Feb 5, 2010

Smart Growth Conference: First Day

The 9th annual Smart Growth Conference kicked off on Thursday February 4th on the sixth floor of the Washington Convention Center in downtown Seattle.

Kick-off Plenary

After a Dow Constantine, King County Executive, Michelle Pirzadeth, Acting Regional Administrator our region’s EPA and a few other gave speeches, Ron Sims, longtime supporter of Sustainable Seattle and currently the Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Deputy Secretary was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award. A standing ovation came from the crowd. Ron Sims spoke in celebration of the synchronization of HUD, DOT and EPA and in tribute of his family and his boss, the Secretary of HUD. A second standing ovation was given. Two in one night!

This was followed by Shaun Donovan, HUD Secretary, Ray LaHood, DOT Transportation and a video presentation by speeches by Lisa Jackson, the EPA Administrator. Ray LaHood spoke about access to jobs, quality schools and safe streets, a clean energy economy that enhances the competitiveness of our nation. He talked about what Sustainability means: choice and quality of life- walk able accessible job centers where people can walk to work; building inclusive neighborhoods of opportunities so community members share problems and opportunities, economic vitality being smaller but stronger and smarter and survival itself.

Mr. LaHood spoke to the truth that all communities define sustainability differently based on their circumstances while all seeking to meet the needs of today without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. Families are spending far too much on commutes and high rent or mortgage payments. In the last generation, transportation costs have increased by 1000%. He spoke about the Sustainability Partnership between EPA, DOT and HUD. He announced the creation of a new office focused sustainability with a $200M budget.

Regional Leadership in Smart Growth and Sustainability: Lessons from across the Country

“Smart growth” or “Sustainability” can sometimes be alarming terms. Synonyms are: Blue print Planning, Vision 2050, Quality of Life Planning….a rose is still a rose by any other name. It does not matter what you call it. Knowing the goals can allow the community to find the right terms to use is a best practice.

Do not start from square one: build on what is out there. Survey and do scenario workshops to understand what is out there, and to understand the big movements and concerns.

Identify priorities and organize them in how they work together and are interconnected: sustainability, accessibility, prosperity and livability. Set targets – stretch goals, longer and shorter-term goals. This leads to a compact or agreement that identifies and binds individuals and organizations towards working together.

Get public comment, go online, get ideas and make sure you have a way to measure how you are going to get there. Get support and be there for the long haul.

Local food independence is a challenge for regions. Farmers need to develop new and creative markets and models. We are loosing farmland, and it is harder to establish new farms. Farmers are competing for crops and moving to biofuel over food. The local economic impact is often difficult to determine (check out Viki Sonntag’s work on the local food system multiplier).

Talking about Race and Smart Growth: What are the next steps

The panelists identified needs for communities of color to get the leadership support to affect the ideas and move them forward, to link academic research to implementing research findings on the ground, and the need to talk about race in an effective manner to move people and arm people of color to create multiracial alliances to influence policy and action.

Race and ethnicity can be a major challenge and are one of the most significant barriers to collaboration. Social class and gender inequality is another major barrier. Challenges regarding integrating social justice and environmental movements and goals include the local nature of social justice groups and the global nature of the environmental movement. Another challenge is time frames. The wealthier one is, the longer the time frame. If you are struggling to meet your basic needs, your time frame is likely quite short – a rising tide lifts all boats but can’t lift you if you do not have a boat.

Yet another challenge is the language around race: this is a hard topic to discuss. We lack a common language for social justice and race, unlike with environmentalism. Moreover, with only 2% of our brains dedicated to cognitive processes, we tend to use the other 98% - a more reactive process-when dealing with social justice. Communication strategies: think about the cognitive framing- we need to be careful that we do not reinforce assumptions deep in our brain (that 98%) in how and what is messaged. We need to resent the framing – our mindsets and our values. Community needs to be valued at least as much as economics. We need to include all in the process of setting strategies or agendas wherever we are in that process.

Tools for going forward

Professor John Powell, ED of Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity: Tool for Talking about Race

Integrate Social Justice into your strategy

Portland underwent a process to form relationships across race and social class in the city that directly addressed power dynamics and privilege and how that shows up in a daily basis and found ways for people of privilege to be better allies.

Meet people, organizations and institutions “where they are” provide next steps.

Go to communities of color, communities that are under served – listen. Even if you don’t have an answer, a solution or the resources to work together. Building relationships can be a first step to getting to the end goal of social justice and sustainability.

Newest Research on Built Environment and Health

The amount of research in the field of health and environment is steadily increasing as evidence grows with the relationship between health and the buildings and communities in which we live. The Active Living Research organization is leading the way with a sponsorship from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Physical inactivity is the leading cause of death in the United States. The data shows the number one cause of death is heart failure which is caused in the majority of cases because of an inactive lifestyle and unhealthy eating habits. Tobacco use is another major cause of death that is in congruent with an active lifestyle since tobacco use lowers one's lung capacity decreasing the efficiency during physical activities.

The panelists shared some of their research and their results including the walkability of neighborhoods, childhood obesity, adult bicycling behavior, and the overall effect of transportation on the health of the populace.

Childhood obesity rates are the highest they have ever been in the country's history. The major factor is environment as that is the only major source of change that is broad enough and large enough to account for most of the nearly tripling amount of childhood obesity cases since the late sixties.

Children over the age of five are not meeting their bare minimum levels of activities, nearly 85% are getting less than the recommended amounts. The built environment has lead many parents to simply not allow their children outside as crowded streets, unwalkable paths, and the threat of crime have made the choices for activity restricted to indoor pursuits. With a focus on built environment the city has an opportunity to reverse that trend by building playable parks within ten minute walks of major residential areas, rebuilding and updating crosswalks and bike paths, and building safety features such as working street lights.

Public transportation included light rail and buses and a significant early finding of the research shows that the public is more likely to walk further for the use of light rail than buses. In fact, the public would walk twice as far if they could use light rail as opposed to buses.

The research is still in its early stages, but looks to bring concrete evidence to influence policy makers to rethink neighborhoods, transportation and the health of its citizens.

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