Academic journal article Cityscape

Impacts of the Sustainable Communities Initiative on Regional Collaboration, Equity, and Planning: Results of a Survey of Grantee Regions

Academic journal article Cityscape

Impacts of the Sustainable Communities Initiative on Regional Collaboration, Equity, and Planning: Results of a Survey of Grantee Regions

Article excerpt


The livability of a metropolitan region does not fit neatly under one heading. Economic and environmental sustainability, inclusiveness, and affordability-these issues cut across policy silos and jurisdictional boundaries. Barriers to collaboration often arise, however, between the people, organizations, and government agencies that have the resources and the skills to improve livability in regions. The research presented in this article examined those barriers and how federal agencies and regional actors are addressing them.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) all have an impact on planning and the built environment in cities, suburbs, and rural areas. Historically, however, their structures have not always enabled these agencies to collaborate or foster cooperation among the communities, businesses, and the local agencies that are either responsible for implementing or are impacted by the resulting programs and policies.

In 2009, the Secretaries of HUD, DOT, and EPA jointly formed the Partnership for Sustainable Communities (PSC) to help create a more efficient and effective federal presence in regions. To find common ground between these agencies and to better serve the needs of metropolitan regions, HUD developed six livability principles that encompassed economic sustainability and growth; social equity and the inclusion of traditionally marginalized groups in governance and the economy; environmental sustainability; and the convergence of these three areas through investment in location-efficient land use, transportation, and housing development.

PSC spurred policy experiments such as the Sustainable Communities Initiative (SCI) at HUD. SCI consisted of two planning grants that supported the livability principles: the Community Challenge Planning grant, which targeted individual cities, and the Regional Planning Grant (SCI-RPG) program, which targeted regions. SCI-RPG was especially unique and exciting because it was the first modern instance of federal interest in comprehensive planning in metropolitan regions in the United States (Chapple, 2015).1

SCI-RPG awarded $165 million to 74 metropolitan regions across the United States for regional planning (Geevarghese and Tregoning, 2016). It also funded $10 million worth of capacity building and technical assistance by national nonprofits in regions.

In order to be truly regional in scope, the SCI-RPG required applicants to form a consortium that cut across sectors and geographic areas. To encourage city-suburb cooperation, each consortium had to include the region's principal city and jurisdictions representing at least one-half of the region's population. The SCI-RPG also required consortia to include a regional agency-such as a metropolitan planning organization (MPO), a council of governments (COG), a regional planning organization, or an economic development district-and a philanthropic, nonprofit, or university partner.2

In addition to the required leadership organizations, many regional consortia also included partners from the business and nonprofit communities who could help strengthen regional collaboration. Of the 74 SCI-RPG regional consortia, 33 distributed subgrants to consortium members, such as community-based organizations, to help them and their members become more involved in regional planning.3 These subgrants often helped build capacity among organizations and individuals who could bring diverse perspectives to the consortium but did not traditionally have the resources to participate in regional planning and governance.

The two main outputs that consortia developed through the grant process were a regional sustainability plan and a fair housing assessment. The design and focus of the regional sustainability plans varied by region, but each region had to analyze data on poverty and access to housing in their region for a Fair Housing and Equity Assessment (FHEA). …

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