Political will, leadership crucial to building great communities

From left: former Maryland Governor and President of the Governors' Institute, Parris Glendening; former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman, former FEMA Director James Lee Witt, and former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge at the Governors' Institute launch event.

Great neighborhoods, strong local economies and balanced budgets don’t happen by chance. It takes political leadership and resilience to achieve those goals – political leadership that is sometimes hard to come by.

“Everyone wants to go to heaven but nobody wants to die to get there,” said former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge during a conversation between past and current state leaders at the National Press Club today. The Governors’ Institute on Community Design hosted the event, which kicked off newly announced support for the Institute from the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development.

That reluctance to stick one’s neck out can have a negative impact on states and local communities, explained former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, who co-chairs the Institute with former Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening. Instead of planning for long-term, sustainable economic growth that meets a wide range of goals, it’s easy for elected officials to lapse into short-term, often politically motivated decisions.

“People have come up with this mindset that it’s an either or [between jobs and smart, long-term thinking], and we have to break that,” said Whitman, noting the pressure on state and local leaders to show immediate results.

She emphasized the need for state and local leaders to think tactically and show more resolve, a point Ridge hammered home when he likened current federal and state budget deficit reduction battles to a “kabuki dance” between political parties.

Many of the decisions needed today are bound to be unpopular, because the country needs both cuts to costly services as well as new revenue creation sources to fund important infrastructure upgrades and investments, Ridge said. Drawing attention to the need for increased leadership at all levels of government is therefore vital, as are more transparent and proactive efforts to inform the public about the realities of municipal costs.

“We almost need a public education campaign,” Ridge said about the cost of updating America’s infrastructure systems and investing in the things that will lead to long-term growth. “You flip on a light, you don’t think about [the cost]. You turn the water on, you don’t think about it.”

What that means for the country’s towns and cities is significant, as leaders shy away from making investments or bold policy changes to attract voters. Politicians on both sides of the aisle might recognize the need for smarter decision-making in light of changing market trends toward walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods and evolving population demographics, but it can be difficult to roll out reforms.

Current governors Martin O’Malley of Maryland and Beverly Perdue of North Carolina addressed that point, noting that leaders must persevere through criticism while simultaneously showing how new strategies will benefit communities over the long-haul.

“To continue to have a state that is growing as quickly as our state is growing, and to continue to have the kind of economic development we want,” Perdue said, “you need revenue … not just in North Carolina, but in any state.”

“All the great things you say during the campaign … all the, ‘I can fix it all with a magic wand,’” she said, “If you want to focus on the future, you have to make tough decisions and you can’t just stick your finger in the wind and decide which way the public is going.”

The Institute, established in 2005 and currently administered by Smart Growth America, aims to shore up political leadership and lend assistance to governors looking to promote economic development and make a better use of taxpayer dollars. Glendening said the three federal agencies’ funding support will enhance the Institute’s ability to provide technical assistance and counsel across the country.

“It’s very clear that the innovation is at the local and state level, and it’s important for us to recognize this at the federal level,” said U.S. Transportation Deputy Secretary John Porcari.

For leaders who want to address state concerns in a more comprehensive, strategic and financially sustainable way, the Institute is at governors’ disposal, Glendening said.

“We see our job in the Obama Administration as doing some of the downfield blocking,” Porcari added.

EPA, HUD, DOT partner to fund Governors’ Institute on Community Design, help states drive economic development, make better use of taxpayer dollars

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: July 24, 2012

EPA, HUD, DOT partner to fund Governors’ Institute 
on Community Design, help states drive economic
development, make better use of taxpayer dollars

Former and current governors to address economic, housing and
transportation issues at National Press Club next week

CONTACT: Thomas Madrecki, 202-215-2258, tmadrecki@smartgrowthamerica.org

Former and current governors from across the country will look to address states’ most pressing economic, housing and transportation issues at a roundtable kickoff to the Governors’ Institute on Community Design next week in Washington DC.

The Institute, established in 2005 and administered by Smart Growth America, will now receive support from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) in a new, collaborative effort as part of the federal Partnership for Sustainable Communities.

Funding for the Institute enhances the Partnership’s ability to provide thought leadership and policy-development assistance in states looking to promote economic development and make a better use of taxpayer dollars.

Among those participating in the Institute’s panel discussion will be former Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening; former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman; former Iowa Governor Chet Culver; former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge; current Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley; current North Carolina Gov. Beverly Perdue; James Lee Witt, former Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency; and Greg Bialecki, current Secretary of Massachusetts’ Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development. The session will be held at the National Press Club’s Zenger Room from 9 to 11 a.m.

“The Institute is a vital tool for our states’ leaders as they look for ways to trigger economic development and create strong, resilient communities,” says Glendening, who co-chairs the Institute alongside Whitman. “Governors and their administrations who reach out to us and receive assistance have access to the leading practitioners and academics in government, design and regional economics. Together we are able to map out the unique, state-specific strategies that will lead to long-term success.”

EPA, HUD and DOT’s role in funding the Governors’ Institute is a landmark step for the Partnership for Sustainable Communities, which works to provide communities with faster, more streamlined access to federal programs. The Institute is one of the first programs to receive joint support from all three participating agencies in the three years since the Partnership was established.

“We are deeply appreciative that the Partnership is investing in this program,” Glendening says. “We urge interested states to use this resource as a way to drive economic development and to create the kinds of great neighborhoods people want to live, work and play in nationwide.”

# # #

For more information about the Governors’ Institute on Community Design,
visit www.govinstitute.org

For more information about the Partnership for Sustainable Communities,
visit www.sustainablecommunities.gov

National experts advise the Christie Administration on state strategic planning

Crossposted from Smart Growth America’s coalition partner, New Jersey Future.

The Governors' Institute hosted a workshop in Trenton, New Jersey for the state cabinet members on May 18th and 19th.

Last week, the Christie administration hosted a Governors’ Institute on Community Design workshop to explore advancing a state strategic plan that focuses on economic development and the importance of location. The event was a milestone in the administration’s state strategic planning project, which is developing recommendations for how to prioritize and support sustainable economic growth.

Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno along with cabinet members and other state officials attended the day-and-a-half long workshop. Visiting speakers included Doug Foy, President, Serrafix and former secretary of Commonwealth Development in Massachusetts; Mitch Silver, Director of Planning and Economic Development for Raleigh, North Carolina; and Daniel Hernandez, Managing Director of the Planning Practice at Jonathan Rose Companies. Kicking off the event were GICD Chair and former Maryland Governor Glendening and former New Jersey Governor and GICD co-chair Christine Todd Whitman.

“Governor Christie was pleased to host the Governor’s Institute on Community Design, “said Wayne Hasenbalg, Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy for the Christie Administration. “This Administration is taking a thoughtful approach to economic development that includes looking at the most efficient places to direct growth.”

The administration is expected to finalize recommendations to the Governor in July. For more information about these and other workshops, visit the Governors’ Institute on Community Design.

State policy to support Main Street (Part 3 of 3): On the ground in Fowler, Colorado

Fowler, Colorado: Location of the proposed SMSI intersection improvement project at the downtown intersection of St. Hwy 50 and St. Hwy 167 (Main St.). Pictured in the lower righthand corner is a draft intersection improvement plan: click on the image to see the full-size version. (Photo courtesy of Nancy Hazlett)

In the first two parts of this series, we looked at the challenges facing Main Streets and spoke with Susan Kirkpatrick, former Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, about the Sustainable Main Streets Initiative (SMSI) to see how state government can be part of the solution. In this third part, we ask: What impact does this state-led program have at the ground level – on Main Street itself?

The impact of the SMSI can be seen in Fowler, a town of just over 1,200 people, which was one of five Colorado communities selected to pilot the initiative. Being selected as a SMSI pilot community “planted a seed of enthusiasm in the general community that has also carried over and further helped to create positive energy and interest in other local projects, such as the renewable energy efforts currently underway in our town,” writes Nancy Hazlett, Fowler’s SMSI Project Champion. She continued:

The SMSI project not only launched a worthwhile traffic/pedestrian safety project, but has also offered great opportunities for structured community education, which will be beneficial as we proceed with other SMSI project goals related to issues such as housing and health care. There seems to be a renewed sense of community pride surfacing as a result of the overall effort.

An important lesson from Colorado’s SMSI program is that it does not always take new funding to make a difference. SMSI does not have a dedicated funding source. Instead, the initiative is intended to streamline the delivery of existing state programs and resources to local communities. And in Fowler, Nancy explains, the new system works:

Becoming more familiar with the technical assistance that is available and learning how we as a community canutilize it to our benefit has been very worthwhile! The SMSI project has provided great opportunities to break down longstanding barriers, whether perceived or real, that separated government from small town rural Colorado. We’ve learned that a tremendous amount of good can come with better understanding of purposes and processes of government.

Fowler was selected to pilot SMSI in part because the town had embraced sustainability. The town went through a community visioning process in 2009 to develop a 2035 Comprehensive Plan, which reflects the shared vision “to become one of the most sustainable communities in Colorado.”

Fowler residents participate in a public meeting regarding the Main Street intersection improvement project. (Photo courtesy of Nancy Hazlett)

Fowler residents pride themselves on their Main Street, which is infused with Western small-town culture and features many historic structures. They envision a Fowler in 2035 that invests in these downtown assets while embracing new economic opportunities, including alternative energy. Achieving economic, environmental, and social sustainability is a big vision for a small town, and their leadership is gaining recognition – Fowler recently won the Wirth Chair Sustainable Cities Award.

Colorado’s Sustainable Main Streets Initiative is a great example of state government stepping up to support small town downtowns, even during a time of budget constraints. Coordinating and improving the delivery of existing services helps communities like Fowler make sure Main Streets remain a quintessential part of American culture.


Check out the previous posts in this series: