November 9, 2008

Livable communities in the Obama era

[caption id="attachment_759" align="alignleft" width="200" caption="Obama campaign's Boston phonebanking office, day before Election Day"]The Obama/Biden campaign's phonebanking center in Boston, the day before Election Day.[/caption]

This isn't a "political" blog, but now that the election is history -- congratulations to President-elect Obama, and to all of us who worked so hard to make it happen! -- it's time to take a look at what an Obama administration might mean for the goals of more walkable, livable communities.

President-elect Obama will have a full plate of crises when he takes office in January, what with the economic woes and two wars. So I'm under no illusions that community planning issues will be atop his agenda. However, he has strong opinions about transportation and community development, ones that see our urban centers not as "unreal America," but as centers of vibrancy and innovation. He has pledged to create a White House Office on Urban Policy and to financially support "innovation clusters" defined as "regional centers of innovation and next-generation industries."

Happily, he is also on record favoring "more livable and sustainable communities." Says his policy Web site: "Our communities will better serve all of their residents if we are able to leave our cars, to walk, bicycle and access other transportation alternatives. As president, Barack Obama will re-evaluate the transportation funding process to ensure that smart growth considerations are taken into account. . . .
How a community is designed – including the layout of its roads, buildings and parks – has a huge impact on the health of its residents. For instance, nearly one-third of Americans live in neighborhoods without sidewalks and less than half of our country's children have a playground within walking distance of their homes. Barack Obama introduced the Healthy Places Act to help local governments assess the health impact of new policies and projects, like highways or shopping centers.

His campaign's 4-page transportation plan includes funding for Amtrak, development of high-speed passenger and freight rail service, invest in public transportation and create more incentives for mass transit use (such as ending the tax code inequities that allow employers to provide more tax-free parking benefits to workers than for carpooling or mass transit).
As president, Barack Obama will re-evaluate the transportation funding process to ensure that smart growth considerations are taken into account. Obama will build upon his efforts in the Senate to ensure that more Metropolitan Planning Organizations create policies to incentivize greater bicycle and pedestrian usage of roads and sidewalks. As president, Obama will work to provide states and local governments with the resources they need to address sprawl and create more livable communities.

At the highest of levels, the election of our first African-American president running on a platform of change, inclusiveness and personal responsibility sends a powerful signal that we're all part of this great nation. We're all equal partners, and we're all partners -- no one is going to make positive change happen for us, not unless we're all willing to do the work to make it happen. And we're likely to see more citizen involvement in trying to bring about the change people seek.

I never quite understood the reasoning behind Republicans disparaging community organizing. Seriously, it's a bad thing for people to band together to try to improve their communities?

(Sorry for the long delay since the last post. My home computer gave up the ghost, it's taken awhile to get a new computer set up.)