Building strong, resilient communities starts with having a great team. In 2009, President Obama challenged us to improve how our agencies work together to help communities around the country better meet their housing, transportation, and environmental goals, laying the groundwork for an economy that provides good jobs now and creates a strong foundation for long-term prosperity.
Americans have made it clear they are ready for a new vision for their communities – one that cleans up and reuses neglected brownfields for economic development, reduces traffic congestion, and provides affordable transportation and housing choices that have been missing during these tough times. The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have forged a partnership to streamline resources, better collaborate with local stakeholders, and achieve superior results for communities. By coordinating federal investments and technical assistance, we are meeting economic, environmental, and community objectives with each dollar spent.
For three years our agencies have been coordinating their work through the Partnership for Sustainable Communities. The Partnership has funded 744 projects in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico with approximately $3.7 billion in assistance. And demand for Partnership assistance has been extraordinary -- as of April 2012, Partnership agencies have received more than 7,700 applications requesting almost $102 billion in funding.
These efforts are making a real difference in communities and neighborhoods. In Bridgeport, Connecticut, the Partnership agencies are working together to help meet sustainability goals. In 2010, Bridgeport received $11 million in TIGER multimodal transportation funding from DOT to upgrade roads around the East Side’s Steel Point Peninsula in preparation for redevelopment. These funds build on an EPA Environmental Justice Showcase Community Grant, which led to many improvements in Bridgeport’s distressed East End and East Side neighborhoods, including a new fishing pier and renewed access for residents who had been unable to get to the waterfront.
At the same time the Partnership has helped residents and neighborhoods in Bridgeport better connect to one another, it’s also helped Bridgeport connect to the broader regional economy. Indeed, Bridgeport is also a partner in the New York-Connecticut Sustainable Communities Consortium, a large stakeholder group of city, county, and regional representatives that received a 2010 HUD Regional Planning Grant. As part of this grant, the consortium is studying whether Barnum Station, a proposed rail station in Bridgeport’s East End, can anchor the redevelopment of the city’s East Side, leading to new business investment, mixed-use, transit-oriented development, and affordable housing.
“The Partnership’s efforts have helped further a vision of the future of Bridgeport to become New England’s greenest city,” says Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch. “By the federal government coordinating resources and technical expertise, we have a chance of realizing a vision such as the Barnum Station project.”
But what makes the Partnership unique is that it allows communities to use these funds in ways that best fit their needs and visions – not what Washington thinks is best.
For instance, in Alabama we are helping communities along the 54-mile Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail grow and develop, while celebrating their history and creating new opportunities for residents. Designated in 1996 by Congress, the trail commemorates the 1965 Voting Rights March along U.S. Highway 80, beginning in the small town of Selma and ending in the historic Peacock neighborhood in Montgomery. Communities near the trail want to preserve its history for future generations while reviving the struggling neighborhoods surrounding it.
To build on this unique federal, state, and local collaboration, partners used the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the march to catalyze the process. Revitalization began with 18 brownfield site assessments done by the state and EPA to determine the best sites for redevelopment in the rural and underserved communities along the trail. Nine community visioning sessions supported by EPA, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the National Park Service helped draft plans to connect historic points of interest in preparation for the 50th anniversary of the march. The City of Montgomery conducted community outreach sessions with HUD Community Development Block Grant funds to create a collection of plans with strong local support in the city and rural communities along the trail. Funding and assistance from the Partnership and other federal agencies was used for stormwater infrastructure, construction of a greenway and an attractive community park with an entrance to the trail, streetscape improvements, affordable homes for police and teachers, and repairs to the historic Mount Zion Church, where the march concluded.
Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange says of the trail, “It’s fitting that this stretch of land—that demonstrated to the world the great things that can be accomplished when people unite to strive for a common purpose—is illustrating the dramatic results that can happen when federal agencies combine their talents and resources with state and local governments to transform areas of blight and neglect to places of natural beauty and sustainable viability. We are proud of what has been accomplished here by working together.”
As the Partnership enters its fourth year, HUD, DOT and EPA are working to align our efforts for localities even further – by streamlining the application process for our grants and identifying other grant programs that can be part of the Partnership for the future. And we will continue to encourage further collaboration with each other and other partners to consider housing, transportation, and environmental policy as they exist in the real world—inextricably connected.
All this work is based on a simple idea: when agencies talk regularly and listen to localities, we can help communities address some of their toughest challenges and create an economy built not on individual projects, but on collaboration and a shared vision. An economy built to last.
For more information, please visit the Partnership for Sustainable Communities website. The Partnership has also released Partnership for Sustainable Communities: Three Years of Helping Communities Achieve Their Visions for Growth and Prosperity, a report featuring case studies of Bridgeport, Montgomery, and several other communities, available on the Partnership’s website.