Transforming Emerging Economies through Sustainable Development

In 2010, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) launched the Sustainable Communities Initiative (SCI) to offer support for sustainable development projects in cities with emerging economies. SCI made grants in two categories: Regional Planning Grants for metropolitan planning organizations to incorporate sustainable land use and energy principles into their regional plans, and Community Challenge Grants to help individual cities implement those plans.

ReconnectingAmerica_BuildingCapacityThe SCI program also connected grantees to resources, case studies, and ideas from organizations like CNT and Reconnecting America to help guide their sustainable development work. For many grantees, CNT’s approach to and work on issues such as cargo-oriented development and sustainable development performance indicators were revolutionary.

Each organization in the implementation team wrote issue briefs and held corresponding webinars to help grantees adopt these ideas in their planning work. Earlier this month, Reconnecting America compiled the briefs into the report Building Capacity: Helping Communities Create Vibrant, Healthy and Economically Prosperous Neighborhoods.  

CNT also partnered with Kim Burnett Consulting to organize the Re-emerging Economies Action Team (REEAcT) of slower-growing cities implementing SCI grants. In the years after World War II, all of these places grew along expressways and roads, away from walkable and compact neighborhoods and job centers. New communities built unneeded infrastructure at the expense of older cities, leaving a legacy of fragmented services in Cleveland and default in Detroit. Big box retail became the face of economic development even as consumers saw spending power decrease due to rising gas, health care, and other expenses. The unsustainable decisions of the past left a legacy of unneeded services, rising pension costs, and declining property taxes to support them.

For communities from Buffalo to New Orleans, the answer comes through location efficiency. Compact growth around the transportation assets and historic neighborhoods creates jobs in existing places, increases the worth of existing properties, and boosts the economy by cutting or eliminating car expenses and facilitating active transportation, allowing residents to save more money for things like retirement and education.

During the 20th century, cities like Buffalo grew up more around cars than around people (Photo by davehogan/Flickr Creative Commons License)

CNT organized two workshops for the REEAcT coalition to help them realize these goals. The first was held at Point Park University in Pittsburgh in November 2012 and the second at the Casey Foundation in Baltimore in April 2013. CNT organized tours around each city and introduced grantees to experts in areas like financing redevelopment projects, repurposing vacant properties, and capitalizing on legacy freight lines and rail yards. Perhaps most importantly, the workshops gave grantees the opportunity to connect with one another to share ideas on what’s working in their cities.

Our involvement with the program provided a venue for expanding our transportation and community development work from Chicago to cities across the country. As one of the few organizations working to empower emerging economies to become more location efficient, we believe our ideas can ultimately spark meaningful and sustainable economic growth for all.