Changes Spark Interest in Sustainable Urban Places: But How Do We Identify and Support Them?

Article excerpt

Introduction  I. The Steady Evolution of Urban Law       A. From Public Housing and Urban Renewal to          Sustainable Development       B. Why Sustainable Communities Are Important          1. Climate Change Mitigation          2. Demographic and Market Shifts  II. State and Federal Sustainable Development Strategies       A. New York State Programs       B. The Federal Sustainable Communities Initiative  III. Toward a Certification Program       A. Why Is Certification Needed?       B. Progress on Certification to Date: Nine Programs          1. New Jersey: Sustainable Jersey          2. Massachusetts: Commonwealth Green             Communities          3. Florida: Green Local Government Standard          4. Virginia: "Go Green," Virginia's Green             Government Challenge          5. Georgia: Atlanta's Certified Green Communities          6. Connecticut: Menu of Municipal Climate Actions             and Resources          7. Minnesota: GreenStep Cities          8. ICLEI STAR Community Index          9. New York Climate Smart Communities             Certification System: A Work in Progress  IV. Moving Certification Beyond Municipal Behavior Conclusion: Toward Implementation 

INTRODUCTION

Changes in climatic and demographic trends are sparking renewed interest in cities generally and sustainable communities particularly. On the one hand, residents and workers in denser, mixed-use neighborhoods served by transit have half the carbon footprint of those in spread-out suburban areas. On the other hand, many of the smaller households that characterize the nation's growing population prefer to live in precisely those compact, mixed-use neighborhoods. In New York, these changes align with several new state policies that encourage cities and towns to reduce carbon emissions, reduce vehicle travel, create sustainable buildings and neighborhoods, and preserve the landscapes that sequester nearly twenty percent of the nation's carbon emissions. These three shifts--climatic, demographic, and political--create opportunities for older cities and towns to revitalize themselves, while creating new roles for smaller, rural communities. After describing these trends, this Article reviews the nascent movement to certify sustainable communities, noting that existing programs measure mainly the behavior of municipalities as building and vehicle fleet owners and educators of the public. These certification systems need to expand to measure how well local governments use their legal authority to control private sector development so that the millions of new homes and billions of square feet of commercial buildings needed to serve the growing population are sustainable. This Article describes the creation of a certification system and policy initiative that measure and reward municipal planning, regulation, and incentives that ensure the sustainability of future development in areas that should host much of the expanding population as well as those areas where conservation should predominate.

I. THE STEADY EVOLUTION OF URBAN LAW

A. From Public Housing and Urban Renewal to Sustainable Development

New York's urban policy arguably began in 1926 with the passage of the State Housing Law. (1) At the federal level, the beginning can be pegged to the adoption of the National Housing Act of 1934. (2) Thus began nine decades of experimenting with programs to create viable human settlements in the United States. (3) Congress launched urban renewal under the Housing Act of 1954. (4) The next year, the New York state legislature adopted the Mitchell-Lama Program offering privately organized development companies subsidies to provide middle-income housing. (5) About the time that the first issue of the Fordham Urban Law Journal was published, (6) New York was creating a large-scale regional planning organization with the passage of the Adirondack Park Act of 1972. (7) Two years later, Congress consolidated numerous urban programs that had enjoyed limited success into the Community Development Block Grant program, allocating funds on a formula basis to large cities and channeling funds to small cities through state agencies or inter-municipal consortia. …

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