2009 has been a tough year – news of our sagging economy is all too common – but that adversity has been the catalyst for innovation in Washington, D.C., and closer to home.
The recently announced Sustainable Communities initiative of the U.S. Depts. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Transportation (DOT) is a signpost pointing to the direction federal investment should be headed: away from investing in silos via arbitrary funding formulas, and toward investing in programs and infrastructure that solve interconnected issues and are planned at the scale of problems they address.
At the same time, communities throughout northeastern Illinois are working across neighborhood and municipal boundaries on shared housing, transportation and environmental goals. They are pursuing these creative strategies because they have to – the problems they face cross municipal boundaries – but they are succeeding despite the majority of federal and state policies they face, not because of them. There are very few federal investment programs that encourage or reward communities for working together toward common goals. Where there should be cooperation, instead there is competition.
MPC, along with partners such as the Brookings Institution, Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, and Smart Growth America, believe we need a better investment strategy to create a more socially equitable, environmentally sustainable, and economically viable country. MPC has drafted a white paper to articulate the core tenets of a reform framework, and to illustrate how those principles are embodied in five real-world examples. MPC believes that federal investment should be:
Goal-Driven: Investment should be based on desired policy outcomes, not specific means or pet projects. The best investment – be it roadway or railway, treatment plant or wetland – should be determined and funded according to the project’s quantifiable benefits when compared to other spending priorities.
Right-Sized: Solutions should be planned and implemented at the scale of the problem. Traditionally, most federal money has gone to states and then individual municipalities, creating costly local competition for resources that does not reflect the interjurisdictional and regional nature of our most pressing policy issues. Federal investment should spur shared solutions to shared problems, with the flexibility to scale investment up or down as necessary.
Coordinated: Complex, multi-issue problems require integrated solutions. For example, “best practices” in housing solutions are linked to transportation, workforce development, and energy efficiency. However, federal funding tends to be issue-specific and complicates private sector involvement. The models described below break out of these “silos” wherever possible.
Many of our partners are developing innovative, on-the-ground models consistent with those principles, and MPC is working to collect and share these stories to serve as case studies for structural changes that the U.S. Congress and the Obama Administration can implement.
By documenting these new models, we can work in stronger partnerships to determine how to reshape outmoded policies and be ready with our recommendations for reform as near-term opportunities arise, such as anticipated federal transportation and energy bills, and programmatic shifts across federal agencies. Additionally, MPC and the Chicago Architecture Foundation are partnering on a summer lecture series, Reinventing Public Investment, to further advance these discussions.
If you know of other models consistent with these principles, or have comments or questions, please contact Josh Ellis at firstname.lastname@example.org or (312) 863-6045; or Peter Skosey at email@example.com or (312) 863-6004.