2 percent of its income on housing and transportation in 2013.31 Reductions in housing and transportation costs can lead to improved economic outcomes, particularly among low- and moderate-income households, for whom these costs are especially burdensome.32 Metropolitan areas with meaningful public transit options are best able to reduce household transportation costs, and TOD is a crucial mechanism for expanding transportation choices regionwide. In addition to increasing the use of public transit, TOD reduces traffic and increases physical activity, with concomitant environmental benefits.33

Sustainable Communities Initiative Grants

Building on the evidentiary basis for regional planning, HUD has renewed its support for the regional and integrated planning approaches that were prominent at the department’s founding but had since waned.34 As early as 1954, HUD’s predecessor, the Housing and Home Finance Agency, awarded urban planning grants to regional and metropolitan entities under Section 701 of the Housing Act of 1954. The Housing and Community Development Act of 1968 reaffirmed and expanded this authority, making HUD responsible for comprehensive planning to address problems “resulting from the increasing concentration of population in metropolitan and other urban areas and the out-migration from and lack of coordinated development of resources and services in rural areas.”35 The act designated metropolitan and regional planning agencies as eligible grantees and urged planning that, as much as possible, “cover[ed] entire areas having common or related development problems.”36 These Section 701 planning grants supported the coordination of transportation systems, consideration of regional housing needs, and the development of economic and natural resources and were “the primary mechanism through which HUD pursued its policy of locating lower income housing on a metropolitan-wide basis,” according to Marando.37 In its early years, HUD also took an integrated approach to metropolitan problems, focusing not only on housing but also a range of interrelated urban issues. The Model Cities program, aimed at improving housing, health, education, and job opportunities in poor urban areas, was emblematic of this approach, although it was short lived.38

Photo shows light rail train stopped at a station in Denver.
Regional transit systems, such as the Denver area’s Regional Transportation District (RTD) Eagle P3 project, lower greenhouse gas emissions and better connect low-income households to schools, jobs, and other amenities. Courtesy of RTD

HUD’s multidisciplinary, metropolitan approach peaked during George Romney’s tenure as HUD Secretary from 1969 to 1973. Romney defined the “Real City” as the entire metropolitan area, not just the fragmented jurisdictions therein, and he pursued a more equitable, regionwide distribution of lower-income housing that accounted for the increasing suburbanization of employment and education opportunities.39 Under the “Open Communities” initiative, HUD also sought to combat racial exclusion from suburbs. Like the Model Cities program, this initiative was curtailed before it had a chance to have much impact, ending in the early 1970s at President Nixon’s insistence.40 Later in the 1970s, the Areawide Housing Opportunity Plan and the Regional Housing Mobility Program sought to desegregate and deconcentrate federally assisted housing at the regional level, but these short-lived programs, along with Section 701 grants, came to an end in the early 1980s.41 Charles Orlebeke, former assistant secretary of HUD’s Office of Policy Development and Research, writes that the implementation of such planning efforts was hampered both within HUD and by local communities, where “regional planning bodies lacked the institutional and political levers that had a chance of transforming a regional housing plan into anything like reality.”42

A renewed federal push for multidimensional, regional planning crystalized in 2009, when HUD, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the U.S. Department of Transportation formed the Partnership for Sustainable Communities to coordinate federal investments and policies in housing, development, transportation, and environmental protection, guided by six “livability principles.” The six principles were to provide more transportation choices; promote equitable, affordable housing; enhance economic competitiveness; support existing communities; coordinate and leverage investment; and value communities and neighborhoods. Through collaboration, the agencies seek to align and target federal resources more efficiently.43 Similarly, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will promote regional planning and partnerships through its recently announced Regional Development Priority (RDP) policy. Under RDP, multijurisdictional applicants for USDA infrastructure and development programs can receive priority status based on the extent to which their proposals support existing regional plans and pursue collaboration and leveraging of other funding sources.44

A cornerstone effort of the Partnership for Sustainable Communities is the Sustainable Communities Initiative (SCI). Administered by HUD, SCI manages two grant programs: Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grants and Community Challenge Planning Grants. The regional grants support locally led efforts to foster regional collaboration among diverse stakeholders to coordinate housing, workforce, infrastructure, and economic development (see “Moving Toward a Sustainable Future: Three Models of Regional Planning”). Since 2010, HUD has awarded $165 million in Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grants to 74 regions. Community Challenge Planning Grants are more narrowly targeted to corridor, neighborhood, citywide, and station area planning. In two rounds of funding, 69 communities received Community Challenge Planning Grants totaling $70 million.45 A smaller, supporting grant program jointly funded by HUD and EPA awarded a total of $10 million in capacity building grants to 8 national and regional intermediaries to provide SCI grantees with technical assistance.46

Two photos showing workers installing yellow pipes below a layer of gravel and a sloped grass field.
Through the Clean Water Partnership, private-sector partner Corvias Solutions will install and maintain bioretention, stormwater detention, and other technologies to help Prince George’s County, Maryland meet its Clean Water Act obligations. Corvias Solutions

As grantees complete their plans and begin to implement regional approaches to various issues, HUD will identify and disseminate best practices from early experiences. The HUD Exchange website ( hosts the SCI Resource Library, a clearinghouse for relevant information, including grantee planning documents, case studies, and reports, that are organized by category (such as climate and resilience), and subtopic (such as green infrastructure).47 A 2015 report available from the SCI Resource Library, “Green Infrastructure and the Sustainable Communities Initiative,” summarizes some of the lessons learned though SCI about cost-effective infrastructure investments that enhance resilience and sustainability. The report summarizes 30 grantee projects and finds that green infrastructure is most effective when coordinated at a regional scale, when efforts to increase infrastructure capacity are combined with efforts to reduce usage, and when green infrastructure investments are leveraged to gain other community benefits such as additional recreational space or increased property values.48

Looking at the range of SCI grantees’ activities, Office of Economic Resilience senior advisor Dwayne Marsh writes that collective impact strategies have reaped benefits. Defined by Marsh as “building a common agenda, creating shared measurement systems, identifying mutually reinforcing activities, promoting continuous communications, and supporting backbone organizations,” collective impact strategies bring together various levels of government and public and private stakeholders.49 Identifying lessons learned thus far, Marsh notes that grantees have found that they need to integrate housing and transportation, stress economic resilience, include workforce development, incorporate traditionally underrepresented groups in planning, plan for equity, and align diverse issues such as health and housing.50

Consistent with the goals embedded in the program’s design, grantees are seeking to leverage other public and private investment. SCI grant programs require that other sources match at least 20 percent of the requested funds. In practice, most grantees have far exceeded this threshold.51 From the 143 SCI grants totaling nearly $240 million in FY 2010 and 2011, grantees have leveraged more than $185 million from private investment and local partners. This investment included philanthropies supporting grantees through the application process and businesses offering in-kind staffing, training, and technical assistance.52 For example, the Twin Cities region in Minnesota received a $5 million Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant and $8.9 million from community partners and local governments along with $15.7 million in grants and loans from Living Cities.53 Such leveraging not only increases the resources available for planning and implementation but also increases stakeholder buy-in, says Marsh.54

Chapple and Mattiuzzi write that although it is too early to assess the full impact of SCI, signs indicate that grantees — and even applicants who were not awarded funds — are building regional planning capacity, and many are incorporating sustainability and social equity goals.55 Evidence suggests that SCI is helping to break down traditional policy silos. A review by Pendall et al. based on five case studies found that regional planning grantees have had some success with de-siloing at the federal and regional levels through new collaborative structures, policies, and approaches to problems; however, “unclear federal legislative commitment may undermine local de-siloing” if participants revert to old practices when these programs end.56

These successes notwithstanding, Chapple and Mattiuzzi conclude that “it will take a more effective set of carrots and sticks to foster a comprehensive approach to development — particularly to avoid making equity an afterthought in sustainability planning.”57 Lisa Alexander of the University of Wisconsin Law School cautions that “when you have public-private partnerships with lots of stakeholders with their own sets of incentives and goals, it can be easy to have the goals and objectives of marginalized groups sublimated in the discussion.”58 Alexander argues that the most aggressive responses to regional inequities might be excluded in the interest of bringing together a broad consortium, and she suggests that participants must include structures to ensure that traditionally marginalized groups have “real, meaningful participation that leads to long-term outcomes that are good for that group.”59 Recipients of Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grants were required to conduct a Fair Housing Equity Assessment, and, although not in effect during SCI planning, HUD’s recent Final Rule on Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing addresses concerns about intraregional equity through its provisions to “encourage and facilitate regional approaches to address fair housing issues.”60 Under the rule, HUD will provide regional data on integration, racial and ethnic concentrations of poverty, and other relevant conditions.61

Marsh says that grantees have generally done a good job of engaging a range of stakeholders, including groups traditionally marginalized from mainstream planning processes, and that participants now have concrete expectations about the results of planning efforts, which acts as an internal accountability mechanism.62 The Bay Area Regional Prosperity Plan, for example, included an “Equity Collaborative” working group to engage underrepresented and disadvantaged groups throughout the planning process.63 Chapple and Mattiuzzi found that more than 60 percent of SCI grant applicants proposed two-way public participation strategies rather than one-way, top-down engagement strategies such as public education.64

An aerial view of a coastal city in southeast Florida.
The Southeast Florida Regional Partnership brought together more than 200 stakeholders from 7 counties to collaborate on long-range planning for economic growth and climate resilience.

Although the extent to which such participatory processes result in more equitable outcomes remains to be seen, the Partnership for Sustainable Communities has developed a number of tools to measure progress and evaluate sustainability programs. The Location Affordability Index provides data on combined housing and transportation costs for eight different household profiles for every census block group nationwide, allowing policymakers to evaluate how land use and transportation planning decisions can affect household budgets.65 The Sustainable Communities HotReport is a web-based tool that pulls data from public sources on selected transportation, housing, equity, economic development, and income sustainability indicators for a locality, allowing residents and community leaders to compare and measure progress. Finally, the Sustainable Community Indicator Catalog identifies a number of additional quantifiable indicators that can be used to measure a community’s success in meeting sustainability goals.66

The second and final round of SCI grants was awarded in 2011, but their impact continues as grantees begin to implement plans forged under the grant. As more stakeholders adopt a regional lens and new, successful partnerships form, SCI will continue to influence the way regions implement sustainability projects. Marsh says that SCI grant managers “tried to orient [grantees] toward thinking of these as the run-up toward implementation versus just doing a planning exercise.” He notes that several grantees built implementation into their plans through demonstration projects. HUD’s ongoing capacity-building efforts have also focused on moving grantees into the implementation phase.67 Chapple observes that the SCI grant programs sparked an infusion of energy and interest around regional planning, creating an awareness that in at least some cases “seems to continue to resonate well after the grant period is over.”68

Federal Initiatives on Infrastructure and Systems Investment

Common areas of concern for SCI grantees, and regional planning entities generally, are infrastructure elements such as highways, transit systems, and stormwater and sewer systems that typically correspond to a commute shed or watershed rather than conforming to jurisdictional boundaries. Aging infrastructure needing maintenance, population growth in remote areas, the decline in public spending on infrastructure, and technology changes all contribute to an “infrastructure deficit” in which the current condition and investment level in a region’s infrastructure is out of step with present and future needs. Several federal financing programs — including the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program, the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) Discretionary Grant Program, the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) program, the Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing program, and Private Activity Bonds — can contribute to infrastructure and systems development.69 Only some of these programs explicitly incorporate or conform to regional planning goals, but all of them could be more fully aligned with regional plans. Even federal programs such as HUD’s Housing Choice Voucher program can adopt a regional approach. In one demonstration program, eight Chicago-area public housing agencies have pooled resources to facilitate mobility to high-opportunity neighborhoods.70 In addition, various federal funding streams can be leveraged together as demonstrated by the 14 SCI community challenge grantees for fiscal year 2010 who also received TIGER Planning grants.71

A view of Denver’s Union Station showing people walking along train platforms.
Denver’s Union Station serves as a central hub to a regional transit system, connecting the city core with the surrounding suburbs. Courtesy of RTD

At current levels, these public funding sources, although critical, are insufficient on their own. Federal initiatives such as the Build America Investment Initiative, which was launched in July 2014, call on federal agencies to facilitate infrastructure investment through public-private partnerships that leverage additional funding sources. The Build America Transportation Investment Center provides expertise and support to state and local governments that are partnering with private entities to develop infrastructure and connects these partners with existing federal funding streams such as TIFIA. An estimated $10 in loans, loan guarantees, and lines of credit can be leveraged for every $1 of TIFIA funding.72 To date, public-private partnerships (PPPs) for infrastructure development have been concentrated in a handful of states; 20 states had no PPPs as of July 2014, and the 5 states with the highest number of PPPs have nearly twice the amount of per-capita project value as the next 20 states combined. The Build America Transportation Investment Center seeks to share best practices from high-performing states and broaden the impact of PPPs nationwide.73 The Interagency Infrastructure Finance Working Group, a group co-chaired by the secretaries of the U.S. Departments of Treasury and Transportation as part of the Build America Initiative, distilled some of those best practices into the following recommendations:

  • increase resilience,
  • employ “dig once” coordination of infrastructure projects to maximize efficiency and minimize disruption,
  • increase predevelopment funding,
  • reform state laws to accommodate public-private partnerships,
  • improve permitting processes,
  • encourage pension fund investment,
  • standardize PPP contracts,
  • share risks effectively, and
  • bundle smaller projects to make them more attractive to institutional investors.74

Eagle P3, a regional transit infrastructure project that will add 36 miles of electric commuter rail lines to the Denver metropolitan area, advances regional sustainability through a public-private partnership. The Regional Transportation District of Denver has contracted with Denver Transit Partners, a consortium of investors and private-sector partners, to design, build, finance, operate, and maintain the system for 34 years. Financing for the $2.2 billion project includes $1.1 billion in federal funds and $450 million in private funds.75 Eagle P3 is now a focal point of regional planning for sustainability. The Denver Regional Council of Governments received an SCI planning grant to further develop its Metro Vision regional plan, which will channel investment toward three “catalytic projects” — one along each of three transportation corridors. The Metro Vision plan will also ensure that the region capitalizes on the potential benefits of TOD that will lower combined transportation and housing costs, connect residents of all income levels to employment opportunities, and reduce the consumption of fossil fuels.76

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy says that EPA’s Water Infrastructure and Resiliency Finance Center, another part of the Build America Investment Initiative, can encourage innovative public-private partnerships such as the Clean Water Partnership, an agreement between Prince George’s County in Maryland and Corvias Solutions, a Rhode Island firm. As part of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, Prince George’s County has an obligation under the Clean Water Act to reduce stormwater runoff into the bay.77 Under the terms of the partnership, Corvias will design, retrofit, and maintain 2,000 previously untreated impervious acres over 3 years, with an option to increase this amount to 4,000 acres, and will provide long-term maintenance over 30 years. To merge sustainability goals with economic development, the partnership will also employ local, small, and minority-owned businesses for at least 30 to 40 percent of the total project activities. The county will independently retrofit impervious acres, offering an opportunity to evaluate and quantify the efficiencies gained by the partnership.78

As the Clean Water Partnership demonstrates, tremendous opportunity exists for regional infrastructure investments to improve resilience to natural disasters and climate change. At the federal level, policies and initiatives such as the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Strategy and the Rebuild by Design competition are encouraging communities to adopt regional approaches to climate and disaster-related challenges. Building on the success of Rebuild by Design, HUD launched the National Disaster Resilience Competition, which will award $1 billion in CDBG disaster recovery funds to communities developing resilient infrastructure projects. The competition’s stated objective is to identify opportunities for regional collaboration.79 Climate change mitigation is a responsibility of policymakers at all levels of government, but decisions made at the regional level are particularly relevant. Every day, localities make land use and infrastructure decisions, with or without regional collaboration, that can either aggravate or mitigate climate change. For example, in communities that encourage sprawl but lack sufficient public transit options, residents will become more dependent on cars, which in turn will increase greenhouse gas emissions. Conversely, communities that encourage development with multimodal transit options will reduce those emissions. Regional planning can also help preserve ecological resources such as forested lands and limit development in floodplains or coastal areas vulnerable to rising sea levels and storms.80

At its best, regional planning can incorporate consideration of climate and disaster resilience along with economic development and equity. The Seven50: Southeast Florida Prosperity Plan, for example, combines planning for regional climate and economic resiliency across a seven-county region. Led by the South Florida and Treasure Coast Regional Planning Councils and the Southeast Regional Partnership, the effort, which was supported by a 2010 Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant, unites more than 200 stakeholders from the public and private sectors.81 Tools such as the “equity profile” by PolicyLink and the University of Southern California’s Program for Environmental and Regional Equity offer planners the information they need to ensure that all southeast Floridians, regardless of race, ethnicity, age, gender, or class, share in both the processes and positive outcomes of planning for the region. Among the relevant considerations in this regard, researchers find that African American and Hispanic households have driven much of the region’s recent and projected population growth and that income inequality as well as racial disparities in income and opportunity threaten the region’s future prosperity.82

The Promise of Planning and Partnerships

A compelling case can be made for adopting regional approaches to many of the pressing issues facing communities across the country. More research is needed to understand which regional planning structures, policies, and practices work best and to evaluate the impact of federal funding and guidance such as SCI on planning processes and outcomes. Such research will become possible as more regional entities implement plans. What is certain is that both planning and implementation will require extensive collaboration among all interested stakeholders. Public resources alone will not adequately support the investments necessary for comprehensive infrastructure improvements, climate change adaptation and disaster resilience, and sustainable housing development, among other urgent needs. Federal policy in this area is focused on trying to foster integrated approaches that cut across traditional policy silos and facilitate partnerships. Public-private partnerships that most efficiently align and leverage various funding sources are vitally necessary to have a wide impact. Pursuing these goals equitably and sustainably will remain an ongoing challenge — one that will best be met through robust, inclusive, representative civic participation and rigorous research and evaluation to identify and disseminate the most promising practices.

  1. Ethan Seltzer and Armando Carbonell. 2011. "Planning Regions," in Seltzer and Carbonell, 4; Karen Chapple. 2015. Planning Sustainable Cities and Regions: Towards More Equitable Development, New York: Routledge, 24.
  2. Kathryn A. Foster. 2011. "A Region of One's Own," in Regional Planning in America: Practice and Prospect, Ethan Seltzer and Armando Carbonell, eds. Cambridge, MA: Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, 54.
  3. Seltzer and Carbonell, 5.
  4. Robert D. Yaro and David M. Kooris. 2008. "Growing Greener Regions," in Growing Greener Cities: Urban Sustainability in the Twenty-first Century, Susan M.Wachter and Eugenie Ladner Birch, eds. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 29–30.
  5. Partnership for Sustainable Communities. 2011. "Supporting Sustainable Rural Communities," 3.
  6. T.H. Morrison, Marcus B. Lane, and Michael Hibbard. 2014. "Planning, Governance and Rural Futures in Australia and the USA: Revisiting the Case for Rural Regional Planning," Journal of Environmental Planning and Management, 1.
  7. Partnership for Sustainable Communities, 3–5.
  8. Seltzer and Carbonell, 2.
  9. Foster, 57.
  10. Ibid., 62–3.
  11. Gerrit-Jan Knaap and Rebecca Lewis. 2011. "Regional Planning for Sustainability and Hegemony of Metropolitan Regionalism," in Seltzer and Carbonell, 205–6.
  12. Ibid., 178–9.
  13. Ibid.; 13 C.F.R. Ch. III, pts. 303, 304.
  14. Knaap and Lewis, 180; Mike Walsh and Sarah Burch. "Communities at the Crossroads: Using MetroQuest to Help Communities Create Consensus Around a Vision of the Future," in The Future of Cities and Regions: Simulation, Scenario and Visioning, Governance and Scale, Liliana Bazzanella, Luca Caneparo, Franco Corsico, and Giuseppe Roccasalva, eds. New York: Springer, 50.
  15. Knaap and Lewis, 178–81.
  16. David Y. Miller and Raymond W. Cox, III. 2014. Governing the Metropolitan Region: America's New Frontier, Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 188.
  17. Carleton K. Montgomery. 2011. "Introduction," in Regional Planning for a Sustainable America: How Creative Programs Are Promoting Prosperity and Saving the Environment, Carleton K. Montgomery, ed. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1; Robert Fishman. 2000. "The Death and Life of American Regional Planning," in Reflections on Regionalism, Bruce Katz, ed. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 119.
  18. Brenda Scheer. 2012. "The Utah Model: Lessons for Regional Planning," Brookings Mountain West.
  19. Scott Campbell. 1996. "Green Cities, Growing Cities, Just Cities?: Urban Planning and the Contradictions of Sustainable Development," Journal of the American Planning Association 62:3.
  20. Interview with Karen Chapple, 30 June 2015.
  21. Foster, 77.
  22. Manuel Pastor Jr., Chris Benner, and Martha Matsuoka. 2009. This Could Be the Start of Something Big: How Social Movements for Regional Equity are Reshaping Metropolitan America, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 25.
  23. Sean F. Reardon, Lindsay Fox, and Joseph Townsend. 2015. "Neighborhood Income Composition by Household Race and Income, 1990–2009," The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 660:1, 78; Elizabeth Kneebone and Emily Garr. 2010. "The Suburbanization of Poverty: Trends in Metropolitan America, 2000 to 2008." Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings.
  24. Manuel Pastor and Chris Benner. 2011. "Planning for Equity, Fighting for Justice," in Seltzer and Carbonell, 82.
  25. Knaap and Lewis, 205–6.
  26. Christopher Jones. 2011. "The Economic Benefits of Regional Planning," in Montgomery, 268.
  27. Myron Orfield and Thomas Luce. 2011. "Promoting Fiscal Equity and Efficient Development Practices at the Metropolitan Scale," in Montgomery, 285.
  28. Carleton K. Montgomery. 2011. "Fulfilling the Promise of Regional Planning," in Montgomery, 347.
  29. Ibid., 346.
  30. Interview with Karen Chapple.
  31. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 2015. "Consumer Expenditures in 2013," BLS Reports.
  32. Robert Hickey, Jeffrey Lubell, Peter Haas, and Stephanie Morse. 2012. "Losing Ground: The Struggle of Moderate-Income Households to Afford the Rising Costs of Housing and Transportation," Center for Housing Policy and Center for Neighborhood Technology; Scott Bernstein, Carrie Makarewicz and Kevin McCarty. 2005. "Driven to Spend: Pumping Dollars out of our Households and Communities," Center for Neighborhood Technology and the Surface Transportation Policy Project, 8.
  33. Bernstein, Makarewicz and McCarty, 8; Farjana Mostafiz Shatu and Md. Kamruzzaman. 2014. "Investigating the Link between Transit Oriented Development and Sustainable Travel Behavior in Brisbane: A Case-Control Study," Journal of Sustainable Development 7:4; Ugo Lachapelle and Lawrence D. Frank. 2009. "Transit and Health: Mode of Transport, Employer-Sponsored Public Transit Pass Programs, and Physical Activity," Journal of Public Health Policy 30: Suppl. 1.
  34. Chapple, 11; Alexander Hoffman, remarks at "Opportunity in Urban America," Urban Institute, Washington, DC, 15 June 2015.
  35. Housing and Urban Development Act, 1968, Pub.L. 90–448, Title VI, Section 601.
  36. Ibid.
  37. Vincent L. Marando. 1975. "A Metropolitan Lower Income Housing Allocation Policy," The American Behavioral Scientist 19:1.
  38. R. Allen Hays. 2012. The Federal Government & Urban Housing, 3rd Edition. Albany: SUNY Press, 184; Demonstration Cities and Metropolitan Development Act, 1966, Pub.L., 89–754.
  39. Marando.
  40. Nikole Hannah-Jones. 2012. "Living Apart: How the Government Betrayed a Landmark Civil Rights Law," ProPublica.
  41. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Policy Development and Research. 1994. "Residential Mobility Programs," Urban Policy Brief; Arthur C. Nelson. 2006. "Leadership in a New Era," Journal of the American Planning Association 72:4, 393.
  42. Charles J. Orlebeke. 2002. "Housing Policy and Urban Sprawl in the Chicago Metropolitan Region," in Suburban Sprawl: Private Decisions and Public Policy, Wim Wiewel and Joseph J. Persky, eds. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 165.
  43. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Sustainable Housing and Communities.  2012. "Helping Communities Realize a More Prosperous Future," 5.
  44. U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2015. "USDA to Give Priority Funding for Regional Economic Development Projects," 20 May press release.
  45. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Economic Resilience. 2015. "Green Infrastructure and the Sustainable Communities Initiative," 3.
  46. Dwayne S. Marsh. 2014. "The Sustainable Communities Initiative: Collective Impact in Practice," Community Investments 26:1, 33.
  47. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Economic Resilience. "SCI Resource Library" ( Accessed 19 June 2015.
  48. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Economic Resilience. 2015. "Green Infrastructure and the Sustainable Communities Initiative," 4.
  49. Marsh, 32.
  50. Ibid., 34–5.
  51. Karen Chapple, and Elizabeth Mattiuzzi. 2013. "Planting the Seeds for a Sustainable Future: HUD's Sustainable Communities Initiative Regional Planning Grant Program," Center for Community Innovation, 6.
  52. Interview with Dwayne Marsh, 27 July 2015.
  53. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Sustainable Housing and Communities. 2012. "Helping Communities Realize a More Prosperous Future," 25.
  54. Interview with Dwayne Marsh, 24 June 2015.
  55. Chapple and Mattiuzzi, 16.
  56. Rolf Pendall, Sandra Rosenbloom, Diane Levy, Elizabeth Oo, Gerrit Knaap, Jason Sartori, and Arnab Chakraborty. 2013. "Can Federal Efforts Advance Federal and Local De-Siloing?: Lessons from the HUD- EPA-DOT Partnership for Sustainable Communities," Urban Institute, 15; 25–6.
  57. Chapple and Mattiuzzi, 16.
  58. Interview with Lisa T. Alexander, 26 June 2015.
  59. Ibid.; Lisa T. Alexander. 2011. "The Promise and Perils of 'New Regionalist' Approaches to Sustainable Communities," Fordham Urban Law Journal 38, 673.
  60. Interview with Dwayne Marsh, 24 June 2015; U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. 2015. "Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing," 5.
  61. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. 2015, 67.
  62. Interview with Dwayne Marsh, 24 June 2015.
  63. Plan Bay Area 2040. "San Francisco Bay Area Regional Prosperity Plan Fact Sheet" ( Accessed 17 July 2015.
  64. Chapple and Mattiuzzi, 9.
  65. "Location Affordability Portal: Version 2," U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development website ( Accessed 29 June 2015.
  66. Eugenie L. Birch. 2015. "Measuring U.S. Sustainable Development," Cityscape 17:1, 227.
  67. Interview with Dwayne Marsh, 24 June 2015.
  68. Interview with Karen Chapple.
  69. Build America Investment Initiative Interagency Working Group. n.d. "Recommendations of the Build America Investment Initiative Interagency Working Group," 2–4. "TIGER Discretionary Grants," U.S. Department of Transportation website ( Accessed 4 August 2015; "TIFIA," U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration website ( Accessed 4 August 2015; "Railroad Rehabilitation & Improvement Financing (RRIF)," U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Railroad Administration website ( Accessed 4 August 2015.
  70. "Chicago Regional Housing Choice Initiative," Housing Choice Partners website ( Accessed 1 July 2015.
  71. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. 2012. "Initial Report to Congress: Office of Sustainable Housing and Communities Sustainable Communities Grant Program Evaluation."
  72. The White House Office of the Press Secretary. "FactSheet: Building a 21st Century Infrastructure: Increasing Public and Private Collaboration with the Build America Investment Initiative," 17 July press release.
  73. Ibid.
  74. Build America Investment Initiative Interagency Working Group, 4–11.
  75. "Eagle P3 Project," Regional Transportation District of Denver website ( Accessed 30 June 2015; Regional Transportation District of Denver. 2015. "2015 Fact Sheet: Eagle P3 Project at a Glance."
  76. Denver Regional Council of Governments. n.d. "Denver Region Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant Application: Exhibit 1," 2.
  77. Prince George's County Department of the Environment. 2015. "White House and EPA Recognize County's Stormwater Retrofit Public-Private Partnership (P3) Among Most Innovative in the Nation," GreenScene(March/April), 3.
  78. Prince George's County. 2015. "Clean Water Partnership: Frequently Asked Questions."
  79. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. 2014. "National Disaster Resilience Competition."
  80. Robert D. Yaro and David M. Kooris. 2011. "Regions for Climate Resiliency," in Montgomery, 253–60.
  81. "What Is Seven 50?" Seven 50. ( Accessed 17 June 2015.
  82. PolicyLink and PERE. 2014. "An Equity Profile of the Southeast Florida Region: Summary."


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