By: Molly Reid
April 14, 2010
American cities need to plan more sustainably and cooperatively, and recent federal funding to promote regional planning efforts will help achieve that goal, said Adolfo Carrion Jr.,director of the White House Office on Urban Affairs, speaking Tuesday afternoon at the American Planning Association's national conference in New Orleans.
For too long, states and municipalities have made land use and infrastructure decisions in "silos," disconnected from the shared needs and goals of their neighbors, Carrion said. With the new regional planning program, which stands to receive $710 million next year under the proposed 2011 budget, cities, states and regions will receive federal assistance in implementing so-called "smart growth" principles that attempt to look holistically at institutions and systems.
"What we are talking about here is creating responsible, regional infrastructure platforms in these metro areas around the country and ensuring the alignment of transportation with land use ... you've been talking about it for 100 years," Carrion said, addressing the standing-room-only crowd of urban planners at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. "It's really about assets, building on the assets of regions."
"For the first time in a long time, we're going beyond just talking about these ideals and these principles," Carrion said. "For the first time, there is an offering of funding for planning, and I think that's critical. There is funding for regional economic strategies, for regions of the country to develop regional business plans."
The mere existence of Carrion's office represents something of a new federal strategy on cities. President Barack Obama created the Office on Urban Affairs last year via an executive order, and Carrion is the first person to hold the position of director.
Carrion told the crowd that New Orleans is a cautionary tale of what happens when poor urban planning and dysfunctional bureaucracy are faced with a disaster, and urban planners "understand the essence of what New Orleans means to the American psyche."
"We failed to plan the smart way. We isolated the poor. We didn't integrate systems. We did a number of things that failed to create the kind of place that was sustainable, economically sustainable, sociopolitically sustainable in terms of opportunity. (Katrina) demonstrated that to us."
Despite the failures of government and planning that led to and exacerbated the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina and the levee breaches, the rebuilding process also can be a lesson to planners, Carrion said.
"New Orleans after Katrina and Rita, I think, represents failed urban policy and a lack of vision that we had before, but I think it also represents the other side of the coin, which is it represents the depth and the breadth of American resolve and the connection to place that people have that we cannot forget.
"I think it's a call to all of us."